Bickering over holidays

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By Tom Utley

Well, who would have thought it? A survey this week finds that couples tend to argue when they are on holiday, and the bickering often starts before the trip is even booked. Now tell us something we don’t know.

With the reappearance of the sun over the office, after its own long break from duty, that familiar annual feeling of anxiety and hopelessness has been creeping up on me for days. Summer is all but upon us — and for the umpteenth year running, I have nothing arranged.

It won’t be long now before the accusing questions begin: ‘Have you had a word about taking some time off?’; ‘Have you given any thought to where we should go?’; ‘Can you give me even a tiny inkling of which month we should be thinking about? Or which continent you fancy? Or which hemisphere?’

But it’s the same every year. I haven’t a clue. One by one, my better organised colleagues bag their slots on the holiday rota, their tickets booked months ago to secure the best deals, their passports and visas in order and neatly filed, ready to hand, their hire cars ordered and their arrangements made for looking after the dog and watering the plants while they’re away.

Meanwhile, I leaf idly through the travel pages, thinking: ‘Mmm. A cruise down the Danube to Vienna sounds nice.’ But then I tell myself: ‘No, that would be her idea of hell on Earth.’

The moment passes and, as the available time-slots diminish, I somehow never get round to claiming my place on that rota. I’m not a civil servant, you understand, and at my office we can’t all bunk off for the entire summer at once.

A large part of the problem is that, where holidays are concerned, my wife and I are completely incompatible — and it is at least some comfort to learn from the survey by Ebookers that most couples are in the same boat (or do I mean different ones?), with more than half failing to agree on a destination.

Though our hearts beat as one on so many matters, from our irritation with Stephen Fry to our love of Joni Mitchell, the trouble in our case is that I like cities, while she likes beaches.

On this question, it seems, 74 per cent are on her side, believing beaches are best for a romantic break. An acrimonious break-up, more like, where my feelings are concerned.

My idea of holiday heaven is a room in a comfortable hotel, slap in the middle of a large metropolis, full of beautiful old buildings, galleries, restaurants and smoke-choked bars. Hers is sunning herself on the sand with a fat novel, while every peeling square inch of my body screams out for an ice-cold beer in a basement.

No wonder that, looking back, one of the very few wholly successful holidays I can remember was in Barcelona — a fine city, handy for fine beaches. But we can’t go there every year, because we want to see more of the world. The question is: which bit of it?.?.?.?and when? Far too often to suit either of us, we end up going nowhere.

It was the usual story only last month, when I grabbed a couple of weeks off at the last moment, after my masters pointed out that this would be my last chance for months. I had a vague notion, too woolly to be described as a plan, that I would whisk my wife away on a city break, with the promise of her kind of holiday by the sea in late summer or early autumn.

But as so often in the past, she couldn’t get time off work at such short notice. And knowing I would be hideously unfriendly and unpopular if I swanned off somewhere on my own, I spent the fortnight working my way through the entire box set of the Danish TV drama, The Killing, Series I and II, and staring through the kitchen window at the rain.

I warmly recommend it if you haven’t seen it (The Killing, I mean, not the rain). But I can’t help feeling that Copenhagen, without the subtitles, might have made a better holiday.

Now the summer looms and I’m heading for the doghouse once again. This year, however, I have a better excuse than usual for my failure to make arrangements — and I suspect that many readers, with young in their early 20s, may find themselves faced with the same difficulty. You see, I blame our four sons.

When they first fled the nest, wild horses couldn’t drag them to join their parents on a summer break. But with the recession biting, student debts mounting for the younger two and the older two living hand to mouth, this year they are not so sure.

It could well be that the bank of mum and dad offers their only hope of a foreign holiday, even if this means having to endure their parents’ boring company. And being soft old empty-nesters, we’d rather like them to come — and bring friends, too, if that’s what it will take to persuade them.

But, of course, something better may come up. So the young swine won’t commit themselves until every other hope has been exhausted.

How’s their wretched father supposed to book a holiday when he doesn’t know if he’s looking for a double hotel room or a ten-bedroom villa by the sea?

No, there’s nothing Ebookers’ survey can teach my family about pre-holiday bickering. Or holiday bickering, come to that.

Indeed, I’m a veteran of countless summer breaks that began in bitter acrimony in the car, heading the wrong way, with exhausted children fighting in the back, the petrol gauge hovering at empty, not a filling station for miles — and a lively debate developing in the front over the deficiencies of my dear wife’s map-reading skills.

She’s a wonderful woman, endowed with countless virtues. But if she has one, teensy-weensy fault as a navigator, it’s that she can’t tell her left from her right until she has studied both her hands, located her wedding ring and reminded herself that wedding rings are worn on the left.

Make that two faults. For she always used to insist on navigating by road numbers rather than place names.

The catch there, as you may have spotted, is that it’s quite possible to be on precisely the right road, while travelling in precisely the wrong direction.

‘Take the next turning — the D922,’ she would say.

‘Left or right?’

At this point, she would put down the map, study her hands, pick up the map, turn it upside down (if we were travelling south), find her place again, double-check her hands, panic, point left and say: ‘Right.’

Looking back on those days now, at this safe distance of well over a decade, I can see that this was all very endearing in its way.

But at the time, the little marital disputes that arose from her efforts to direct me to our holiday destination never made for the most sweet-natured start to our break. And generally it was all downhill from there.

All I can say is that no one on this planet was more grateful than I for the blessed invention of satnav.

Commenting on this week’s survey, Jo Hemmings — described as a ‘celebrity relationship psychologist’ — helpfully explains that people are often exhausted and irritable by the time they go away, and this is ‘the perfect recipe for arguments’.

Now, where would we be without celebrity relationship psychologists to spell out the blindingly obvious?

Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing after all that my summer holiday plans don’t appear to be taking much shape. Aficionados of Danish TV series tell me Borgen is good. And then there’s The Bridge... -- Daily Mail


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