- Illustrations by Mr Antony Hare | Words by Mr Dan Davies
I've spent months debating where and when to go, dreaming about it and discussing how much I/ we need it. And now it's almost time to go. So what's that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach? It's anxiety, of course. Anxiety about whether it's possible to enjoy myself as much as I should; as much as I need to in order to justify all the stress and money that has gone into booking the damn holiday in the first place. You know something is wrong when you're talking about needing a holiday just to get over the getting ready to go on holiday.
Holidays don't come cheap but have you stopped to think that they might be, were it not for airports and their devious methods for parting you from roughly 50% of your spending money before you've got on the plane? Family-sized bottles of sun cream, magazines you would never dream of reading at home, books that you'll probably end up dropping in the pool, sunglasses that look good only in the flush of pre-holiday excitement, an expensive underwater camera that's going to be really useful for your week on a farm in Tuscany. Trust me, I've bought them all - and they add up.
For me, this is the stuff of waking nightmares. The moment when I have to face the music and strip off for the first time, thereby exposing the outside world to my sorry, pallid excuse for a body. Instead of the physique I told myself would be gym-honed and firm by now - the stomach I vowed to work into a rippling glockenspiel of muscle - what I reveal instead is an albino sea cucumber. Yep, if it's self-loathing rather than sun that you're seeking, this will most definitely do the trick.
I award myself full marks for braving the looks of thinly disguised disgust, pity and mirth and offering up my gamma-reflecting torso to the elements. Unfortunately, they are always - and I mean always - wiped out by the end of day one. Why? Because without fail, I'll be sporting a tan that can only be classified as "basted lobster". Don't talk to me about the seductive power of warmth on the skin, especially not when I've just spent my now customary three days in a darkened room and a small fortune at the local pharmacy.
If I'm on holiday for a week, I can guarantee the fear will set in on day four. It's at this point that an alarm in my psyche goes off, one that helpfully reminds me that I've been away for more days than I have left. It's when the tyranny of reality takes hold and the azure blue skies darken amid the dread of unanswered emails and the certain knowledge that it will be at least six months before I can again try and enjoy the first three days of my holiday before nose-diving into depression for the last three.
It used to be that you would meet people on holiday, enjoy their company and exchange platitudes at the airport about going for dinner or spending a weekend at their place. The best part about this social exchange was you both knew that you would never see or speak to each other again. But now, thanks to Facebook, there is no escape. There they are with their updates, pokes and messages, reminding me what a shallow, misanthropic freak I truly am.
"You can't go wrong with a spag bol," said my school friend many, many years ago. We were sitting outside a restaurant on a pier in the Greek islands, enjoying the fact that we had found a hostelry serving good, honest food that was within our limited means. Thirty-six hours later, we were still in the same adjacent toilet cubicles, moaning gently and being assailed by the heat, clouds of giant mosquitoes and bouts of the bleakest introspection known to man. The result: I am now unable to enjoy a meal on holiday until at least two days later (which is a major problem on weekend breaks abroad).
There's nothing worse than being told how uptight you look, especially by a Nordic stranger in dreadlocks who "lives on the island, man". I deal with this by either reminding myself that Nordic strangers in dreadlocks are generally the most uptight people on the planet or consoling myself with the thought that there is going to be no pretence whatsoever about going for dinner or spending a weekend at their place.
It's just too hot, right? Taking on board the advice of the Nordic stranger in dreadlocks - who "lives on the island, man" - I take to sleeping in until three in the afternoon (or at least I did before I became a father), thereby missing out on the sun, the relaxing lunches we'd discussed and, more importantly, on getting value for money out of the magazines, books and underwater camera I bought at the airport. The feeling of resentment this causes is exacerbated when the Nordic stranger in dreadlocks takes to asking why you're now looking so "spaced out, man".
For me, the pain brought on by the transit of the last day is almost enough to dissuade me from ever going on holiday again. It starts with the packing, deepens as the final hours evaporate and then approaches rock bottom upon arrival at the airport for the flight home. Already harbouring homicidal thoughts about every other person in departures, I am only ever a queue, delay or lack of comfortable seating away from a full, mad person meltdown. But this is merely an hors d'oeuvre for the psychopathic hatred that has welled in my heart by the time I find myself at baggage reclaim at the other end. By this stage, any semblance of a tan will have miraculously disappeared, my phone will have burst back into life with bad news and one thought only is pulsing through my brain: I'll be back at my desk in a matter of hours.