Thursday, 13 March 2014

Holiday Hit Squad

“I hear those voices that will not be drowned” (Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes, quoted by Maggi Hambling on the Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach)

I’ve never had much time for TV holiday programmes. Probably because I’m secretly insanely jealous of the presenters, since they are in charge of the show and not me. And annoyed because in truth someone else is doing all their work for them, carrying their luggage, researching their facts, faking their tan. (The presenters usually then rub me further up the wrong way by complaining about their “hard” lives travelling round the world in interviews.) Generally, they have such a patronising air – “Look at me, lying by this swimming pool at licence payers’ expense – but it’s such a bargain holiday at only £5,000 for a family of four!” However, I stopped voicing my contempt quite so vociferously when one of the more patronising presenters was shot dead on her own London doorstep.

I also don’t have a lot of time for consumer programmes. Anne Robinson’s snarl probably has a lot to do with that. Not that some of the people she is snarling at don’t deserve it.

But anyway, last night, here I was watching both a holiday and consumer programme rolled into one. We’ve had a run of illness in the house recently and we are all shattered, that’s all I can say. Holiday Hit Squad was the best on offer in the 8-9pm slot. The other options were hairy bikers and messy hoarders, which really aren’t pleasant to look at after a long day. Angela Rippon looks much better, even if her pronunciation of “brochure” is a touch schmanzy.

The programme is frustratingly bitty, with every single segment returned to later in the show. I don’t know if they expect their viewers to have ADD or if they are broadcasting elsewhere with ad breaks, but it seems they don’t want us to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. Anyway, last night their topics were the dangers of waterslides, a crap hotel in Turkey, swimming pool ear, sun cream and skin cancer, and whether a trip to the seaside is better in Turkey or Suffolk.
Aldeburgh circa 1986
This made me wonder, since I have done both. I spent my earliest childhood holidays in a caravan in Aldeburgh that belonged to some family friends. I have truly happy memories of crabs and kites and brave paddling, and my poor mother being massively pregnant with my brother in the sweltering summer of 1976. But the wonderful thing about Aldeburgh is that when I go back to it now, it really hasn't changed one jot from when I was three. Stumbling over the pebbly beach, the fishing boats and shacks perched at the top of the shingle, the queue snaking round to the fish and chip shop, children floating model boats on the lake outside the Moot Hall, the fascinatingly scary views of the House in the Clouds and Sizewell nuclear power station. 
Aldeburgh circa 2005

When I was 15, I released my inner Benjamin Britten and played in a recorder concert in the church as (a very small part) of the Aldeburgh Festival. Then our music teacher made us go to an Oliver Knussen concert at Snape Maltings, which was like excrement to the ears. He was premiering a new piece of atonal hell. He played it twice. We begged him not to.

And we spent part of our honeymoon in Turkey. We were staying in one of a group of family-run villas in Akyaka, a place we picked because it was described as where Turkish people go on holiday. It was early October and we were caught out a little by the weather – whilst arriving and leaving in 30-degree sunshine, we had a few days of cold and storms in the middle, which meant we had to go and request extra blankets to sleep under at night. Mostly the thunder rumbled at a distance, and we sat and watched the black clouds float by from our sun loungers by the pool, but it definitely made the already icy swimming water even more gaspworthy. We deliberately had a lazy week, with our biggest decision of the day being whether to go up the hill to buy bread before or after the lunchtime call to prayer.
Eucalyptus trees on the road to Akyaka

We read a lot and meandered down to the beach on the better days. There were a lot of dogs lying on the sand, apparently looking for a home. We did a couple of walks, one of which took us past the harbour of gulets, the reeds by the riverbed, ancient farmhouses and wells, and along a seemingly endless shady avenue of eucalyptus trees. We ate ridiculous amount of fish for very little money at a line of restaurants situated along the river, where the fish was delivered by boat every morning. The rest of the week we ate pide, and eggs. The family who owned the villas cooked for us a couple of evenings, which were probably the best meals of all.

We had little time for our fellow guests, two British couples, one of whom went the local market and complained because it was full of Turkish people. They longed to be with their fellow compatriots eating chips in Marmaris. The wife of the other couple hated children (thankfully we had none with us) and the husband worked for “London Airport”, which I do believe was renamed Heathrow in about 1965. We had even less time for the holiday company rep, who failed to give us important information, made us stay in and wait for him to give us alternative information but then turned up at a completely different time, and gave our promised bottle of honeymoon wine to the tosser from Preston who wanted to be in Marmaris.

But at least we weren’t staying in a horrendous hotel like the one showed on Holiday Hit Squad. A swimming pool of green stagnant water that a toddler could literally vanish into, an open drain, non-existent food hygiene, and cleanliness a distant memory. Now that we have a young child, it’s always daunting choosing holiday accommodation, especially abroad. It’s no longer a place where we simply lay our heads, but somewhere we need to spend every evening and a lot of the daytime too. And now that we have three people to pay for, nowhere is cheap, and our budget is limited to start with. And I dislike the price tag hotels attach to the words “child friendly”. But at least we have the sense to read online reviews before making any reservations. Though if you read too many of those, you’d never go anywhere.

I am dreading the day we also have to consider options like water parks, discos and Disney. Maybe we never will. And I am sure even without programmes like Holiday Hit Squad that we can work out the health and safety issues of water slides and balconies. If people are breaking their legs at the bottom of the slides, we won't go near. And if we don’t drink ourselves into a paralytic stupor, we probably won’t find ourselves falling off our balcony either.

As for Suffolk versus Turkey? Both are truly lovely. But I’d probably pick Suffolk, even if the drive there from where we live might take longer than the flight to Turkey. For we saw that Turkey didn’t in fact have guaranteed sunshine. And experience has shown us that our daughter will sit on a beach in literally any temperature. Cloudy is safer for her skin too. My own childhood memories and experience of travelling with a young child have shown me that really, it’s the simple things that make or break a day. You don’t need to spend the earth to entertain a child. As Helen Skelton showed us, all you need is a bucket, a pond, a net and some patience. Otherwise, the fish and chips were great in both Aldeburgh and Akyaka, and while you might not get woken up by a 4am call to prayer in Suffolk, a toddler generally thinks that’s a reasonable time to start the day wherever you are.

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