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The World According to Gom
Annual Leave? I’d Rather Stay, If That"s All Right
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
One of favorite vacation places — beach

A recent survey revealed that a third of British workers are not taking their full annual holiday entitlement for fear of losing their jobs in the current financial crisis. So where was this credit crunch when I needed it, when I was married and annual leave was more a torture than a break?

They should rename it Misery Time, because that’s what most of it is. It’s supposed to be a well-earned break from the everyday toils of work but I know very few people who actually get a rest during these times. No, they’re either working like dogs for slave-driver wives, traipsing round shops burdened with bags and aching feet, or on a beach somewhere giving themselves third-degree burns.

How many of us have woken up on that first holiday morning, stretched out in our nice warm bed and thought, “What am I going to do today? Hah! Absolutely nothing!” Then we dream of a day involving bumming around the house in our dressing gown, lying on the sofa – maybe with a couple of cans of lager – and watching any old rubbish on telly. Ah, such bliss!

And it just gets better; you’re wife walks into the room with a big smile on her face and a cup of coffee in her hand.

“Good morning,” she says, placing your coffee on the bedside table. “I thought you might like this.”

Oh yes I do, my dear, you’re thinking. I’d like it even more if there was a bacon sandwich alongside it but I know I shouldn’t push my luck.

She sits on the edge of the bed and gives you that little smile that made you fall in love with her all those years ago. Okay, there are a few more wrinkles around it now, but it still makes your heart beat slightly faster. Ah yes, this is going to be a great break. I’m going to relax and spend time with my family (a paradox if ever there was one), catch up on all the telly I’ve been missing, maybe go to the football match and shout abuse at eleven men who can play the game infinitely better than I could ever hope to, then I’ll go back to work, refreshed and raring to go again.

Then you notice she has slipped a little note onto your lap. Your heart stops for a moment; your blood runs cold. You’ve seen those little notes before, and they’re never good. You hope against hope that it will be different this time – hey, she brought you a cup of coffee in bed. You stare at the little note, which is getting heavier by the second, crushing you under its weight, destroying all your hopes and plans. You pray that it’s a little love note but you know it’s not; you’ve been here before, you know how the world works.

So, you reach out with heavy hand and broken heart to pick up the note. You unfold and read it through tear-filled eyes. Oh yes, it’s a list of jobs you have to do around the house this week. It’s the accumulation of six months of nagging which has just been dumped in your lap like a ton of bricks. And she even has the brass front to put a kiss at the end!!! Talk about rubbing it in! It’s like a judge handing down a death sentence and ending the order with “Love, Jimmy x”. It doesn’t make it any better, you know. It doesn’t soften the blow at all. We’re still in for a miserable time. Then you find yourself envying those men on death row, because it will be all over for them soon, but not for us – we’ve got this all over again next holiday.

Of course, it’s not always like that. Oh no; sometimes there’s the dreaded shopping trip. You know – the one where you follow your wife around a crowded shopping centre all day as she loads you up with more and more bags like some kind of pack-horse.

You look around you, and you know all the men who are in the same boat as you. You can tell by the lost and forlorn look in their eyes that says their body is here, but their mind is on the sofa with a can of beer and the snooker on the telly.

So, you trudge from shop to shop, the bags getting heavier, your feet aching more and more. You find yourself missing your boss as you watch your wife parade in front of you in about the hundredth dress she’s tried on that day. Then she asks if you like it.

You pray for a sudden earthquake; even a brain embolism, because you know all too well that your wife has just opened the crocodile’s jaws and is inviting you to step right in. You know that there’s no right answer to this question. If you say you like it, she’ll tell you you’re just saying that because you want to go home (spot on – but who would ever have the courage to tell her).

If you say you don’t like it, she’ll say you’re just in a bad mood and being horrible because she made you come shopping (uncanny how they know your feelings like that). You dream of pulling a gun out of your pocket, putting it to your head and ending it right now. Some would say that’s the coward’s way out, but these people have never spent half an hour standing in the lingerie section of Debenhams, holding your wife’s bag while she tries on about twenty bras, trying to not make eye contact with anyone or spend too much time staring at one place for fear of being branded a pervert.

There are worse shopping trips of course. Those who have been there will know exactly what’s coming next.

Statistics show that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and that domestic violence is on the rise. There is one simple reason for this – Ikea.

Also known as “the black hole”, “the soul destroyer”, and “let’s just get a divorce, okay?” Ikea is that place your wife drags you to when she wants to buy something for the house. And although it’s just one shop, it is not a brief shopping trip. Oh no, you’re in there for the day, old pal.

When you go to Ikea, there is a path you must follow. It is a long and winding path that takes you through every single department, even though you only wanted a new lampshade. There are shortcuts, but no one dares take them for fear of incurring the wrath of all those other poor souls who have had to trudge the long way round.

Your wife, of course, has to stop at every kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and lounge setup to go over every square inch of it with those woman’s eyes that show she’s thinking about how she would arrange it if this were her room. You look around and see a man trudging wearily behind his wife, his face a picture of misery and despair, one of those long stuffed snakes in his hand. You think, that’ll be me soon; I wonder if you can hang yourself with one of those snakes.

When at last you reach the checkout you are filled with new hope. You can see daylight through the doors; it’s only about twenty feet away. You’re nearly there! Oh joy!

Fool! Don’t you know by now that your troubles are only just starting? You have a complete bedroom set on your trolley which you have to transport home, along with your wife and two kids…in a Volkswagen Golf.

“Why don’t you get them to deliver it?” your wife suggests.

“Nah, that will go in the car easy,” you reply, thinking, I am not paying eighty quid for some asbo yob to chuck it in the back of his van and then deliver it when he’s good and ready – which could be anytime.

So, you get back to your car. You stand there, looking at it, then looking at what you have to put in it. You now have to turn your car into Dr Who’s Tardis. Your wife is looking at you with a nasty little smile on her face, her eyes saying, “Go on then, genius – get us all in.”

And so it begins – Tetris, the Ikea edition. You start to put the back seats down flat, then remember that the kids have to get in, so you try to slide the wardrobe over the seats so it’s resting on the tops.

From across the car park, you hear a crashing sound and turn around just in time to see a man picking up the wardrobe door he’s just broke in half and hurling the two pieces into the back of his car, shouting, “There! Now it’s in!”

Patience my brother, you think with almost xen-like calm, there are no problems, only solutions. It’s at this point that the kids start complaining that they want to go home.

Okay, you have to get this done quick. You put it in; your wife hisses scornfully and says, “and how are you going to drive the car with a wardrobe resting on the steering wheel?” You take it out and put it in again: “Nice; so are you going to strap the kids to the roof?”

You’re getting tired, frustrated, but most of all, angry. You drag it out and put it in again: “Ah, so you’re going to drive all the way home in first gear then?”

Right! That’s it! We are all getting in this car even if I have to drive with my head out the window. So, you bundle everyone in and start the long, painful drive home.

At least the kids are happy. They’re sat on the long box and every time you brake, they slide forward, every time you accelerate they slide back. It’s like a funfair for them.

Your wife is doubled over in the passenger seat, calling you all sorts of unpleasant things, talking about divorce and how she and the kids would be better off living with her mother. Every time you brake, and the kids slide forward, the box that’s resting on her back pushes down on her and she responds with a grunt and a look for you that could kill.

As for you – there’s another long box resting on the back of your seat, and every time you brake it slides forward and hits you on the back of the head. You’re gradually losing consciousness. You begin to wonder if you will actually make it home as every time you stop, the world becomes a little blurrier.

You glance out the window at the path leading away from Ikea. Every now and again there is a man or a woman stomping away from the store with a face like thunder. Lucky gits, you think.

Of course, there is a way to escape all this misery – go on holiday! Yes, swap one nightmare for another. Take your wife and two young children to a country so hot that even the locals go home and sleep in darkened rooms during the afternoon.

It seems such a good idea at the time, getting away from it all, lying on a beach with a Pina Colada while the kids play sandcastles. Pretending not to look at the gorgeous blonde in the bikini as she walks past, thinking the mirror sunglasses you’re wearing will hide it, and then your wife says, “Nice, isn’t she?”

Ah, it still sounds great though – sun, sea, sand…sunburn, amoebic dysentery and septic insect bites. Why do we do these things to ourselves?

You go to the airport and start the first leg of your journey – walking about half way to Spain because your plane is way out at gate 75. As you walk along, you see a group of holidaymakers who have just landed coming the other way. It’s like a scene from Platoon.

There are people walking slowly, carefully, leaving a trail of skin behind them as it peels from their sunburned body which glows a bright red. Various swellings adorn some bodies from bites inflicted by unknown insects. Dark, sunken eyes look at you, crying out, “Don’t do it! Turn back now, before it’s too late!”

But, of course, you’re not as stupid as they are. You know about sun cream and staying out of the midday sun. You have an industrial-sized can of insect-repellent in your suitcase that could wipe out the entire insect population of Magaluf. Then there’s that extra suitcase – with about fifty bottles of drinking water in it. Oh no; you’re prepared; this is going to be a great holiday.

A few hours later, you step off your Easyair budget cattle flight and find yourself in sunny Spain. Sweat instantly starts to pour from you, running down your back in torrents, and you think, “Wow, it’s hot here!”

As you get on that bus that drives you about ten yards to the terminal, you’re thinking, “It is really hot here.”

You get your cases and pile onto the coach that’s going to take you to your hotel, thinking, “I didn’t think it was going to be this hot.”

The coach itself is like a sauna. The air conditioning – typical – is broken, and there’s steam rising from the seats as the sweat left behind from the previous passengers dries. You find a seat and sit down – then jump straight back up again, because the seat is hot enough to cook dinner on. You put your travel bag on the seat and sit on that.

An hour later, and ten pounds lighter, you arrive at your hotel, which actually looks okay. You get off the coach, thinking, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stand this heat for two weeks.”

You get your cases and trundle into the air-conditioned lobby of the hotel, and you think, “Argh! It’s freezing in here!”

The next day, you’re on the beach. It’s hot. It’s very hot. It’s so hot that groups of men stand waist-deep in the sea to try to keep cool. They drink beer and talk among themselves about how hot it is. Every now and then, a look of bliss comes over one of their faces as he pees into the water.

You lie on a blanket on the beach, under a parasol, challenging yourself to see how long you can take it before you join them. Beside you, your wife puts thick, white, factor 50 sun-cream on the kids from head to toe. When she’s finished they look like snowmen. Then a gust of wind comes along and blows sand on them and they look like cinnamon doughnuts.

You look at your watch. You’ve been here five minutes. It’s really hot here. The parasol is doing nothing to keep you cool. The sea looks nice. It looks cool; it’s inviting you to go in and luxuriate in its coolness. But you have to show that you can handle it; you can handle any environment. You could have been in the SAS if you didn’t have flat feet. You must be strong. You must resist, be a man and stick it out.

You look at the two piles of sand that used to be your children and you are suddenly struck by an idea:

“Hey, come on kids,” you say. “Let’s go and paddle in the sea.”

Two weeks later, you’re back in blighty, walking gingerly through the airport terminal, every step an anthem of pain. The shorts and sandels, which are the only thing you’re wearing, chafe agonisingly on your reddened, sunburned skin. Your wife, walking beside you, has lost 14 pounds from a bout of sickness and diarrhea. There is a haunted look in her eyes. She walks with her buttocks tightly clenched. As for the kids, you’ll have to go back over and fetch them when they’re allowed out of quarantine. Apparently they were bitten by some rare insect and now present a clear and present danger to the health of continental Europe.

So, I say to those people who fear taking holiday because of the recession, be not afraid. Rejoice in the fact that you have a great excuse to stay at work. Take comfort in the knowledge that there are those less fortunate than yourselves: The man sitting in the corner of a shoe shop, sobbing quietly to himself as his wife tries on yet another pair of shoes and walks up and down in front of him. The man standing in an Ikea car park, one of their little pencils lodged up his nose, having been rammed there by his wife following a row over trying to fit an entire bedroom suite into a Mini. And the man, sitting gingerly on the plastic sheet, bright pink in colour because he’s covered from head to toe in Calamine Lotion because the sunburn has started itching. His wife sits perched on the edge of the chair, eating a piece of dry toast. It’s the first solid food she’s had in almost a week. The children – they’re back home now. They’re in bed because they’re still a little weak. The doctors say that the swelling will go down in a couple of weeks, that they’ll be able to wear normal-sized clothes again and live normal lives. That’s good – it’s one less thing to worry about.

So all of you, sitting at work, wishing you could take a week off, count your blessings. You don’t know just how good you’ve got it, mate.



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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