Michael Moran: 'What’s so good about holidaying abroad?'

Bewildering supermarkets, uncomfortable beds, incomprehensible currencies...getting away really is nothing to write home about, reckons Michael Moran
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The Independent Culture

There's a photo of me on holiday. I look happy enough, but I can't remember the picture being taken, and four-year-olds are quite easily amused, so who can say what I'm smiling at? The photo was taken in Bognor, that working-class playground of the 1960s. I haven't been back since. I haven't been to many places since. Originally, it was because I didn't have the option. The early 1970s may be remembered as the dawn of the package-tour era, but they also hosted a financially straitened winter of discontent that seemed to span a decade: for people like me, holidays – like cars, central heating and jeans with the label on the outside – were something others had. I wasn't to appear in another holiday photo for over 30 years.

As a teenager, I barely noticed the absence of holidays. No one who lived in my street ever came back from Spain with a straw donkey. I just assumed that was something people did in Carry On... films.

A career in music prolonged the "no holidays" rule, with a combination of irregular freelancer's cash flow and the constant promise of a big break just around the corner keeping me close to home through my twenties. And honestly, it didn't bother me a bit.

The funny thing was how much it seemed to bother other people. "You've never been abroad?" they'd ask, in much the same tone as if I'd told them I'd never been in a car (and I hadn't done that either). It would have been tempting to get a bit defensive about my geographically challenged state, but attack is the best form of defence, and I quickly learnt that middle-class guilt is a readily exploitable resource for the chippy young council-estate boy with an anti-holiday agenda. A few well-placed remarks about conspicuous consumption while people starve, a little bit of business about gap-year travel being the modern face of cultural imperialism, mixed with the odd modish allusion to carbon footprints, and you have the basis of a decent dinner-party stand-up routine. Add a certain amount of wilfully unfashionable patriotism to keep trickier diners off balance ("If we all accept that Britain is the finest place on Earth, and our record on human rights, women's rights, and the sheer volume of people seeking asylum here all suggest it is, why would you ever go anywhere else?" ), and any pro-holiday backchat was soon quelled.

Only it's not just holidays abroad I wasn't taking. Domestic sojourns were out, too – and I realised my anti-holiday propaganda had become its own self-fulfilling reality: I just didn't like holidays.

OK, that's not strictly accurate. It's just that I can't see the point. I've always been able to amuse myself perfectly well in my own home. Indeed, as it is the most expensive thing I've ever bought, I relish the idea of getting some value from it beyond just sleeping in it.

Besides, bad things can happen when you go away. You could get lost in a foreign supermarket – places that make Asda look like a cigarette kiosk. You'll go in looking for some milk only to find yourself lost in the ammunition aisle. Then there's the whole issue of tipping – in the UK a mild annoyance, but overseas a pain in the neck of a very different colour. With unfamiliar currency in hand, it's as easy to deal the bellboy a mortal insult with a comically low tip as it is to pay off his mortgage. And beaches? Scientifically, the only way to distinguish between sand and dirt is to establish whether you are statistically more likely to find a spider or a crab on it. If I'm planning on lying on any surface, I'd prefer to find neither. And don't get me started on hair wraps, dysentery and henna tattoos.

Having grown into adulthood without ever acquiring the holiday habit it would, of course, be the supreme irony if I then met and married a fine young woman who quite liked holidays. So that's what I did. In fact, my wife had particularly fond memories of childhood family camping holidays on the Isles of Scilly and spent quite a bit of time trying to lure me out there. I, however, retain a deep suspicion of people from the countryside. I've always felt that people who live on tiny islands are just like country folk, only more so. Which was just one of my excuses for not going.

Once we'd had our own child, though, my resistance started to stray dangerously close to churlish. So eventually I gave in to two weeks on a camp site in St Agnes – but with just enough predictions of disaster ("What if it's too cold? What if it's too hot?") to flag up that I was no pushover.

I never thought you could get bored with saying "I told you so." The Scillies are renowned for having their own exotic microclimate, which results in everyone who went there in the 1970s remembering it as some sort of Arcadian idyll, while everybody who goes there in the 21st century returns to civilisation reluctantly admitting that the place is wetter than an otter's pocket. If you're looking for evidence of climate change, look for it on St Agnes. While you're there, see if you can find out why the owners of the campsite switch off the hot water in the coin-operated showers to preserve water during the wettest fortnight since Noah went sailing.

Before I went on that holiday I had just assumed I didn't like camping. Now I know. Some magical alchemy about getting enough tents together in one place attracts rain like a picnic attracts wasps. It poured for two weeks, pausing only to allow a sinister fog to roll in from the sea every breakfast. To make the situation even more comical our daughter had just reached that sofa-surfing stage, where a child is almost ready to walk but needs regularly spaced items of furniture as staging posts. Solid pieces of furniture aren't easy to come by on a campsite, and as a consequence every adult in the party was pressed into service as an emergency baby-walker, resulting in long-term lumbar damage that was in no way exacerbated by having to sleep on a thin foam mattress.

Still, the old anti-holiday routine gained some valuable additions that summer, and indeed blossomed into a slim volume of essays about the iniquities of travel and the joys of a fortnight knocking around at home, getting all those things done that we never normally have time for. Like having a lie-in, or watching a whole series of The Wire in one day.

I don't have any pictures of myself doing that, but then, other people's holiday photos are always a bit of a trial really, aren't they?

'Sod Abroad' by Michael Moran (John Murray, £7.99) is out now

Home comforts: Cosy things you just can't do on holiday

Have a nice cup of tea Ask an American to make you a cup of tea and after you have negotiated your way away from a bewildering choice of 'erb tinctures, you will be presented with a greyish liquid capped with a thin slick of scum.

Watch proper telly Foreign telly is rubbish. That's a given. Let's not even mention non-English-speaking telly. That would be like shooting fish in a deep-fat fryer.

Drink tap water Blame the French. Everybody does. The British, for all their self-proclaimed faults, can deliver a nice glass of water to your tap whenever you fancy it. Hosepipe bans permitting.

Wear your comfy trousers Everybody has a pair of Sunday trousers. Thing is, no one packs them for a holiday. And that's why you can never get a proper rest while away.

Have a lie-in One of the greatest pleasures known to the working man, but impossible to have on holiday, where there will always be some oddball insisting on visiting some ghastly monument.

Listen to the wireless (below) There's no News Quiz on French radio. There's not even a Now Show. I have no idea what the French (or the Spanish or Italians for that matter) do with their bright young men but they certainly aren't giving them radio shows. MM

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