If this is a dream holiday, I'm having a nightmare

I'm wearing my Hawaiian shirt (because I'm on my holidays and having fun). Somewhere in the sticks. Calves, landscape, a heavy bullying sky, night falling like a hot dirty velvet curtain. Smells: the viscous reek of cattle-slurry, burnt meat, barbecue fluid, madness. Shrieks: owls killing things, stoats killing things, everything killing everything else. Groans: plentiful and continuous, from the world's most miserable man. He is going to pieces out here at the dinner-table, not only groaning but twitching, grinding his teeth, justifying his misery.

His girlfriend left him. Two years ago. Now she lives in a bender, or eco-sensitive igloo. Life has lost its meaning. He is trying to drive himself mad in public, lowering himself into the well of darkness on the end of his tether. His polo-shirt shoulder is befouled with spit and cobwebs. His baby done gone left him, and he done lost the will to live. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't him. It was time and fever, the fates, God, gevalt. Nothing to do with the games, the uniforms, the kit, the sweet nothings. "Let's play families. Spread 'em for Poppa." "Now I'm going to lend you to Geoffrey for two months. Put on your little gymslip and off you go."

Nothing to do with that, that she's now living in a bender, being horrible to him. Being horrible. Nothing to do with the fact that he's disintegrating, musty, awful, like somebody dug from a wet grave by opportunists. It's her, and he's ruined.

The psychotherapist leaps on him with a feral cry. The psychotherapist is blotto, and becoming more so as the Rioja-style Drinking Alcohol soaks in. "You are defining yourself totally in terms of this woman," he says, in a curious pedantic Estuarine whine, like E L Wisty on helium. "Isn't there anything good in your life?" The world's most miserable man grasps his neck in one hand, his head in the other, and twists. An anguished metallic creak echoes around the farmyard. A calf bellows. Somewhere out in the darkness a bat chokes.

"Ye-e-e-s," he says, grudgingly, the corner of his mouth twisting in a tetanic rictus. "I have offers. There are a number of attractive ladies who - "

"No, no, bollocks," says the psychotherapist. "What about you?"

Someone has put Ravi Shankar on the stereo. The Argentinean woman is doing an erotic temple dance under the plastic gazebo, watched by her grey-bearded lover.

"There's this Swedish woman," says the world's most miserable man, "very attractive. Always surrounded by men." The pauses between his sentences are big enough for a small family. "Like bees. Round a honey-pot. She gives me. Hugs. Would not be averse. To doing. The business. But. But."

"That's bollocks," says the psychotherapist. "You're bollocks. And what's wrong with your jaw? I mean, are you trying to hold your head on or what?"

"It's these drugs," says the world's most miserable man. "Powerful drugs," he adds; "I'm taking them. Drugs."

We stare at him. "Bollocks," says the psychotherapist. The world's most miserable man gives a final grind and trudges off to bed without a word, a spider winking from his shoulder.

Then it's my turn. The psychotherapist takes exception to something I haven't mentioned about proto-mythic creation stories, attacks me, tells me I'm talking bollocks, tells me I am bollocks. I make a mistake. "You seem very hostile," I say. "Why do you say I'm hostile? I'm not hostile," he says. "You're afraid of appearing hostile," I say. "Why are you talking about my fear?" the psychotherapist says. Deadlock, each of us mirroring the other. We shout and drink and drink and shout. The witty woman with the beautiful soprano voice goes to bed without a word. The red-lipped woman with the endless legs goes to bed without a word. I imagine them in their beds, snuggling up to their pillows, smelling of vanilla and that clean, dry nest-smell of sleeping women, but I am stuck with the psychotherapist, out here among the cries and the slurry-stench and the falling dew.

Eventually he stumbles off into the house and I crawl into my tent with my sleeping daughter because I am not allowed in the house. It is damp. The canvas is damp, my swag damp, my pillow so damp I can't even snuggle into it. I lie there, brooding. Something blunders into the side of the tent and dies, noisily, and I lose consciousness.

In the morning there is no breakfast, no lunch except crisps. The world's most miserable man has left in the night, without a word. Our host has taken this ruin for the month and hates us all. "No dinner tonight," he announces. "You had dinner last night. What do you bastards want?" The people with beds move around in the night, restlessly, like the undead. Our host sleeps by his bedroom door, his nose under the gap, detecting movement. "Someone put the light on," he complains. "Five am. I was watching an Elvis biopic on satellite, and the light went on. I'm not having it. There might be lunch on Tuesday but that's it."

It must have been like this in a medieval monastery, under the capricious rule of a misanthropic abbot, some boil-ridden peasant risen above the level of his social accomplishments, declaring feast-days and prolonged fasts with equal lack of reason. From time to time, people disappear without a word, and their bones are found months later in the woods, picked clean. Mealtimes are exercises in a frightfully collegiate form of rural lunacy, people staring wildly at each other across the empty table. The nights are disturbed. The lavatories do not work.

It occurs to me that this is a great commercial opportunity. People go away to get in touch with themselves, to meditate, to go on retreat, to find their inner selves. They don't want that. What they want is this. Despotism. Peculiar strangers. Insane food rules. The chance to dip a toe in the refreshing waters of madness. They'd pay. I suggest as much to my host. "I had you down for an actual bed, provisionally," he says, "but now I've changed my mind." He goes off to his room, to lie down by the crack under the door. I fold my bed, gather up my daughter and leave without a word, in my Hawaiian shirt (because I'm on my holidays and having fun). !

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?