Two weeks, three couples and six kids equals hell

Why do holidays with other people and their families have a fatal attraction?

DO NOT go on holiday with your friends this year. There is every chance that they will not be your friends when you get back. Unlike divorce or crime figures, there are no statistics available to chart the number of blissful friendships shattered by the shared holiday. But it remains a popular and enduring formula, even though the annual two- week bloodletting frenzy indulged in by the British middle classes makes seal-clubbing look like an act of affection.

Of course it all makes such good sense back in Hampstead or Frogmorton. There is that easy-going couple Harry and Polly, such a hoot at dinner parties; wouldn't it be terrific if they came along with sensitive Sylvia and Martin and their three sweet children and we all rented a gite for a fortnight in the Dordogne? Think of the savings, we could share the driving, and they all simply adore our kids, don't they?

Meanwhile, in the polite sharing of sunbeds and sun-block, no one suspects the Grand Guignol to come. It may be fun for a couple of days, until folk begin to relax. That is when the temperature begins to rise, and those carefully cultivated orchid-like relationships begin to wilt, or to stink and seep poisonous resin.

Careful study shows that the three most common areas of dissent likely to sour a shared holiday are: Other People's Kids; Other People's Money; and Other People's Toilet Habits. In the course of researching my most recent novel, in which three families share a villa in the Perigord, I was astonished at the torrent of spleen and invective manifested whenever I invited anyone to talk about a communal holiday that had gone to hell. Kids for example.

"They had the run of the house; they never stopped squabbling; never washed a single cup or plate. They were rude, dirty, loud and they broke things. And as for their three children..." This is Polly talking about Sylvia and Martin and their brats. "Their baby contracted chicken pox and cried constantly from day one: a banshee-like wailing, morning, noon and night, so that Harry and I literally had to wear ear-plugs to supper for the last five days."

Then there is the issue of Money, usually concerning the way other people are not spending it. "The monster actually harangued us at the breakfast table, adults and children alike, giving us a dressing-down..." said Martin, a teacher, talking about Harry, a computer programmer. Harry, it turned out, was one of those skinflint Biro-wielding individuals prepared to scribble complex algebraic equations on a restaurant tablecloth in order to apportion a bill precisely according to who ate what. "Just because we'd gone through two bottles of ketchup in the first week. After that he wanted to know how we could possibly have exhausted a toilet roll multi- pack in seven days."

Stinginess on the one hand, and profligacy with the communal resources on the other, is capable of tilting reasonable individuals into paroxysms of loathing. The third category, however, is less easy to account for, relating as it does to the extreme prejudices and caustic hatreds generated, quite irrationally, by idiosyncratic behaviour. Certainly, it is possible to overlook the foibles of human nature until they glint at you on a daily basis.

Shared bathrooms can present more than the usual queuing problems. One woman pushed open a door with a faulty catch to be confronted with other than the usual embarrassment. One of her holiday companions was in the process of injected himself, and not with insulin. It can come as a surprise to discover a friend of five years' standing is a smack-head. A lot of talking had to follow to salvage the holiday. It is entirely possible you may not have been invited purely for your bonhomie and your sparkling conversation. You may find yourself trying to shore up other people's disintegrating relationships. "We were clearly there to provide a demilitarised zone," said one man who witnessed the trajectory of an impending divorce from terminal to murderous. "They'd hoped they'd be more civilised with other people around them. It didn't work. One day there was actually blood in the swimming pool."

It does not always have to go wrong. I went on a shared holiday while writing my novel and made no secret of the fact that I was on the look- out for material: some revealing group-dynamics, an insight into our lowest instincts.

Unfortunately, everyone behaved impeccably. It was hugely disappointing. Perhaps it was the notion of someone armed with a notebook that prevented the company from relaxing into their true, brutish selves. But then again, not every author is the amiable and forgiving, companionable holiday chum that I am.

A well-known writer of thrillers recently shared a villa in Tuscany with his editor, the editor's wife and a few other cronies from the publishing world. Being a creature of extreme habit, the author insisted on a cup of hot chocolate and two digestive biscuits at 10.30pm every night before retiring to bed. Everyone else was given to noisy carousing until the early hours, but the author got his own back every morning by leaping in the pool at 6.30am with a thunderous splash and an unnecessarily virile war cry as his body hit the water.

Finally, one night, the editor's wife spitefully hid the digestive biscuits. Everyone thought it a terrific prank until the author's frustration turned to tantrums, and finally to rage. Things went too far to admit who was responsible until the editor nobly admitted he had hidden the wretched biscuits as a joke. The bestselling author returned home and instructed his agent to switch publishers.

Proving that holidays and friendship, like business and friendship, and indeed like business and holidays, simply do not mix. Which is why hundreds of British couples return from their precious fortnight inwardly seething and muttering darkly about never making the same mistake again. Only the following year, during their somewhat lonely packaged alternative, to look back with nostalgia on the hell that is other people, and plans to do it again. Perhaps it is because we have got forgiving natures.

Or perhaps it is the advantage of hindsight that sometimes makes you realise that, when talking about the monster you went on holiday with, the monster is you.

`The Storm Watcher' by Graham Joyce, Penguin, pounds 5.99

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own