How to ruin your holidays

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The Independent Online
YOU HAD to sympathise with Stuart Barnes this week. Out there in New Zealand, leading the British Lions, at the peak of his rugby union career, and all he could think about was Arsenal's FA Cup final replay with Sheffield Wednesday. He missed last Saturday's game because the Lions were based in the far north of New Zealand's North Island, where NZTV3 couldn't be picked up. Thursday's match, on the other hand, he was determined to see.

'There must be a television somewhere in the area, satellite, cable or something,' he told hordes of waiting reporters. 'I'd even consider getting up early and travelling to where there is the right TV, provided I can get back for training.' Yes, you had to sympathise with him. I mean, fancy being an Arsenal supporter.

And yet all of us at some point or other have found ourselves stranded in distant lands while some crucial and life-enhancing sporting event has been taking place at home. Cruelly forced into taking long-awaited family holidays or going on freebie business trips, we sit gloomily under the hot tropical sun wishing desperately we were at home to hear John Motson say 'You have to say, Trevor Brooking, it's anybody's game'. The desperation, the night sweats - it's all in vain, because fate has decreed that we're going to miss this match, and there's nothing we can do about it. And yet we don't listen. We don't give up. We may make complete fools of ourselves in the process, but we keep on trying long after all hope has receded.

First stop is the car radio. Can you pick up the World Service? Can you remember what the World Service frequencies are? What, do you mean to say that you forgot to look them up before you left? You idiot.

Next there's the search for the bar. Well, they're bound to be watching sport in a bar. Sadly, one of the disadvantages of being British is that you believe all those stories about every major British sporting event being watched by 400 million people around the world. As a result, all the local gargle houses are full of horny-handed sons of toil leering at the local porn channel, or if you're really lucky, International Lacrosse from Limoges. 'Vous have to parler, Gaston Brooking,' says the commentator, and you cry into your beer, knowing you're not going to be seeing any British sport today.

At least for the business traveller, there's the TV in the hotel room to look forward to. As you sit through endless meetings with foreign suits, you know that before long you'll be back in your luxury air-conditioned cell, jacket off, pillows plumped up, remote control in hand, ready to rifle the mini-bar like any self-respecting drunk miles from home. And so eventually you return and switch on the telly - only to find that you've got a choice of Dynasty dubbed into Swedish or Professional Netball from Malmo. This is when the condition known as Mini-Bar Frenzy truly takes hold, leading to trashed hotel rooms, cancelled orders and an appalling hangover when you wake up the following morning in prison.

In the end, you give up trying to find out what's happening, and settle for what's happened - if, of course, you can actually get your hands on an English language paper. That, of course, is a whole new ball game - baseball, in fact, as that's the only sport the International Herald Tribune deems it necessary to cover.

Still, things can't be that bad for Stuart Barnes. After all, he did miss last Saturday's Cup final. Some of us actually watched it. On balance, I think I know who I feel sorrier for.