Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

Hollywood's 'The Holiday' is just plane awful

According to movie folklore, Hollywood has just two basic movie plots: someone goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. The Holiday, the Hollywood blockbuster for this festive season, tests this maxim to the maximum with its basic premise: an Englishwoman named Iris and an American named Amanda exchange homes over Christmas.

The characters, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, reside in Surrey and Los Angeles respectively. Thus, each goes on a journey, and each arrives as a stranger in the other's locale.

Once relocated, both shrug off their excess emotional baggage of burdensome men and meet ideal replacements - and look set to live happily ever after.

Another Hollywood law states that if an unconvincing plot is matched by banal dialogue, the film will flop. The main surprise (besides amazement that a talented cast should tackle so leaden a screenplay) is that the film manages to make South-East England look far more alluring than Southern California. When scenery proves more interesting than dialogue, it's time to leave the cinema - and, perhaps, to take a holiday. Anyone watching The Holiday might opt for Surrey. But where, exactly?

Location hunters will have their work cut out. As with Local Hero (where a village in the north-east coast of Scotland was liberally inter-cut with the west coast to create the optimum port), Kate Winslet's "charming cottage in the English countryside" is in a location that straddles Shere (a village near Guildford) and the commuter town of Godalming - a 40-minute, £3.80 train ride away.

According to the movie's production designer, Jon Hutman, "combining the square in Shere with Godalming's Church Street made for the perfect village". A shame this celluloid ideal should be squandered on a perfectly awful film.

EVEN SO, this "romantic comedy" (to use both words loosely) provides ideal in-flight entertainment: it functions in the opposite fashion to good wine. Appreciating the subtleties of wine diminishes with altitude. In contrast, your enjoyment of trivial transatlantic travelogues is heightened as your aircraft climbs and your critical faculties are dimmed, possibly aided by a drink or two from the trolley. One flaw prevents The Holiday from winning an in-flight movie award: Ms Winslet flies to LA in BA's World Traveller Plus, a premium cut above basic economy, while Ms Diaz sleeps her way to Heathrow in business class: not what you want to watch from the cheap seats.

ECONOMY-CLASS travel is a useful trump card in the problematic debate about "my flight is more eco-friendly than yours" (or, more accurately, less damaging). Those paying for premium travel may be doing themselves a favour, but are responsible for consuming more resources and producing more pollution than those squeezed into economy. Airlines avoid boasting about their environmental record, in the same way that they don't brag about safety. But Britain's leading regional airline, Flybe, has started promoting itself as "The UK's low-fare, low- emissions airline" operating "the world's most environmentally friendly aircraft".

Flybe's main plane is the Bombardier Q400, a propeller aircraft that "burns half the fuel of a 50-seat jet", according to Flybe. It is, asserts the carrier, "a true five-star eco aircraft". In terms of impact per passenger, per mile, the new products from Airbus and Boeing have better claims to this title. But I can't see either manufacturer having the gall to award itself five stars for services to the environment.

A MORE robust solution to the environmental problems caused by air travel is to holiday at home - if you can afford the train fare, after this week's steep price rises on Britain's railways. Despite the £4 cost of going one stop on the Tube in central London, the capital remains the leading city break for UK travellers.

The British Museum is appealing to our consciences to entice more visitors to its exhibition "The Past From Above". "A journey over the world's greatest archaeological sites through Georg Gerster's aerial photography," promises the publicity. "See them without leaving a carbon footprint," exhorts the museum. Yes, but what about the photographer's imprint?

A HITCH IN MY TRAVEL PLAN

As the story over the next few pages reveals, I have not been treading gently upon the planet of late. By way of meagre mitigation, I have operated an unusual carbon-offset scheme: for each flight taken, I hitchhike at least once.

Before Christmas, I was invited by BBC1's Breakfast News to take part in a discussion in Birmingham about "green travel". Fine, I said - and, to minimise my environmental impact, I shall hitch.

Thumbing is the least harmful form of motorised transport. Unlike buying a ticket for a bus or train, hitching creates no extra demand. So I cycled to the M1 in London on my folding bicycle. Within minutes, a heating engineer named Andrew picked me up and took me to London Gateway services. This forlorn location is usually the hitcher's springboard to the Midlands and the North. But after a freezing hour by the side of the road - during which a procession of almost-empty and undoubtedly very warm vehicles drove past - I gave up. Before hypothermia set in, I hitched a ride back into London with a derivatives trader named Terry. Then I cycled to Euston station, caught the last train to Birmingham and arrived at New Street at 1am, having taken six hours to cover 120 miles.

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