Want a dream holiday? Get drunk or fall in love

It's no good blaming the brochures because what you see is never what you get
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The Independent Online

Having just heard the verdict on Mrs Keppel-Palmer's High Court case, I am definitely considering indulging in a little retrospective litigation myself. Mrs KP, if you remember, is the woman who sued her holiday company after spending £88,000 on the "holiday of a lifetime" in Barbados which turned out to be more of a nightmare. She's just won £29,760 damages. The Villa Frangipani close to Bridgetown which she rented for a Millennium family reunion had no glass in the windows, a leaking roof, tatty furniture, plastic cups, an unkempt garden, dirty maids and a buffoon of a butler whose only talent was for making rum punch.

I didn't know that butlers in Barbados were required to do anything else, though admittedly my knowledge of butlers is limited. I once stayed in a very grand house in the Shires where a very old butler called Henry led an impressive staff of liveried retainers. On Monday morning as most of the guests were preparing to depart and I was having breakfast with my host in the morning room, Henry glided in, coughed discreetly and asked, sotto voce, if he might have a word in private. "That's quite all right, Henry, go ahead. No secrets here,'' replied his master affably. "As you will, Your Grace,'' murmured Henry. "I just happened to be passing Lord Charles's room and noticed he had packed the first edition Dryden and the small Bernini bust from the green drawing room in his suitcase.'' The Duke sighed. "Just put them back in their right places, Henry, and don't say a word,'' he said and Henry glided noiselessly out. My host told me later that it was not uncommon to come across familiar bits and pieces from his home in Sotheby's catalogues after certain guests had been to stay but now, fortunately, Henry kept his eye on the ball.

Holidays, especially dream holidays, rarely live up to one's expectations. And it's no good blaming the brochures because what you see is never what you get. There are always at least three reasons why the room you specifically asked for isn't available and why, regrettably, you've been put into a broom cupboard overlooking the car park.

Friends returning starry-eyed from a holiday in Istanbul insisted that if we ever went we should book into the Pera Palace Hotel, preferably a first-floor room with a balcony overlooking the Golden Horn. It's the one that everyone who was anyone stayed in before setting off for Paris on the Orient Express 100 years ago in the golden age of travel. "You'll love it,'' our friends enthused. "It's all black marble and Art Deco and lifts with wrought-iron concertina grilles and red velvet sofas inside and wonderful old-fashioned service. You can't possibly stay anywhere else.''

The first room they offered us at the Pera Palace had three narrow single beds with unmatching bedspreads like a school sanatorium, a cupboard with a broken door and lino on the bathroom floor. But where was the balcony and the view of the Golden Horn, I protested. The porter beckoned me into the bathroom, opened the window above the loo and said if I stood on the seat and leaned far enough out I could see it. The second room they showed us had one 20-watt light bulb, two double beds, one single bed and a tightly shuttered window which, said the porter, could not be opened because it was being painted on the outside. The lift with the grille and the red velvet sofa was out of order and the plastic palm trees on the stairs were thick with dust, but, like Mrs Keppel-Palmer's butler in Barbados, the barman at the Pera Palace makes a mean margarita. Maybe that's the answer. Get drunk and you won't notice a thing.

The only guaranteed way of having a dream holiday is to fall in love. Ask anyone booking an 18-30s singles holiday. Tatty furniture and plastic cups are irrelevant. When the children were small we booked a week on the Italian lakes and took Rachel, a friend's 18-year-old daughter, along as mother's help. The hotel had rats; the lake was polluted; the road outside was a death trap, but Rachel had a dream holiday because she fell in love first with the windsurfing instructor and then with the local policeman. I'm not sure Rachel's mother regarded it as a dream holiday, especially when we told her that Rachel hadn't come back with us. She had moved in with the policeman. Believe me, Mrs Keppel-Palmer, there are far worse things than a leaking roof on holiday.

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