10 August 2017
The Holiday Competition
A change in conversation.
By Chin Chin
An English summer sees many changes. The trees which budded in April begin to lose their spring blossom and come into glorious leaf in the course of June. Meanwhile, down on the chalk streams, the trout, gorged on the plentiful insect life of May, shade their eyes from the bright sunshine and can only be tempted to feed on the proffered fly in the morning and evening. As the season moves on to autumn, nature begins to dry out and, before long, the paths will be strewn with brown leaves, crackling underfoot.
Time passes indoors as well, and the beginning of August is the time for a change in topics of conversation. Exam results have now been published so we have heard all that there is to hear about the achievements of other people’s children, or, as the case may be, about why they did not fulfil their potential.
“He’s enormously intelligent, you know. His therapist says that his IQ is very high indeed. Genius level really. It’s no wonder that the school and the examiners don’t quite ‘get’ him. No, we haven’t had the IQ tested but that is just a formality. The therapist knows, a very experienced man, and very expensive too I may say. Top of his profession and very blunt about the shortcomings of his colleagues. No wonder that they hate him so much, although I must say that trying to stir up rumours about his qualifications was a pretty dirty tactic.”
“Anyway, if Oxford had just met him rather than relying on those stupid examinations they would have realised what an original talent he has. Yes, I know that it would have been boring for them having to visit the institution at Feltham but you would have thought that his potential would have made it well worth the trouble. Still, they are all lazy and overpaid these days. Willie and Claudia had just the same problem with their son – you know, the one who threw the acid. Oxford wouldn’t look beyond his exam results either and the psychotherapist says he is megabright too. The same psychotherapist as it happens.”
It is hard to know whether that is more tedious than the conversation of those whose children are still at large:
“Yes, Nancy got a good degree, I’m glad to say, and from Durham too. Of course she’s fallen straight into a job. Her father suggested a fund management firm – you know he works for the regulator but absolutely no strings pulled – so she will be travelling the world on business. Pay? Well, nothing until she’s proved her value to the firm. They say it’s better like that as it teaches about the realities of commercial life early on and anyway we can afford an allowance. Your children? Oh yes, is Simon still working as a barista in that shop? It’s near where Nancy works, isn’t it? I must ask her to buy a coffee from him.”
Relief though it is that conversations like this are past their annual peak, nature (which abhors a vacuum) has found something to put in their place: the foreign holiday competition.
There you are sitting happily at a dinner party, your senses dimmed by the ingestion of slightly over-sweet prosecco, but looking forward to the promise of Chardonnay to come. Thank goodness someone else has agreed to do the driving. You should be able to relax and enjoy yourself. A wasp buzzes about you. You hit it first time with your table napkin. All is quiet. Unnoticed by your hostess you allow your eyes to close in concentration. Then, suddenly, the mood is broken. The fateful words hit you with the searing impact of a burglar alarm. “Where are you going on holiday?”
The difficulty is that you haven’t made any plans. Everyone else at the table has theirs and to top locations too: “Our castle on the Scottish moors is so nice at this time of year”; “It’s important to be up north for the 12th”; “An Italian Count has lent me his house in Tuscany”; “The temperature is lower on a yacht”. And there you are, not even having looked at a brochure. What a loser! Mr Trump would fire you at once!
There are various ways of responding. Back in the boom years you could simply say that you were too busy making huge amounts of money in the city, that sort of thing. But now, when even the Prime Minister goes for long walking holidays in Europe, that has become unfashionable. It will only lead to people assuming that you cannot afford to go and making you offers on your house.
A more practical answer is to refer to some fictitious plans and keep them vague. That is fine if you have GCSE in geography but, if not, ignorance can let you down badly. I once mystified a dinner table by saying that the political situation in the Baltic seemed to make them impracticable as a holiday destination. Actually I was just repeating something I had read in the newspapers but had unfortunately failed to appreciate that the Baltic and the Balkans are not the same place. A plan to drive to Ireland becomes less convincing if you are clearly unaware that you have to go on a boat.
In the end the best policy is probably to appear cagey. After all, someone of your importance would not want it to be known where they were going on holiday in case the media or agents of foreign powers tried to get hold of them. Much better to respond to the topic with an obvious attempt to change the subject and deliberately vague responses.
“Aha,” they will say, “I expect that he really works for MI6 and that his holiday plans are just part of his cover. Did you hear him pretend to mix up the Baltic and the Balkans? No one could be as stupid as that. I expect that he is in for a pretty exciting summer.”