When George III frolicked in the Weymouth surf to the strains of a chamber orchestra – choosing to bathe not for his health but for the sheer hell of it – he unwittingly gave birth to the modern holiday.
Some 200 years later, Brits pay tribute to the king’s seaside antics by engaging in ever more witless leisure pursuits, preferring to stretch these displays of daftness over several days and part with thousands of pounds in the process.
Now you’d be hard pressed to go to the furthest edifice of the highest mountain and not come across a descendent of one of George’s subjects, wearing a bobble hat and whooping ‘isn’t it great to be on holiday!’
Well frankly, no.
Holidays are a bad idea because they force us to accept things we spend the rest of our lives trying to ignore – saggy buttocks and Judith Chalmers for starters.
Couple this with the compulsory pre and post-holiday 80-hour week ‘just to get things back on track’ and you’ve got an open and shut suitcase against this great institution.
Of course British workers are in need of a break more than any other European, heading the ‘I spend more time with the photocopier than with the wife’ long hours league.
But having splashed the cash on stress-free days, why do so many of us come back feeling the need to slump in a corner of the office sporting a Bugger Off sandwich board?
Seventy-six per cent of employees estimate that their stress levels are back to pre-holiday highs within one week of returning to their desks, according to professor Cary Cooper at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.
And who hasn’t asked themselves the following on the flight home: How did I manage to go away with someone with the social skills of a hedge? Why did I leave a critical project in the hands of Dave ‘erm, I didn’t really know what to do so I sort of forgot about it’ Dunce? When will my bowels stop producing this green stuff?
Holidays are more trouble than they’re worth for three reasons.
Firstly, they can never live up to the brochures; anecdotes of friends who ‘fell in the love with the charming little place’, and, most importantly, the ideal that lives in your head filed between ‘perfect partner’ and ‘surefire ways to get free cash’.
Secondly, holidays are vast vistas of nothingness that invariably lead to you contemplating your lot in life. To wit, there is only one possible conclusion: your life is utterly futile and pointless. This isn’t a good feeling and will persist until you get back to your good old overburdened self at work.
Thirdly, the collective effects of organising the holiday, travelling to and from the resort, enduring sunburn/frostbite/dengue fever, bickering with travelling companions and rescuing small children swept out to sea in rubber dinghies negate any possible positive benefits a well-earned rest can bring.
One only has to look at the side effects of the holiday for further proof.
Beach envy is the current ‘in’ syndrome. Brits are apparently so shocked to find that their continental cousins aren’t carrying more spare tyres than a Goodyear factory they book to go under the surgeon’s knife moments after stepping off the plane. Muscle implants are particularly popular with men and are surely a precursor to next year’s phenomenon – hire by the hour body double services.
The unfathomable transfer of cash from your wallet to somebody else’s is another side effect of the holiday.
Brits are particularly susceptible to scams and relish nothing more than handing over their life savings to a man dressed in rags in exchange for a piece of paper inscribed with ‘Time Sharre deedyes’ in dodgy writing.
Throw in the requisite hospital treatment for the motorbike accident, the £15,000 authentic rug purchase and bribes to get your inebriated kids released from the local prison and that’s the best part of your share portfolio up the swanny.
If any further evidence were needed, just look at the holiday’s origins. They are a relic of the Victorian era when exploited workers, bowed under the yolk of the industrial revolution, were distracted from their scurvy and their miners’ lung with a walk along the pier and a recycled potato on a stick.
When the first holiday camp arrived in 1906 it was more ‘Hi di Hi Brow’ than a well-earned break and knobbly knees competition. Visitors to Dodd’s Socialist Holiday Camp in Norfolk’s Caister-on-Sea were ‘entertained’ by a lecture and debating programme, and had to abide by more rules than guests of your average HM Prison.
Even Thomas Cook built his business by organising educational trips from the provinces to the 1851 Great Exhibition. Worthy? Yes. A good break? I’d have stayed at the mill with my scurvy every time.
Of course, members of the upper classes did it in the much more style – taking in the Grand European tour tended by small armies of servants – but they don’t count. The upper classes didn’t go on holiday – their lives were one long holiday.
Bertrand Russell’s seminal 1932 essay In Praise of Idleness puts holidays in their place.
Proposing a maximum of four hours work a day he suggests leisure time should be enjoyed ‘intelligently’, where ‘every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it’. No skipping off to Margate to play the slot machines for Britain’s most famous philosopher.
The solution is simple: we all know that 98 per cent of the enjoyment of a holiday is derived from the planning, the remaining two per cent from picking up an exotic wood carving for six pence after an 18-hour bartering session.
So go ahead. Peruse the brochures, pick the swimwear, even load the kids into the car. But when you get to airport just turn around and spend two blissful weeks…working.
Journalist: Jonathan Lee
Publisher: Financial Times