Monday, 9 March 2009

The Holiday in Hell

Have you ever had a really awful holiday? My first wife and I once did and it had the great advantage that for many years afterwards it provided us with a fund of funny holiday stories. I thought I should save it for posterity so here it is...

We begin around 6 p.m. on a Friday in September 1980. Having two children aged 22 months and 4 months old we thought that it would be a good idea to do the 280 mile journey to our self-catering cottage in the evening – that way they were likely to sleep for a good part of the journey. My ex-wife’s parents were staying there with us – indeed they had chosen and paid for the holiday – and were going down by day to have a cup of tea ready for our arrival.

The first disaster struck around 6.02 pm when I drove the car under the side gates. Never having done this with a roof rack on before I had underestimated the amount of clearance needed. At 6.15 we started off again – fortunately no permanent damage having been done.

The directions to the cottage were very clear – which was a good job because we would be arriving there around 11pm in the pitch black – no moon and as it was countryside no street lights anticipated. This was, of course, the days of no sat-nav, no mobile phone, no web mapping services... The directions said go a mile past the Green and on the left is a low stone wall. Turn left down the lane at the end of the wall and the cottage is at the end of the lane. We went a mile past the Green and drove up and down for an hour or so seeking a low stone wall. Desperate for a pee we debated knocking on the door of the only building anywhere in the vicinity – a farm whose inhabitants were obviously tucked up fast asleep in bed. Needless to say this was the moment at which the children – who had been awake and griping the whole journey – chose to fall asleep at last. We gave it one last try and drove back to the Green to start again.

At the Green we found Linda’s Dad, Jack, standing in the road waving a torch. Thinking to myself what a pillock he was standing at the Green instead of at the end of the lane to the cottage we discovered he was standing at the end of the ‘lane’. There was no stone wall (a local later told us that had been knocked down years ago); the lane was merely two potholed tyre tracks across the rain-soaked grassy green and the cottage was situated on the green itself. Poor Jack had apparently come out to the road about a minute after we had passed it on our first run and had been freezing there ever since. He led us to the cottage on the green.

After a quick dash to the loo I came into the lounge to be confronted by a cup of tea and Linda’s Mum, Rene, in tears. She had been worried about our late arrival and whether we would find the place, the tea had been made only because Jack had gone to the farm upon arrival and borrowed some change for the gas meter – the kettle didn’t work and the description of the cottage didn’t mention a meter. Nor did it mention the layers of dirt on the kitchen surfaces which Rene had spent the evening trying to clean. Nor did the cottage have the number of bedroom mentioned in the particulars so we were a bedroom short. The description said there was a cot – there wasn’t. And the larger bedroom – which Jack and Rene had given to us as it had now to accommodate four – was only just large enough for a double bed. The person sleeping on the window side had to climb over the person sleeping on the door side! Did I mention the electricity kept going on and off....

A couple of days later things looked a bit better. Jack had borrowed a cot from a shopkeeper in the nearby town and we had installed it in the lounge; I’d mended the kettle; we had bunged 2 inch thick copper cable in all the fuses to stop them blowing (don’t do this at home, folks); and the muddy tyre tracks had dried out so that getting the cars into the cottage ‘garden’ was no longer an exercise in deep sea navigation; we had bought some cutlery; I had disconnected the wires from the phone to stop people asking for the owner; I had burned out the wasps’ nest outside the back door; we had given up trying to find the advertised garden furniture under the waist high grass but whilst the sun wasn’t shining it was definitely there behind the clouds somewhere.

We had a couple of enjoyable days out and things were becoming laughable rather than tragic. On Monday, a stormy and wet day made us decide to leave the cars out on the green for the night rather than brave the track. Turn now to about 3 am on Tuesday morning. I awoke from a wonderful sleep of about three hours (since the last feed) to hear the sound of the front and back doors apparently being broken in and Jack yelling for help. I dived out of bed (which, of course, involved stepping on some tender part of Linda’s anatomy in my haste) and grabbed a walking stick to find Jack, similarly armed, in the middle of lounge trying to decide which door to defend. The lights weren’t working so we got a torch each and together we opened the front door to find a shame-faced electrician. He and his colleague had assumed the cottage was derelict and had merely banged on the doors to make sure. When they saw the torchlight they had been suitably embarrassed. The reason, they explained, was the fact that an electricity cable had come down in the storm and was lying across the roof of the cottage. Would we mind vacating the property while they sorted it. Answer – yes, we would! So they worked on the cable while we sat working out ways of brewing a cup of tea using only the heat of our cigarette lighters.

The week continued in similar vein and the only really joyous moment was when I re-wired the phone just before departing. It promptly rang and I discovered it was someone wishing to book the cottage. “Whatever you do, don’t book it!” was my response. “This is the holiday cottage from hell!”, I shouted down the receiver. And with that I put the phone down. I often wonder what the person thought and if they were suitably grateful for the honest assessment...


  1. Holidays like this set the bar for later holidays when we say, "Well at least it's not as bad as the time..."

    Also, Home Sweet Home seems all the sweeter upon returning.

    Fun story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sounds like the makings of a pretty darned good movie script. Sorry, I couldn't help but laugh.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post. Very touching.. thanks for sharing..
    Photogrammetry and Remote sensing

  4. Wonderfully funny, but what a nightmare given that this was your longed-for holiday, Sir - A shocker, indeed!

  5. Where on earth was I in 1980 that I don't remember a single story from that holiday.

  6. Oh those holidays that start out bad and we think, "how bad could it get?" And then we find out just how bad bad really is.
    Great story, thanks for sharing.

  7. Wonderful story! Evoked plenty of empathy and memories for some of those moments that I've had! Thank you! ;^)

  8. Excuse this comment if this looks like promotion - but I think it's highly relevant. Your brilliant review is just the kind of thing that other holidaymakers would want to know about and that's what is all about. The site is designed for holidaymakers to leave reviews of self-catering holidays in the UK so that people who might be thinking of booking a cottage can see what other people like them thought about it. This may be of interest to your readers.


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