Monday, February 24, 2014

The All-U-Can Holiday

So, my parents decide to go on "one last foreign holiday". Due to their age, frailty and general uninsurability, they go with Saga. And, I decide to join them. I find a stupidly cheap deal, but the one thing I really hadn't noticed was that it was an "all-inclusive holiday".

It was actually a bit like being in a 5-star prison. It's the first hotel I've ever stayed at with a guard post. Because outside was a lot of desolation and hungry cats. When the boyfriend and I went to Turkey last year, we went on a bus that took us through a winding Russian beach resort. "Wow," we thought, "Who would go on holiday there?" Turns out, I was staying there. A lot of the hotels have themes. There's a giant version of the QE2 (the boat), a Parisian palace, a Georgian mansion, and... well, mine was just a luxury box with great views.
Inside, it was sort of brilliant, sort of horrible. The brilliant side was that I could finally get to do the thing that English graduates dream of doing - waking up early, sitting on the balcony, look at the sea and working on The Novel. I could also see my parents - they'd already been off backpacking, had led a revolution on a bus trip, and were keen to show me that my Turkish wasn't needed to get around as they could just smile and speak slowly (If you've ever wondered if people really do do that, my parents do).

The horrible side was the hell that is other people. I love an all-u-can-eat buffet, but I wouldn't want to stay in one. It was like a bootcamp for over-eaters. The daily schedule went:
6-10: Breakfast
10-11: Late breakfast
11-1: Sliders by the pool
1-2: Lunch
2-4: Late lunch
4-6: Coffee and cookies
6-10: Dinner
10-12: Cakes in the bar
12am: Midnight feast

You get the picture - just no end of food. I forgot what hunger meant as a concept. And yet, with the unending food, people would still pile their plates high like it was their last meal before hibernation. You'd see people stacking four bowls of cereal on top of each other. Even more mad, you'd see them stealing food to take back to their rooms. In case they somehow felt peckish.

There was also no end to the drink. The hotel's two rules were "No alcoholic beverages shall be served at breakfast" and "No flip flops in the restaurant". Clearly this means that someone had tried both. But still, once breakfast was over, the boozing began. At about 10am the gins and tonics would be beckoned over.

As I was heading out one morning, I passed a man sat in the courtyard drinking beer and playing with his iphone. He was still there at lunch. And still there at sunset. I stopped admiring his ability to hold his booze and instead marvelled at his iphone battery.

With this unending cornucopia came a strange sense of entitlement. I don't think any of us staying in the hotel were nice people. One morning, a woman rushed passed me out of her room, standing on tiptoe on the landing to look at the sunset. For a few moments I thought this delightful, until she turned away with a disgusted "augh". Then I realised. She had been checking to see if her room had the sunrise view the brochure had promised.

If the people were bad, the cats were worse. The hotel had a clutch of cats, theoretically there to control vermin, but in practice stationed on guard outside the restaurant. Why bother hunting when there's an unlimited supply of food just beckoning to you. I'm used to the behaviour of cats outside Turkish restaurants. You sit on a terrace, and a cat will approach, tap your leg, and then wait. It's fair enough. But not at this hotel. Venture onto the terrace with a plate of food and it was like a feline remake of The Birds.

The first day I tried it I lost an omelette and the skin on one arm. I was saved by a chain-smoking German. "You need to shoo them," he told me, and then demonstrated. His definition of "shoo" was punching. He was genuinely punching kittens in the head. It was both appalling and kind of idiotic. But it didn't deter them from trying to get at the food.

The German turned to me, "You have to show them who is boss," he told me. "This is disgusting for a 5 star hotel." And then strode away. The next morning there were posters on the terrace "Please do no feed the cats. They receive special food." There were also noticeably less cats. I imagine they'd been drowned in one of the swimming pools.

The German gave me a little smile whenever I saw him in the hotel. I sort of smiled back. He actually wasn't the worst guest. That honour goes to the travelling English coach party who decanted one day. Within two hours of their arrival, the lobby was filled with tightly-coiled grey haired ladies saying "I'm not one to complain..."

The best guests were definitely the German Youth Football team. They wrestled, they sunbathed topless, they had water fights, they did headstands in the courtyard, and, like they were auditioning for a Wes Anderson film, they jogged everywhere in tracksuits.

The Saga element of it all was a little different. Imagine a hotel with beautifully decorated rooms in all sorts of styles, from Ottoman to English Library (one evening, looking for a late drink, I even found a proper nightclub, where a DJ played pounding music to people just like me in their pyjamas, looking for a nightcap). But... then there was the Saga Lounge. Somehow decorated in the ruthless bleakness of an Old People's Home. My mother would tell me with pitying glee of the bunfight whenever the rep uncorked a fresh jigsaw.

For me, the evenings were idyllic. I could trot off to the bar, collect some booze, and sit in bed, reading Perry Mason and listening to the roar of the sea. Only on my last night did I realise it was the roar of the laundry pump. But there we go.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

This week's Tube Strike

Say what you like about the Tube Strikes (and let's face it, thanks to Twitter we're now expected to each have a definitive opinion on that, Woody Allen and dredging the Somerset Levels. It's the new Renaissance), but one thing about the last week has been that a lot of people have been cycling or driving who perhaps don't have the necessary road skills.

On Wenesday, a female cyclist in front of me was nearly forced off the road by a petrified wobbly male cyclist coming the other way.
 "Bitch!" he snapped at her.
And, out of nowhere, I turned and roared, "Oi! She was right and you were wrong, you fat fuck."
The female cyclist turned to me. "Thank you," she said. We then spent the next couple of junctions not quite making eye contact with each other.

Later on in the week, I went to the NTLive to see Coriolanus. The audience was mostly the kind of person who delights in over-pronouncing the flavours of ice cream ("doll-cheee-la-tay"). My row was terrorised by a loudly racist old lady ("The cast speak very well. Apart from the little Jew. A mumbler."). I finally snapped at her in the interval when she turned to her friend and told her the entire plot of the second half. I've not read it for twenty years and was kind of looking forward to finding out. The Sherlock fan next to me looked equally distraught. I explained this to her, politely but firmly. Nasty Biddy's response to declare to her friend, "Well! some people..."

There's a woman at the bottom of our street who stands outside a cafe screaming about Nazi Experiments with Electricity that The Government Don't Want You To Know About. I worry this will be me soon.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Jarman Academe

My boyfriend is currently obsessed with Derek Jarman. He's devoured the diaries, he's dug out his old DVDs, and he's been very excited by a series of events to celebtrate Jarman's 72nd birthday. Things kicked off with a documentary in an old Anatomy Museum and a talk in a tulip-strewn chapel. All very Jarman. All it was missing was Sean Bean being given a slow sponge bath by Tilda Swinton with bad hair.

Caught up in the excitement, he booked us onto a one-day celebration of Jarmania. We were expecting a Saturday screenings and gossip. Actually, it turned out to be a serious academic conference. A really serious academic conference. Once we got over our initial shock, we actually had a good time. One scholar explained how he'd recently found a first edition of Marlowe's Edward II by accident, another that Jarman cast Adam Ant in a film after seeing him wandering down the King's Road with "FUCK" carved into his back and bleeding through his t-shirt. All good fun. And then...

Back at university, I studied English Literature. It was going through a period where everyone involved felt guilty about spending their days reading books and so invented a lot of words to make it sound like science. Ironically, at exactly the same time, science was learning to use words to make itself sound like good fun. But English Literature lectures always had earnest people in earnest glasses in the front row, ready to pounce like Puritans on anything that looked suspiciously like enjoyment. "But what about Derrida?" demanded one hotly. The lecturer rolled her eyes wearily. "What about him?" she sighed, guaranteeing I went to all of her lectures ever.

Anyway, if you ever wondered what happened to those earnest pebble-glasses-wearers with their long words and forbidding demeanours - well, they've grown up and secured tenure and one of them had flown all the way from Sydney to be rude about Derek Jarman with vocab. I think the substance of her lecture was that, feeling guilty for making The Angelic Conversation without any women in, Jarman had hastily hired Judi Dench to intone some sonnets over the spongebaths. But here's how she expressed it:
  • prolepsis
  • analepsis
  • catachrestic
  • alterity
  • binary calculus
  • wholesale diacrhronic change
  • teleological
  • contrapuntal overlay
  • chiasmic logic 
  • tropological
  • patrolineal obligation
  • heterotopuan oxymoronic  miscegenated cross-coupling
My boyfriend and I spent the hour noting these down and speculating what she named her cat. He suggested "Binary Ganymede IV". The lecture pressed on. Academics around us stabbed away at their ipads, reordering their iTunes playlists, which is I guess the modern equivalent of playing solitaire. At the end of the lecture, there was a pause for questions. There were no questions, the academic equivalent of the Cut Absolute.

At lunchtime we went round the beautiful Jarman exhibition at Kings College. We noticed Dr Long Words trailing moodily behind us and hid behind a projection of a nude man spinnins slowly. On the way back in we got talking to a slightly gossipy old don. Who then won the afternoon with a gossipy, joyful talk about Jarman's The Tempest, and, in a demolishing aside, said of The Angelic Conversation, "Of course, he originally asked John Gielgud to do the voiceover, but he let him down at the last minute."