If every holiday resembled the image in the brochure/on the website, your week or fortnight away would be nothing but gorgeous orange-rose sunsets, romantic glances exchanged in front of widescreen views, and nary a scrap, nor a scintilla, of cloud in the sky. Not yesterday. Not today. Not tomorrow. And probably never again.
Unfortunately, life rarely plays out in reality as seen in the holiday brochure. Or in the movies. Or in the video for that awesomely upbeat pop song.
The sales pitch: Fins and flukes galore. So many mammalian creatures of the deep, in fact, that you cannot keep count. Bottlenose dolphins on the port side, whales on the starboard. Which whales? Oh, all of them, pretty much. Sperm whales, killer whales, blue whales. The actual Moby Dick, given mortal shape from the pages of fiction. Each of them dancing and playing for your pleasure, leaping fully clear of the water and holding the pose in direct symmetry with the bow of the ship.
The truth: An angry, yearning sea where you feel the first keening hints of nausea the moment the prow goes beyond the harbour wall and the ocean gives the boat a taunting slap – as if to say “hey fella, you aren’t rowing on the Serpentine now”. Water a sullen grey-blue that is exactly the same shade as a whale’s tummy or a dolphin’s bottom – meaning that, even if you do spot one of these beasts of the deep, it will be a fleeting moment where you can’t quite be sure that all you saw wasn’t a sizeable whitecap. A series of blurry photos that, you will tell your friends, definitely features a 12-metre orca, pirouetting for your viewing pleasure, even though you aren’t convinced it isn’t just an out-of-focus seagull.
The sales pitch: A sharp, stylish jaunt around a once crime-ridden district of a city that has recently been converted into a haven for hipsters and lushly bearded young people. Clever, inventive bars called The Slammer or The Gin Thing – where gorgeous men with tattoos and cheekbones, or maybe even tattooed cheekbones, pour you concoctions with names such “It’s A Spritz Blitz, Fritz” or “The Rum Punch Punch-Up”.
All for a very reasonable $60, and the knowledge that your fellow travellers on this guided odyssey into exquisite booze will be your new-found friends for the whole night – and for the rest of your life.
The truth: A sharp, stylish jaunt around a once crime-ridden district of a city that has recently been converted into a haven for hipsters and lushly bearded young people – with the emphasis on the word “recently” in the case of Sixth and Seventh Streets, where the crack-dens are still in operation. “Can you please make sure to stick with the group and not wander beyond the end of the block? If you get lost, please dial 911 immediately”. The almost tangible contempt of the “mixologist” as he’s forced to stop talking to the party of twenty something women at the bar to pour glasses of can’t-even-be-bothered for the group that has pre-paid for their drinks. Are you sure there’s vodka in this, mate? This is my third one, and I feel more sober than when we started.
The sales pitch: Air travel for the discerning man-or-woman-about-world. A pause at the start or in the middle of your journey so utterly civilised and undeniably special that it becomes the journey – the actual flying bits being mere floppy-lettuce garnish to this smorgasbord of sophistication. Fine wines. Gourmet food, prepared by a team of celebrity chefs. The comforting feeling of being among other business-class passengers and other fellow movers and shakers.
The truth: A frowning gaze and an unnecessarily over-complicated checking of your details. Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, go the lacquered nails on the computer keyboard, as Front Desk Dragon Number One searches for some reason, any reason, to deny you entry, while Front Desk Dragon Number Two scans you with a gaze more penetrating than any X-ray. Business magazines with the pages stuck together. A series of anaemic stews, and what was probably once a mushroom risotto, congealing on not-very-hot plates and made to recipes that were phoned in five years ago by that chef off the TV. Which one? That one? Him? Hasn’t he gone bankrupt now? He certainly doesn’t look like his photo on the menu these days. He’s put on at least 10 kilos since his wife divorced him. Oh damn it, my flight’s departing in four minutes. Why did nobody announce it?
The sales pitch: All the scaly things that live in the sea! But all in one place! At the edge of a damp municipal dockside, where fishermen used to work, but don’t any more, because we’ve shifted the port four miles away to make room for coffee shops.
The truth: Mummy, what are those dolphins doing to each other?
The sales pitch: A Bacchanalian hurrah to rival any sort of shindig that Zeus threw at the top of Mount Olympus. A send-off befitting the great life story of a total legend – who definitely won’t be doing this all again in three years’ time, when this stupidly premature mis-match with Mr Humourless/Miss Snippy falls apart in a haze of recriminations and cheap white wine.
We will party. We will carouse. We will stay up all night, every night, because sleep is for the weak.
The truth: We will stay up until about midnight – or until Sarah gets a headache or Alan gets into a fight with a bouncer. You know, we could have done all of this in Parramatta.
The sales pitch: A carnival of colour, directly above your head. A riot of pink, green, cream and red, as if Odin and Thor have thrown open Valhalla for a massive all-night rave, complete with a roster of bug-eyed DJs who were enormously famous in the nineties, and several crates of the sort of fluorescent alcopops that rot your teeth if you so much as look at them. All on display in a flawlessly bright sky, and so clearly that the whole spectacle will – undoubtedly – show up on your camera for all to see.
The truth: Two hours spent hanging around in a car park a few kilometres – but not far enough to cancel out the light pollution – beyond a medium-sized Scandinavian town. The creeping realisation that your little woolly gloves are nowhere near thick enough to withstand a Nordic winter. A streak of white against the black of the firmament, which may be the aurora borealis, but is probably just a cloud. Or maybe an airplane contrail. The sudden knowledge that it will be another hour and a half before you’re back at the hotel, shoving your icy hands into the radiator.