Sunday 26 October 2008

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Holiday Harmony

© John Sawyer – October 2008

Holiday’s can be pretty stressful occasions. They can put relationships under real strain. Things that normally go unnoticed assume massive proportions when loved ones are locked together in an unfamiliar environment. Many a budding romance has been destroyed by an intense week of constant togetherness on a tropical resort. Touring with its parade of decisions, constant changes of environment, opportunities for mistranslations and missed connections offer a wealth of potential relationship ending tensions.

Wendy and I can last just over 3 weeks before my normally lovable quirks turn into annoying bad habits. 4 weeks in the US together were too many. “God! Do you have to? Every stop, Every stop you take the subway map out of your pocket, unfold it, consult our route, fold it up again and put it back in your pocket, just to go through the whole process again at the next stop. You do it deliberately just to annoy me don’t you? I swear I’m going to burn the bloody thing tonight while you’re snoring away in front of the tele.”

While a poor choice of interchange station might cause mild loving banter at the start of an adventure, after 3 weeks of transport tension, the prospect of carting a suitcase full of souvenirs up a flight of 100 steps on the Paris Metro can cause outright rebellion and retrospective wisdom. “Why did you insist on coming this way? Didn’t you hear the announcement at the last station? ‘Escalator fermé’ ‘Lift closed’ I just assumed you’d hear it. Mr know it all, can’t ask directions, self managed tour guide. Now we’ll miss the plane and be stuck here another day while you drag me to more stations to admire boring 19th century industrial architecture.”

Kids add an infinite number of challenges to a holiday and disagreements over bed time, food choices, how to cook the fish and the interpretation of the rented house’s garbage night rules can blow into a family fight of de' Medici proportions. A few days at Byron Bay have already led to harsh words and noisy silences so I am actually pleased when Wendy and Sue array themselves opposite me and join in an outright frontal attack on my perceived inadequacies.

Sue leads the charge: “You know the most romantic thing you could do Dad? You could load the dishwasher occasionally.” Wendy nods frowning assent. The twins turn their heads and wait expectantly for my response.

“Wha…?” I look towards the kitchen and wonder how long before my “All Day” breakfast will arrive. During daylight the Spicy Nirvana Genuine Indian Tofu Café doubles as a coffee shop with an eclectic menu of salads, focaccias and cooked breakfasts containing every combination of bacon, ham, sausage, eggs, tomato, baked beans, mushrooms and onion. A slight smell of curry and garlic hangs in the air from last night but there is little spice and no tofu on the daytime menu. I watch the cook thump the steel fry pan on the stove and hear the first searing bubbling as the chorizo and bacon hit the pan. In his frameless, no reflection glasses and a knitted oriental style baseball cap turned back to front, our cook looks a bit like Malaysia's perpetual opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

“It’s a great life isn’t it? You sit there reading and playing with the kids while Mum slaves away cooking your dinner. You eat it, go back to your chair and snore while the rest of us dance around cleaning up after you.” Wendy is still nodding, but a slightly uncomfortable look is beginning to appear. There is an inferred criticism of Wendy for actually putting up with my old fashioned male chauvinist ways.

It’s like a tennis match. The twins eyes follow the volley to me, expectation still high. I can’t disappoint them. I return an attacking backhand: “But I …”

“Don’t start on your crap Dad. Mum was only away for a week and you decide we’d have a dishwasher. Straight down to Bridge Road Appliances you were. They delivered it the same day…”

“Yeah and when I get home you tell me: ‘I’m never washing another dish again.’ At least you could load the thing occasionally.”

The kids are looking at me forlornly; I’m beginning to disappoint them. I look towards the stove. The cook is preparing pancakes and two semi-healthy salads. Still no sign of the eggs. I still have some time to fill: “What’s the point of me loading the dishwasher. I always get it wrong. You don’t like the way I stack the dishes or I haven’t washed them well enough before I stack them. What’s the point of washing dishes by hand anyway? If the dish washer was any good, you shouldn’t have to prewash.”

“I asked you to look at the dishwasher training video that came with it, but you just don’t have time. Allegedly!!! Just think about it. You're a bloody expert on learned helplessness. Keep it up and they'll award you a Doctorate.”

“Look Wendy, I used to like cooking and other kitchen stuff, but you don’t give me a proper chance anymore. Adjusting the flames on the stove. Hanging over me with your bloody great carving knife pointed at me while I’m holding something hot. I just don’t get a proper go at it.”

“Ha Bloody Ha… Last time you cooked you nearly burnt the house down. You prepare your curry, turn on the frypan full bore and then go and check your bloody emails while it warms up. I heard the smoke alarm out in the garden before it penetrated past that firewall you wrap around your brain when you’re at that bloody computer.”

“Well it needs intense concentration to solve the sort of problems I have to deal with. It needs a real intellect to keep all those balls in the air trying to work out where a program might be failing. You have no idea…”

“Intellect, ha! If you’re so intellectual Dad, why do you still refuse to do an IQ test? You’re scared aren’t you? Scared you’ll be caught out as just as smart as everyone else. You do that philosophy course and give up when someone doesn’t give you a high distinction on one of your essays.”

“Well it was just some kid with no life experience. How dare he criticise my ideas on …?”

I’m saved by the arrival of the food. Attention turns to correcting the way the kids are eating their pancakes and I pretend to drift off into some deep thought. Harmony has been restored to our holiday.


As we walk back to the house, young Nick dances backwards and forwards in front of me. Taunting me to chase him, defying me to catch him. When we have to cross a street, hostilities cease temporarily and his soft little hand creeps up into mine and he leans against my hip as we walk across the road together. When we reach the other side, he darts off ahead calling on me to give chase. We decide the rain has set in. We decide to get into our pyjamas and watch a DVD. Young Nick races to my chair calling “I’m going to sit in Grandpa’s chair. Ha Ha!” By the time the movie starts he’s relented and he’s sitting comfortably in the hammock between my left arm and my chest while we watch Indiana prepare to do battle with the baddies.

I wake up a couple of hours later. Nick is still on my lap. Young Jan is perched on the sofa looking at the screen with her worried frown. Wendy is sitting next to her looking particularly gorgeous. She’s wearing purple satin pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with “I’ve decide to put myself in charge!” Her head is tilted back at 90° to her back, mouth open, purring away like an old leaking steam shovel.

I collect the afternoon tea plates and start to load the dishwasher. Wendy is suddenly beside me and grabs the plates. “Not there. Not like that you clown.”

I think about what stupid thing I might do tomorrow to relieve the tension.


Unknown said...

Yes, bloody funny John. I can see it all. Ha!

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