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WHAT I DID ON MYHOLIDAYS

09-08-2007

He doesn't believe in travelling..... but he's just got back from holidays. Typical Laurence Inman really. Check out his Rough Guide to Places in The World to Avoid.

In 1790 a young Frenchman called Xavier de Maistre wrote a book called Journey Around My Bedroom.

The book is about just that; he wanders round his room, making it to the window, then walks back. The whole thing is a report of his journey. In 1798 he made the same trip by night.

Another book was the result, this time entitled Nocturnal Expedition Around My Bedroom.

It is quite probable that all this was inspired by Pascal's remark that 'the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.' (Pensees, 269. Everyman edition.)

This is a strangely comforting thought.

I've tried this approach to looking at familiar objects and scenes, and it works. (Well, it depends what you mean by 'works.')

I'm still noticing fresh things about the house I've lived in since 1993. And I don't mean trivialities. I'm talking big metal attachments to the outside walls, odd square bits of plaster which appear to be covering something and other odd mysteries, the functions of which I can't begin to fathom.

Over the last twenty-four years I have owned two dogs. (Not simultaneously; one died and then I got another.) Apart from holidays, I have walked these dogs, daily, down Valentine Road to Highbury Park.

They never get bored, and neither do I, because I can guarantee that I will notice something new about the houses down there, every day. Every day!

My point, if I have one, is that you can only cram so much experience into a single life, and if it is fragmentary, incomplete, taken in a rush, then it can hardly count as real experience at all.

A whole industry seems to have grown up in recent years which promises us a kind of multiplication of possible experiences. We have the technology, the patter goes, to deliver more than can be encompassed by normal linear time.

It's a delusion to believe such a thing, of course. But people behave as if it were possible. You can be on-call all day with your mobile, online and watch the telly at the same time, record what you miss, travel the world in no time.

But what for? People don't seem to realise that if you go to, say, Bolivia, you won't learn anything about Bolivia, only about what it's like to be a tourist in Bolivia, which is basically the same experience in any country.

You might as well be a tourist in Frinton. There's no point in doing it more than once. If that many. Why not leave it as an undiscovered mystery ? Why inflict your great clinking footprint on strangers innocently going about their business, just to satisfy a pseudo-curiosity cynically put into your head by some cash-grasping travel-agent? Eh?

Travel these days is pointless.

It might have been worth doing when it took three months on the back of a donkey to get somewhere totally different and not meet anybody from Slough on the way.

But now - well, Timbuctoo could well be the same as Basingstoke. I'm with Philip Larkin on this. When asked if he might ever want to go to China, he replied: 'Yes. If I could get back the same afternoon.'

Having said that, I've just spent two weeks in my usual holiday destination.

It's in Greece, the Mani, and it suits me perfectly. I don't have to traipse around looking at rocks, sculptures, building, pictures, none of which I understand. I don't have any pressure to do anything.

I won't tell you where it is, because I couldn't stand the thought of one extra person finding it and clogging up the coast-road south, where I will be running every day in the dazzling sunlight you find only there.

As for the rest of the world (apart from Paris, Rome, New York, bits of London, the bits of Berlin that aren't too German for my taste, Vienna, Edinburgh and Dublin) here's the definitive low-down on it, according to me.

And remember, with a good camera you can make Nechells look brilliant.

1. The expanse of America between NY and California: has a makeshift, unfinished quality. Not nice on the whole. People are too in-your-face. Can't get a decent cup of Earl Grey anywhere.

2. The Middle East: so hot it interferes with life. You can't walk about at midday. (When I was there it was 54C every day.) If you dive in a pool you might never get out because the tiles and metal steps are white hot. Populated by dim ex-pats who treat the locals like dirt. The locals are incredibly generous.

3. Singapore: hot and wet. Indescribably boring, like England in the early fifties but without the great radio.

4. Hong Kong: flash, but boring. Only people there are those making a mint and those who work to make it for them, who are very poor.

5. Rural Europe: one village is very like another. A bit like England in 1400, except you're never more than a few kilometres from a McDonalds.

6. Europe by the coast: full of rural Europeans who are drunk and Brits who are drunk and want a fight.

Have a nice rest-of-the-summer.

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