Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Urban Dictionary

Staycation: (n) a vacation spent at home or near home, doing enjoyable activities or visiting local attractions.

Or what you do when you are skint. A little bit of honesty sometimes will not go amiss. Of course there’s more to “staycation” than finances and luckily, nowadays it’s a choice most of us can make. It’s even been recognised as an official word by the Oxford Dictionary. So, all those holidays in the Wirral finally paid off.

But going back to choices for a second, I have often been told by people born and raised here in Blighty that many years ago low-income or working class families didn’t have many (choices, that is). Therefore, it was always a few days away in Blackpool in the summer every year. Or a day trip to Frinton- or Southend-on-Sea. Or whatever money allowed. Sometimes not even that. Two or three years would go by before a trip in the old banger was arranged hastily the night before for the morning after.

Blackpool, UK. But would you not rather be in Minorca?
But in recent years, low budget holidays abroad have changed that. Cheap flights, all-inclusive accommodation and a more moneyed (and money-minded) working class contributed to the exploration of boundaries beyond Dover. Even if this still meant some stereotypical British tourists trying to make themselves understood using the old method of SPEAKING IN A VERY LOUD VOICE, PRONOUNCING EACH WORD VERY CAREFULLY. Mind you, at least you lot are better than my lot. Cubans can’t even travel freely. And what to say of the pioneers of staycation, the denizens of the old socialist bloc? Yes, some were allowed to travel from the former Soviet Union to East Germany, for instance (as long as they toed the party line and they were considered to be model citizens), but the landscape in both Moscow and Berlin was coloured by the KGB and the Stasi respectively. Bearing in mind that most eastern European socialist countries were thought as extensions of the Kremlin’s back garden; staycation is an appropriate term to use. So, my dear Brits, please, do carry on ASKING WHERE THE EIFFEL TOWER IS. Clue: it’s right behind you!

This boom in short- and long-haul holidays left the UK tourist industry depending more on tourists trying to catch a glimpse of the Queen or castle-hopping. Suddenly Ayia Napa was far more interesting than Lyme Regis. Until 2008.

With the financial crisis of 2008 many habits changed. Holidays were amongst those activities that underwent a makeover. Because when you think of it, no matter how cheap your flight to Rome is, you still have to find accommodation. Maybe you want to incorporate car-hire, and how about the insurance? Suddenly that hundred quid holiday turns into a thousand –pound one. Compare that to £299 for a two-bedroom cottage in Devon that sleeps four. That’s the annual family summer holiday sorted. Yes, of course, there’s still the petrol to factor in and the catering, but does anyone really include petrol costs in their vacation planning?

Staycation is here to stay, pardon the tautology. I have always been of the opinion that one should (must, even) know one’s country like the back of one’s hand before venturing out to explore other lands. I, unfortunately, have never been to eastern Cuba and that’s been in my to-do list for many years now for when we go back. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Perhaps the economic collapse of 2008 will have inadvertently a positive effect on the younger generation and will awaken their desire to discover the wealth of culture, history and nature the UK has to offer. Who knows? Maybe it will be French-speakers asking: OÙ EST LE CHATEAU ACTON, S’IL VOUS PLAÎT? Clue: it’s right behind you!

© 2014

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 5th October at 10am (GMT)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

I recently had to take my daughter to our GP. Nothing major, an infection had taken residence on my wee bairn’s face, and we wanted to find out what it was and how she could get rid of it. As we sat in the semi-empty room, surrounded by a sea of chairs arranged uniformly, thoughts of mortality assailed me. These were not the result of mental self-laceration, brought about by reflections on the hereafter. My musings were caused by the large screen situated up on the wall at the front of the room in a way that it could be seen by everyone from every angle. The screen loomed ominously on the few patients (and visitors) in the room like a version of Orwell’s Big Brother. The sound was off and subtitles ran across the bottom of it. But it was not the object that made me think of life and death, especially the latter, but the environment in which it operated, including the message conveyed by the images on the screen.

Forget about the absence of an apostrophe. Just be scared, be very scared!

I know that as we enter the cold season of the year (autumn is almost here, even if it has been
unusually warm for September. This will be followed, I’m sure, by a winter that might want to take revenge on us for last year’s mildness) we ought to think more of those who are at risk of falling prey to flu and other maladies. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for depressing waiting rooms in GP surgeries. On this occasion as I sat in the semi-empty waiting room with my daughter, I noticed that the walls, fronts desk, lift door, stairs and entrance were festooned with explicit posters and bunting about the anti-flu jab. They also carried a very detailed description of what symptoms to look out if one thought a cold was coming on. No wonder I began to sneeze.

Despite my overall good health (touch wood), I felt somewhat hypochondriac and paranoid in that room. Between the messages being beamed at me by the large screen and the flyers around me, I began to doubt my own well-being. Falls, respiratory complications, obesity, allergies, dementia, you name it; they covered all that in just under a quarter of an hour.

As I mentioned before, it goes without saying that a GP surgery is better placed than other outlets to raise awareness of a balanced and stress-free lifestyle and regular medical check-ups. But there are ways of doing it without overwhelming people who come in to see their doctor in circumstances which could be, to put it mildly, very delicate sometimes. As I walked back down the stairs with my daughter to return to the car park, I kept watching my step. Having been exposed half an hour before to images of what a nasty fall could cause, I didn’t fancy a trip to casualty with a broken ankle. It took me another day to recover from the GP experience. I wonder how much longer it would take someone with a more susceptible personality.

This is a follow-up to my previous post. A lot of good literature is being written in Cuba. Not just novels, but also poetry and short stories. I think it is my duty as someone born and raised in the Caribbean island and armed with a weapon to which many of these up-and-coming authors have no access – a blog - , to promote their work. No, this is not a sponsored feature and I’m not being commissioned by anyone. My only interest in finding a larger audience to the two books below is that they were both translated by an ex-postgraduate teacher I had back in uni when I was still an undergraduate student. Dick Cluster very kindly made an exception for me to join his lectures on crime fiction and for that I will always be grateful. He is also a writer in his own right of both fiction and non-fiction. Click on all the links provided to find out more.

A Corner of the World

Vital Signs

© 2014

Next Post: “Urban Dictionary”, to be published on Wednesday 1st October at 11:59pm (GMT)


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