The story of David Burnish, who won compensation from Thomson Holidays because his hotel in Greece was full of Germans, is interesting in its way, but for many British holidaymakers it misses the point.
Speaking for myself and to judge from survey results many others too, what I most wish to avoid on holiday are not Germans, but other Britons. First, let us make it clear that Mr Burnish has nothing against Germans. Heavens no, that would be racism, which, with its stable companions, sexism and homophobia, is a sin crying to the heavens for vengeance. His complaint was that the hotel in Kos catered almost exclusively for Germans and he and his family felt left out.
Having cleared that up, we can return to the main point, which is that getting away from it all has in recent years become a heartfelt yearning to escape the society of one’s fellow countrymen. It is not simply that we are increasingly a boorish, loutish people, devoid of manners and given to casual outbursts of violence, though we are; it that those characteristics travel only too well. Those who are boorish, drunken and sociopathic on home ground are many times worse when they set foot on other lands.
There is a marketing opportunity here. Thomson, or some other travel company, should specialise in providing holidays for those few remaining civilised, middle-class folk who are able to get through the day without assaulting complete strangers, effing and blinding at the top of their voices, and vomiting as a kind of grace note.
Like it or not, the problem is one of class. Time was money could buy isolation from the coarser elements. To travel first-class was to travel not merely in luxury but also among other people who knew how to hold a conversation and a knife and fork. Then along came Margaret Thatcher, a great leveller for all that she is still reviled by those whom she enriched, and international travel in the best seats and to the best places was thrown open to all.
I remember paying extra to fly upstairs on a transatlantic Virgin flight. I had imagined that in addition to the extra legroom I should be travelling in an atmosphere of civilised calm. Wrong. Shortly after take-off, an overweight Brit in a kind of Hawaiian shirt rose from his seat and padded over – he had first taken the trouble to remove his shoes and socks – to near where I was seated to talk to a few of his friends. This he did at the top of his voice for the next hour and a half. Later, one of his companions, an even fatter shaven-headed man with rings in both ears fell asleep and for the rest of the flight the air was rent with the thunderous sound of his snoring. When at length we landed at Heathrow, he woke up, rubbed his eyes and commented on what a peaceful flight it had been.
Snob Holidays, as the venture I have in mind would be called, would target customers living in the usual AB enclaves – Tunbridge Wells, Richmond, Oxshott, Bath, Edinburgh and the like – and would do everything possible to exclude Sid Chav and his partner. Please do not bridle at the word “exclude”. It is, after all, in a variant form the most favoured word in the marketer’s lexicon. We are invited to buy exclusive tableware, exclusive furniture, exclusive clothing on a daily basis, and the word is usually employed to suggest that purchase of such items will set you apart from and above others.
Sid Chav was first spotted some years ago by the late Alan Coren, who called him El Sid. Here is an excerpt from his invasion of Spain: “El Sid had changed into his leisure clothes, string vest and green eye shade with the ex-chief petty officer shorts; his squire favoured a Tesco bikini with a fair isle slipover. The bar was crowded; elegant Gucci shapes glided about in polyglot pre-lunch hum, or waited patiently to catch the barman’s eye. ‘Bloody stroll on,’ muttered the squire. ‘Could take all day.’ But El Sid had set his iron jaw. The glint was in his eye. ‘Oi,’ he bellowed with such force that, in the trim rock garden beyond the windows, lizards leapt and shed their tails. ‘Dos brown ales. Chop-chop.'”The Englishman abroad was always a faintly ridiculous figure. Over-dressed, uncertain of the local etiquette, alternately diffident and overbearing. But today he is just plain, bloody frightening. Selfish, brutish, undisciplined and with an air of menace.
Snob Holidays would turn him from their door, rather in the way that the Ritz once denied admission to all but titled folk. Now that’s exclusive.