Not every holiday goes according to plan.  A few years back a friend decided to spend a day of his UK holiday doing a boat trip to a couple of islands off the coast.  The first mistake he made was not checking the boat he was taking.  When it arrived, it looked like it had been at Dunkirk.

The weather in 1940 was better.  On the day of my friend’s trip high waves crashed over the boat which pitched and rolled violently as it crept forward.  He thought the woman next to him was leaning over to say something to him when she threw up over his flip flops.  He tried to steady his own stomach by distracting himself.  Singing along in his head to pop lyrics ought to do it.  What could he think of?  ‘Somebody get me a doctor’ by Van Halen.  No, try something else.   Aerosmith’s ‘Sick as a dog’.  He decided to look out of the window instead.

When the boat finally arrived at the first island he discovered that the only thing there was a large gift shop and café plus a handful of cottages scattered over a bleak, windswept landscape.  It was a scene of utter desolation.  Thank heavens this was only a half-hour stop because he was going on to a second island.   He felt sorry for the twenty or so poor devils he was leaving behind to wait three hours until the boat returned.  He and the two other people who were also continuing the trip were more fortunate.  Hang on, why were there only two of them?

He knew the answer well before the boat reached the rotting jetty on the next island.  The first island had nothing on it.  This one had less.  He stood in the driving rain looking longingly over his shoulder as the captain of the departing boat took his life in his hands once again and set out to sea.

Slowly he struggled up a dirt track.  Three hours would soon pass.  Proof of that came when he found a Portakabin with a badly needed loo in it.  Pinned on a wall was a notice:  ‘Visit Karl and Miriam’s tea room’.  Great.  Human company.  People are so interesting.  He’d find out all about them and tell them about himself.

Back up the dirt track.  Half a mile.  No tea room.  A mile.  No tea room.  Only an abandoned cowshed.  With some faded words painted on it.  Tea room.

He went into the gloom and just made out two people standing behind a serving hatch.  ‘Karl and Miriam!’ he said in his most engaging voice.  ‘What’s it to you?’ came the reply.  ‘Well, I saw a notice’, he said, ploughing on recklessly in an endeavour he already knew to be doomed.  ‘It was in the Portakabin toilet back down the path.’  ‘We have a toilet here’, Karl intoned accusingly.

Change the subject fast.  ‘What’s the weather been like here this summer?’  ‘Atrocious’, said Miriam.  ‘We don’t understand why there haven’t been more visitors.’  For months afterwards my friend asked himself if she really had said those words or whether he’d been suffering an auditory hallucination.

After a cold cup of tea he went back outside into what was now a gale.  He kept going up the track.  Then he found his way blocked.  By cows.  Half a dozen of them.  As they stared at him and refused to budge he had two simultaneous thoughts – how much their eyes looked like Karl’s and this was called ‘the trampling season’.  He was sure he’d read that somewhere.  All it would take was one particularly hormonal cow and the rest would follow by a process called ‘group cooperation’.  And while the risk of outright death from a killer cow was something like 55,000 to 1, the risk of permanent maiming was much higher.  He decided to sit on a wet bank some distance away and wait for them to disperse.

They did five minutes later so he resumed his walk. It could have been worse.  The cows could have been bulls.  He rounded a bend in the track.  A bull was standing in front of him.  It snorted at him and started pawing the ground.  Which was the strongest of these emotions he was feeling – the panic, the acceptance of the strange inevitability of it all or the desire to cry?  It was the panic.  The bull wouldn’t have seen him for dust.

When he stopped running he saw a cemetery off to the left.  He spent quarter of an hour wandering round it, reading the inscriptions on the gravestones.  Surely most of these people had been killed by cattle.  No obvious sign of that.  He carried on walking.  Look, another cemetery.  Ten minutes there.  Now he’d run out of graveyards to visit.  That still left an hour and a half before the boat came back but he decided anyway to return to the jetty and wait.  And wait.

So that was one day in a friend’s holiday.  Had he wasted it?  Yes, that’s what he thought at the time.  But after a while he started to see the funny side of it.  He could dine out on this story for the rest of his life.  And it had been a change and a sort of rest.  As he said, holidays are really important because we need our batteries charging at regular intervals.  And, curiously, he felt that had happened on this day.  He’d seen a new place and had a different experience and no experience is ever wasted.  And above all it beat working.

Just about.