Lumped Together in Paradise. 14 January 2013

You can't choose who chooses to go on holiday at the same time and to the same place as you, but you can put them off the idea of talking to you. 

We didn't come on holiday to make friends. However, the tactics we employed in order to avoid unnecessary conversation bordered on anti-social. Snap decisions about people based on superficial evidence can induce a 'cross the road when you see them coming' frame of mind when time is as precious as it is when you're on vacation. On this basis we establish which people to avoid, and who we are keen to observe in order to know them better. A kind of sorting of the muggles from the wizards.

People-watching on holiday can be hugely entertaining, but it requires discretion, or dark glasses. If eye contact is made, some people see this as an open invitation to strike up a conversation. These people could not be more mistaken. The discerning eye is merely sizing up, giving a once-over and generally appraising and creating a narrative around the person it lands on.

Guessing what the relationships between people in small to medium sized groups are adds depth to mere watching. There is also insight to be gained from observing eating and drinking behaviour. Poolside activity and reading material are additional indicators of personality types.

People with children naturally gravitate towards each other in a kind of 'I'll take the morning shift, you take the afternoon' kind of way. Before they know it they are lumped with each other, including every meal time, pretending to be firm friends. The kids have meanwhile discovered they don't really like each other and are bickering. It's all going horribly wrong.... It ends in hushed negotiations with 'guest relations' about the percentage split of their final bills at check-out time.

Fussy eaters who make the saintly dining staff uneasy (the unconcealed turning up of the hyper-sensitive, hypo-allergenic nose at things they simply don't recognise being a staple characteristic of this tribe) deserve to be visited nightly by a plague of mosquitos for their pains, though the biting blighters don't appear to discriminate.....

The large family group has a big impact on an otherwise couples-heavy resort. But this imposing and noisy group with their spoilt youngest son and their whiskey-from-sun-up-to-sun-down fathers can be forgiven because they also provided the closest we we going to get to an illicit holiday romance - the long distance teenage cousins. Their forbidden romance blossomed in the shadows like a scene from The King and I.

The intrepid couple reading the guide books and booking the safari and dolphin-watching have criss crossed the country on their way to what was our first and final destination. Hats off to them. They have come here to discover the country beyond the resort's boundaries and their active-ness positively prohibits conversation with them. They're simply too busy.

Essentially lazy sun-seekers, we came here to read books in the sunshine. The dolphin watching was a bonus and the rain only made us read more rather than seek the company of others.

In a small place it is vital to stake your territorial claims. Beach towels and books like the musky spray of a tom cat are strewn into position so that a leisurely breakfast can be enjoyed in the knowledge that our preferred poolside position is safe. These are OUR sun loungers or else This is OUR place to sit when it rains. This is OUR cabana so don't come a knockin'.

Just as I was thinking how the place we stayed in would make a great honeymoon destination, like buses, two sets of honeymooners appeared. They brought a sense of romance with them and lowered the average age by more than a decade. Surely they would not be interested in getting to know us anyway?

Eventually the rain (and when i say rain I mean tropical thunderstorms of biblical proportions) got to us, and we relented. In a consummately British way, the weather provided the obvious, predictable opening lines to what evolved into an entire day of socialising with people we had so much more in common with than we could have ever realised in silence. And the time passed all the more pleasantly for it. So despite the fact that we didn't get to know the country particularly well, we did get very well acquainted with its excellent cuisine and delightful coastline (100 metres of it at any rate), a couple of dogs and some jolly nice people.

And the moral of the story is the only book you can judge by its cover is Michael Frayn's Skios. It's a farce.

Clair Chamberlain

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