You have to wonder why some ever leave home, writes Tim Warrington
There's one in every group — at least. Unless you travel alone, but that's no guarantee. You know who I'm talking about: that person who thinks they love to travel, but the only thing they adore more than the next stamp in their passport is complaining about the country that gave it to them. While abroad, they mutter and grumble about everything.
What it should be; could be; or would be back home — where they left their manners.
You may know them as the serial complainer, but their real name is Chips and Egg. In the 80s movie Shirley Valentine, Pauline Collins, in the title role, finds herself marooned on an island with dozens of disconsolate Brits, bussed to a Greek resort where satisfaction and tolerance disappear into the cloudless skies, serenaded yonder by the call of cicadas.
Shirley dreams of escape and of lands where the grape is grown, but finds instead a coach full of sad-sack expats, virgin suitcases and wasted airfares. Perhaps Chips and Egg are looking for a warmer version of Sheffield, Ramsgate or Dagenham. Perhaps they're searching for reassurance that their outdoor privy is the only journey worth the effort.
In Shirley Valentine, the rancorous tourists are mollified only when the heroine rescues a culinary challenged couple from a fate worse than calamari by whipping up chips and egg times two in the resort kitchen — diplomatic crisis averted. Shirley immerses herself in the Greek culture and embraces the unknown and unfamiliar with unparallelled exuberance. Surely the patron saint of tourists?
St Shirley talks to foreign rocks, swims naked in the Mediterranean and swoons as a local Adonis kisses her stretch marks. All without a bottle of hand sanitiser in sight. And though my stretch marks remain un-kissed, I travel with similar abandon.
My rather passive method of dealing with Chips and Egg is to not deal. Let them go and enjoy their ride. Invariably, their exhausting negativity will tire them and Chips and Egg will go and have a nap in the hotel room, or play keyboard warrior on TripAdvisor, and let you get on with your trip. Once, a Chips and Egg, horizontal with food poisoning, went into hotel lockdown and I was able to explore Tokyo for two whole days without a single reference to Lonely Planet or travel insurance; or descending into mayhem when it came to selecting a restaurant. Bliss.
Chips and Egg are easy to recognise. Spot them from a hundred paces at any tourist attraction by their mealy-mouthed, "say cheese" unhappy snap grimace. A soundtrack of audible groans trails them wherever they go, betraying their omnipresent grey cloudiness and alerting the happy-go-lucky traveller to bypass the treacherous misery.
Once, on a trip to Sri Lanka, I found myself powerless to avoid a three-day group bus tour. No sooner had I left Colombo, than two Chips and Egg launched into a diatribe about how the concierge couldn't speak fluent English.
The very nerve.
When we stopped for lunch, they declared all our beverages undrinkable, as rats had no doubt urinated on the soft drinks and dragged their large rodent gonads over the soda cans. When we finally hit Five Star — an overly sanitised neo-Disney-esque resort hotel on the coast — I jumped ship and travelled south on a train, in a carriage full of friendly locals, a dozen chickens and a goat. Heaven.
I met the president's bodyguard, who insisted on taking my picture. It's a broad grin: a happy face — awesome. He captured a euphoric moment when I was free of the "don't", "shouldn't" and "that would never happen at home". The low point, in Sri Lanka, came when Chips and Egg No.1 screamed obscenities at a Buddhist monk for pointing out there was a donation required to use the rest rooms at a temple.
Fortunately, the monk seemed unfamiliar with the expletives slung at him and maintained an aura of fabled calm, but when tensions rose, the sheer ferocity of the language hurled at him ratified anything lost in translation and he crumpled before us.
My resting Ommms were shattered as Chips and Egg No.1 dropped the F bomb several more times as we departed. We exited the temple, passing the colossal gold Buddha in a swirl of embarrassment and incomprehension.
On our travels we meet them all. It's a funny old place, this globe-trotted world of ours.