Monday, 27 May 2013

How The British Bank Holiday Can Break a Man in 72 Hours or Less

It is a truth universally acknowledged among the swinish and brash that the first sun-blessed bank holiday of the year is the ideal time to pressure wash their garden decking, perhaps for hours on end, perhaps stopping periodically to mow their lawn or use a pneumatic jackhammer to chip a cherub from their imitation Trevi Fountain or a hair dryer to blow the winter dust from their atonal wind-chimes. What better time is there for homicidally-inclined couples to adopt vein-constricting swimwear over their jaundiced gooseflesh before they can argue with the force of an industrial sandblasting operation about who forgot to bring out the bleach or whether they should use deck cleaner on the stains from last year’s wine? Only then can she call him some degenerate name and he can bark back a sequence of four letters that might or might not remind you of how Keats once described the summer as ‘a sweet reprieve / From little cares; to find, with easy quest, / A fragrant wild, with Nature's beauty drest’.

There is sadly no truth universally acknowledged that might arm you against the porcine hordes other than the advice I can give you now which is to lock your doors, fall to your knees, and mutter dark threats to whatever god or gods exist in your theology so they might bring autumn forward by six weeks. There exists no pair of noise-cancelling headphones that can cancel a British bank holiday, just as there is no law in the land that makes it possible to escape Mr Bacchus and Mrs Dionysus (he works for BT and she's a school dinner lady). There are only laws written by cowards and fools that prevent a man from pumping untreated sewage through a knot in his garden fence and the police hold nothing but a dim view of anyone who makes their point with a very long stick with a nail gorilla-taped to the end, even if that point happens to be into the side of a fifteen foot rubber swimming pool that quacks like a duck whenever it is filled.

Yet I don’t remember bank holidays always being this bad. When did holidaying Britain become a nation ruled by a vocal few who are, for want of an adequate description, snorting jackals driven insane by bad meat and brain parasites that have infected their prefrontal cortex leaving them wide-mouthed, unsociable, and flapping around their decking in their flip flops, their reddening flesh exposed so the world can see that selfishness does indeed run through the entirety of their soulless selves?

There’s not even an easy way to escape them. They follow you to the emptiest beach and choose a spot twelve feet from your Lilo to hold their own open air rock festival. A sunny bank holiday in the countryside is nothing if it's not a celebration of dirt biking, quad biking, and sticking a 4x4 through a butterfly meadow. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll meet them at the only time in the day when they do demand a little quiet, which is when they’re pursuing the nation’s most rapidly growing outdoor participation sport: dogging. Stop in the wrong spot and they’ll either headlight-flash you into a catatonic state or grope you from the bushes. Is that the smell of summer in the air? No, it’s just the Lynx Effect rising from the post-coital taxi driver now emerging through the hedgerow with nettle rash in his underwear.

But enough tales of English fauna. You might be one of those poor bastards who actually hoped to enjoy your garden despite your neighbour’s trampoline capable of propelling a mean-eyed delinquent higher than you can grow a hedge. Forget Amazon and Google and their taxes. Who would sell a garden hammock to a person who lacks the skills to drive it? You wouldn’t put an infant in charge of a chainsaw so why give deck-chairs to people who believe that Genesis are as vital to a good tan as sunscreen and the new Dan Brown? Nothing – and I mean nothing – makes the blood run slower or colder than Genesis played loudly on a bank holiday. If your neighbours want a war, I say give them a war. Don’t let them to outgun you with their middle-of-the-road banality. Hit them with The Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey, or, if things turn nuclear, The Velvet Underground’s ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’. (Serious question: what is the best music to play during a summer music war? Crazy Horse or Wham? Tom Waits or Lady Gaga? Do you pursue victory through might or go for mutually-assured destruction? Those are tough questions that require cool nerves to answer.)

Finally, when evening falls, the smell of overcooked meat fills the air. Your eyeballs weep at the smoke drifting in on the breeze from the neighbour’s patio where they’re roasting the last of the world's giant pandas on their B&Q barbecue. But it’s too hot to close your doors and windows. Blinded, you sit in the gathering dusk, listening to the braying of deviant laughter. Her brother arrives packing the Tim Vine joke book and a Michael McIntyre box set. Wine is served and the jokes become coarser as the smoke thickens and casts a bloody pall over the light of their mock Victorian street lamp. A balloon pops as his overweight uncle performs Zorba's Dance before glasses smash to a roar of approval. Then it’s time for the fireworks, the disco, a quick game of touch rugby, and then it’s the midnight karaoke…

Around 4AM, the party breaks up. There are familiar songs of farewell from the street below; confessions of love, comradeship, eternal loyalty. And then, as the last solemn ‘god bless’ echoes down the sleepless streets, you enjoy the blissful respite as silence finally falls for all of five minutes before the dawn chorus signals the start of another glorious day in our semi demi paradise.

Another piece written in the hope of getting it accepted by 'Comment is Free' in The Guardian. It wasn't. 


  1. Amanda Fairchild1 March 2015 at 05:50

    This article is beyond awesome. Thank you for expressing how I feel every bloody summer in my West Midlands paradise...

  2. Thank Amanda. Good to know I'm not the only one who looks on the warmer days for spring with dread of what is to come in the summer. ;)

  3. […] energy to throw my verbal weight into another 1000 anti-spring bank holiday piece so I’ll merely direct you to the one I wrote earlier. Besides, I don’t think I could write a better one. While I’m about it, here’s a very […]