One’s annual holiday abroad – I leave for mine, a week on a Mediterranean island, later today – always brings with it a range of preparatory anxieties. Quite apart from semi-constant worries over the location of one’s passport, ticket and boarding pass, mine this year include the possibility that I shall be arrested by Interpol as soon as I touch down anywhere in the EU.
Let me explain. Three or four years ago (the passage of time renders me a little hazy on the detail these days) I was on holiday in Umbria and in possession of a hire car. On the last day, on our way to Rome airport, to kill some time and just for the hell of it, I drove my daughter to the steps of Vatican City. Nothing untoward happened, we dumped the car at the airport and flew home.
About a month later, I was contacted by the Italian hire car company seeking payment of 120 euros as their standard administrative fee for handling a police accusation of a speeding violation (and automatic fine of 100 euros) against me. Actually, it was not one but two, both offences allegedly taking place within the space of seven minutes on a dual-carriageway whilst driving into Rome.
Initially I took an affronted stance. I called the car hire company and said I had no knowledge of the alleged offences and therefore, without proof thereof (photographic or otherwise) was disinclined to pay anything to anyone. For all I knew, this was a scam, a made-up charge by which someone in Italy – I carefully avoided accusing the Mafia – made a healthy profit off unwary tourists from foreign climes. In which context, I added with more than a hint of sarcasm, I supposed at least I could consider myself lucky to have been accused of only two offences. The allegation could just as easily have been one of twenty, presumably making someone a healthy profit of 2000 euros if I was foolish enough to pay up.
In response, I was told that contractually I had no choice – the police had contacted them and, within the terms and conditions of my hire, I was obliged to pay them for handling the ‘incident’. Reluctantly, I therefore paid the car hire company what it claimed was due.
Over the next three months I then received a succession of demands – in Italian – from a department of the Rome police for payment of 200 euros in respect of the two offences. At first I agonised over whether or not simply to pay up and forget about the episode. However, when later demands began warning of excess interest to be added if I did not pay, I took a deep breath and began chucking them straight in the bin.
That remains the position. As a result, when I arrive at my holiday destination airport this afternoon and report to the hire car company, I anticipate that there is a small but real possibility that I shall be clapped in irons and led away, possibly for a rather longer ‘holiday’ abroad than I had originally planned.
Elsewhere I was a little concerned earlier this week to read of a survey at the University of Illinois in the USA which concluded that women are more comfortable with the prospect of having one-night stands when they are on holiday.
Apparently, Liza Berdychevsky (Assistant Professor, Recreation, Sport and Tourism) conducted two studies. In the first she interviewed thirteen U.S. women aged 18 or older – in the second, she interviewed twenty-one Israeli women aged 23-56.
Her conclusion – as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald – is that travel tends to give women ‘an altered sense of reality … whilst minimizing perceptions of risk and long-term consequences’ and prompts them in being willing to take risks, e.g. as to whether they chose to have unprotected sex or not. Ms Berdychevsky suggested that work needs to be done to make young people understand that ‘not everything that happens on vacation will stay there’.
As usual, I shall be travelling on my holiday today in the company of an entourage which includes two not-inexpensive (what used to be termed in the old days as) ‘bouncers’.
Said gentlemen have the sole and specific responsibility to fend off the expected hordes of scantily-dressed young ladies who – if past experience is any guide – will be attempting to throw themselves at me at every opportunity as I go quietly about my lawful business in the local market, beachside bars and lido swimming pool of the small but trendy resort for which I leave from Gatwick this afternoon.
Sadly, this is now the kind of precaution that every man of good breeding and discernment must take in order to protect himself from a succession of breach of promise and/or paternity suits. But hey, that’s life in the 21st Century …