I Need a Holiday
Words and Music goes on holiday with readers Scott Handy and Jemima Rooper, taking in the Italian sights, the South of France, the great outdoors and the breezy British seaside. They struggle with the journey, the swarms of tourists, the rucksacks, the weather forecast and the age-old problems of expectation exceeding reality but are determined to have a good time. There is also archive recording of John Betjeman and Philip Larkin reading their own work. The soundtrack to the getaway is provided by Liszt and Gershwin, Vaughan Williams and Whitlock, and Suggs and Solomon Burke, to name a few.
“How strange this yearning for being elsewhere doing nothing”, says Mark Haddon in The Red House, “holidays without the holy, pilgrimage become mere travel, the destination handed to us on a plate…” However Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. “ So off on our holidays we go.
Even in the Middle Ages the arrival of some decent weather triggered the desire to get away, although in those days it was pilgrimage rather than package tour. But the actual going is sometimes the best bit – and the worst. There’s the typical family journey by car, with John Betjeman (reading the opening of his poem Beside the Seaside) , Michael Rosen and his squabbling children, and Suggs echoing the same sentiments as he travels happily to his rotten little beach hut by the sea. There’s the train, with Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Haddon, both looking out of their respective carriage windows but with rather different feelings about the passing scene. And perhaps most uncomfortably, you could go by coach and horse, with Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners as they set off to Derbyshire.
Wordsworth, the great walker, sets out with a light heart and apparently limitless energy as he covers the miles through the Lake District, and Stevenson’s Vagabond (set by Vaughan Williams) shares that love of endlessly tramping the byways of the countryside. But Bill Bryson is honest enough to share what for many of us is the reality of hiking – the over-optimistic schedule, the ridiculously heavy rucksack, the sheer distance and unattainability of your chosen mountain peak…
Hardy’s unnamed would-be holiday maker is unimpressed with the reality of her experience as well, but the traditional song “July Wakes” tells of two weavers looking forward all year to climbing Pendle Hill, whatever the weather, on the annual mill holiday - “we’ll be weaving 51 weeks of bread and just one of life – To ‘ell wi’ looms…”
And so to travel abroad, accompanied by Liszt’s Annees de pelerinage - 2me annee, Italie. Most people like to think of themselves as travellers, whereas the locals downgrade them to tourists…Lucy Honeychurch is under no illusions as to her status in Italy in “A Room with a View”, but e e cummings paints a vivid picture of the coming of the tourists, “armed with large legs rancid voices Baedekers Mothers and kodaks”. (The music Tu vuò fà l'americano" is an instrumental version of a song satirising the effect of American culture on Italians in the 50s, followed by an arrangement of part of “An American in Paris”) The Canadian poet P.K.Page is also scathing about the swarms, but manages to find some redeeming beauty in their hunger to see the sights.
And so back to the seaside, where we were heading with John Betjeman earlier. Jerome K. Jerome recalls a holiday ruined by actually taking notice of the weather forecast, and Philip Larkin reads his poem To the Sea, talking of the surprising dignity and ritual of the annual seaside trip. The programme closes with E.M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady, a prototype Bridget Jones, on holiday in the South of France, struggling to emulate the elegance and swimming abilities of her eminent companions, and finally Elizabeth Daryush’s atmospheric description of the holiday scene once everyone has departed, set to the ghost of “La Mer”…
Producer: Elizabeth Funning