Bestworst holiday

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Best It doesn't get much better than the Western Front in January. Choosing a school battlefields trip as your best holiday implies that you are a history anorak of the most dedicated kind. I plead guilty.

But it had all the ingredients for a truly great holiday. The first has become an anecdote I dredge up during pub conversations. There I was, a nervous young history teacher, walking into the repair shop of a grimy bus garage and asking two chain-smoking mechanics if they would mind repairing a puncture on our bus.

Pupils, naturally, offered helpful and constructive advice as I entered a dimly lit room whose walls were covered in a selection of tasteful offerings from a number of top-shelf publications. Inwardly I cursed that I had not catered for this eventuality in my risk assessment and yet my sketchy knowledge of GCSE French role-plays has never come in more useful.

Ingredient number two: good company and cheap wine, the twin pillars that sustain the morale of any staffroom.

Ingredient number three: wonderful memories. My abiding recollection of that trip is of our bus making its way across the Somme battlefield past the memorial to the Ulster Division, with pupils silently gazing out at a serene landscape, a piece of classical music by Butterworth, himself a victim of the fighting, holding their attention for just a minute.

Worst I was a timid 20-year-old who had finally plucked up courage to travel on my own around India. With hindsight, it is clear that my confidence about making an instant mystical connection with my ancestral homeland was misplaced.

I emerged from Indira Gandhi Airport clutching my Lonely Planet guide, my hideous orange bum-bag acting as a beacon to any taxi driver wanting to make a few rupees from a naive westerner. I proved hopelessly unable to adapt to Indian life, and so did my bowels. The moment of final defeat came on a crowded bus to Varanasi, a journey neither I, nor the passenger unfortunate enough to be sitting next to me, will ever forget.

I became so ill, I spent most of my time in Varanasi in my hostel room counting the cockroaches on the floor. My only human contact came when I feebly picked up the phone to ask the manager for a bowl of dal.

Eventually, I admitted defeat and asked my parents to come and rescue me. Safely installed back in my father's family's house in Chandigarh, I was told that travelling around India was a silly idea only indulged in by hippies. I was too ill to argue and sorrowfully concluded that I was not as Indian as I had believed; I was, in fact, very English inde **

Rakesh Pathak teaches in Essex

Bestworst... holiday

Over the summer, The TES Magazine is turning the spotlight from lessons to holidays. Tell us about your best and worst holiday and we'll pay you Pounds 100. Email no more than 500 words to

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