The holiday that went down the wrong way;Talkback

17th September 1999 at 01:00
Until I went on holiday to Turkey this year I was a stomach pump virgin. I'd never even seen one, let alone sw-sw-swallowed one, all that red rubber as thick and slippery as the gas pipe on a Bunsen burner.

It was one of those all-inclusive holidays with everything - food, beer, ice cream - "free". They came as part of the package. But it wasn't indulgence that did it for me. I have an over-sensitive oesophagus. As the Queen Mother is to the bones of grilled trout and poached salmon, so am I to pieces of burnt toast and gristly beef. They lodge in my gullet. I can breathe but not swallow. In Britain I've had gentler treatment. In Turkey I got the pump.

I didn't enjoy the experience, but whatever was lodged in my throat came up, alongside, it seemed, several of my internal organs. After four hours at the clinic and a ride in a private ambulance, I was glad I'd taken out holiday insurance.

The next day I had another defeat. I did my usual width in the pool. I know I'm no athlete - I do the front crawl with attitude, lashing out at the water as if it means to drown me. As I surfaced, breathless, at the other side, a little Brit bobbed up to me. "My brother'll race yer," he said. I looked around at a grinning, crop-haired eight-year-old who could obviously swim like a bullet. I can't remember my exact reply, but it was some tetchy version of on your bike, sonny.

As a teacher, I should have praised the lad for his enterprise, let his brother thrash me, then caught him out with bits of mental arithmetic, anything to reassert my authority. But I didn't. The stomach pump, which puts you in a league with life's unfortunates - suicides, alcoholics, addicts and those who overdo it on package holidays abroad - was nothing compared to this.

There's no holiday insurance in the world that can save you from a put-down by the brother of an eight-year-old.

Richard Hoyes teaches at Farnham College, Surrey

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