Kids, parents and hidden costs from hell: the holiday begins ..
My wife Gail popped into school this morning to clear her mail, having missed the last week of term due to illness. She returned smirking, proffering a letter she'd received from our director of education.
"Look at that, Morris," she crowed. "I've got a perfect attendance record, and I'm being congratulated!"
So it proved. Gail (and any colleague from Rockston Primary who had survived the year without absence) has been sent an appreciative letter recognising 100 per cent job commitment.
"So why didn't I get one?" I queried. "I wasn't absent either, and ." I stopped as I recalled the half day I took after a severe bout of gastroenteritis following a dubious helping of caramel flan from the school dining hall.
"Bloody hell, that's rich!" I exclaimed. "Poisoned by the school dinners, yet castigated for my resultant absence! Talk about demotivating staff who have the misfortune to be ill!"
"Mmm," Gail remarked. "And it does seem ironic that we haven't had any copying paper in school for the past three months - yet they have sent one of these to God knows how many teachers. Still," she preened herself: "Why should I worry? I've got perfect attendance."
"And that's another thing!" I complained. "You were off for the last week of term!"
"Is it my fault they sent the letters out before then?" she smiled, then waved the letter in my face. "I've got perfect attendance, remember?"
Another result of Gail's trip into school yesterday was news about her school's job vacancies, which she remembered this morning. "I forgot to tell you. We've got applications in to replace the two early retirement positions."
"Oh, yes?" I glanced over the top of my Guardian. "Has there been much interest?"
"You could say that," she nodded. "Mrs Cooke's staff circular said we would be holding interviews in August after they had whittled down the 357 applicants to a short-leet of six."
"What? Three hundred and fifty-seven applicants for two jobs? You're kidding!"
Sadly, she wasn't .
Gail has booked a last-minute Mediterranean cruise, leaving tomorrow. I was very unsure about the suitability of such a holiday for the Simpson household, but she persuaded me that the cost was "an absolute bargain, especially when all the food's included".
We flew out this morning for our cruise. It was not a good beginning. We got two pairs of "window rows" one behind the other, so Margaret and Fraser sat in front, while Gail and I settled down to enjoy the in-flight entertainment.
Unfortunately, this proved impossible, owing to the irritating six-year- old girl behind, who kept opening and closing the seat-back table, occasioning me extreme discomfort, made worse by her frequent kicking of the back of my seat as well.
I was about to express my annoyance at the child's indiscipline and the lack of parental control being exercised, when I noticed that Fraser was doing exactly the same thing to the passenger in front of him. However, the lady being tormented by my own offspring suddenly affected a most striking form of retribution by quietly slipping her hand between the seats and grabbing Fraser's leg as it started to kick, then holding it firmly in her grasp for five seconds.
It was brief but effective, and he stopped at once, so I decided to repeat the technique with my own tormentor. Unfortunately, she was not as obedient in response as my son had been, and started to scream at the top of her voice, to the effect that "The man in frunt's goatta hoaldae ma leg!"
"Hey, you!" her father sprung from the neighbouring seat. "Whit kinda effin pervert dae youse think ye are? Leave ma Katie's leg alane!"
I jumped up to explain, but her father was having none of it, and it was only the intervention of a cabin steward that prevented further escalation.
It was all horribly embarrassing, and an unwelcome start to the holiday.
Our low-cost cruise is rapidly turning into a high-expenditure extravagance. First of all, we were presented with seven envelopes when being allocated cabins.
"What are these?" I asked.
"For staff tips, Sir," replied the smiling receptionist. The amount to put in each envelope is labelled on each one."
"But what if I don't want to give tips?"
The smile was switched off instantly. "It's part of the booking conditions, Sir. You need to pay the tips. If you want to opt out, you need to explain why."
Her advice, coupled with the thought of what havoc an unhappy cabin attendant might wreak on our holiday plans (not to mention a disgruntled chef) were enough to make me cough up immediately. But then I also discovered that every exorbitantly-priced drink that we signed for on our "cashless ship" turned out to have a compulsory 15 per cent "service charge" on top of the cost.
And then Gail wanted to sign up for countless excursions, the individual costs of which would have paid for a wonderful weekend at Crieff Hydro for all four of us.
Add to that the fact that inhabiting a family four-berth, windowless, "inside" cabin (cat-swinging impossible) does not make for harmonious living conditions - especially when we are two doors away from "Kicking Katie" and her family - and you will understand why I wish we had gone to bloody Millport for our summer cruise.