ALARM BELLS jangled when my mate Alan, over a pint at Ye Olde Spotted Dick, told me that he planned to pack in his job and become a holiday rep on the Costa Blanca.
“Is that wise?” I asked. And I told him that I had met a number of people who had become reps and ended up needing therapy. They developed nervous tics, migraines, uncontrollable rages, agoraphobia and addictions to tranquillisers, anti-depressants and alcohol.
When Alan insisted that he was bored to death with his accountancy job and needed something more challenging, I suggested he become a lion tamer, or a professional javelin-catcher. Or learn to be a bomb-disposal operative.
But Alan was determined. “What could possibly go wrong?” he asked.
I saw him again a year later after he had been discharged from St Tabitha’s Retreat for the Terribly Traumatised. He was still heavily sedated, and only began to talk of how he wound up there after his sixth cup of strong coffee and a couple of strong tablets.
“I couldn’t handle the stupid questions,” he croaked, and began trotting out examples:
- Does Benidorm have a beach?
- Is Benidorm an island?
- Is the big rock I can see from my Benidorm hotel balcony Ibiza?
- Why is the solarium so hot?
- Why are there so many Spanish people in the hotel?
- Where can I find the third floor”
(To this he replied “get in a lift and press the button between two and four” – and got a funny look for his helpful answer.)
Then there were the endless complaints, most frequent being that the food in the hotels was “rubbish”. Asked to elaborate, guests would explain that “it’s not what we are used to back home.” Apparently Spanish chicken nuggets are far inferior to the UK variety of this nourishing delicacy.
But what finally sent him off the rails was the realisation British holidaymakers, unlike their Dutch, German or Scandinavian counterparts, don’t actually come to Spain to enjoy themselves.
Heavens to Betsy, no! They come to find fault, and will spend endless hours researching ways of squeezing compensation out of holiday companies for imagined service failures, or for more serious issues, like food poisoning.
He frequently had to deal with people who claimed that food served in their hotels had made them ill, and directed me to a recent report that a Liverpool family – Paul Roberts, his partner Deborah Briton and her daughter Charlene Briton – are to face trial next year for claiming damages totalling £51,000 from Thomas Cook.
They falsely alleged that they had suffered food poisoning during three separate holidays in Majorca.
Following the arrest of the family, the Daily Mail reported in July this year that over 1,000 food poisoning complaints were dropped after Spanish officials launched a crackdown on fraudulent claims made by British all-inclusive holidaymakers.
“A staggering 1,800 complaints had been retracted just days after it was announced those making false allegations could face prison sentences,” the paper reported.
But what led to Alan being hauled off by a team in white coats to St Tabitha’s was something he called the Package Holiday Shuffle.
Apparently people on these all-inclusive deals never approach their reps directly; crablike, they slowly shuffle up to them, look them up and down for the longest time, then finally ask “ummm … you a holiday rep?”
Something snapped in Alan when this happened for the 20th time in one day, and he screamed: “No, I’m only wearing this %&$!@ing uniform because there’s a carnival on the go and I’m in fancy dress!”
Management, as well as guests within earshot, were appalled at this outburst and it was decided that Alan needed to be escorted off the premises by health professionals.
The good news is that he now appears fully recovered and is ecstatic in his new job playing the role of Donald Duck for a company that organises parties for kids – SPANISH kids!