The all-inclusive package to Tunisia was suspiciously cheap. Discovering on arrival that the Tunisian winter was much like a British one – only colder – was one reason.
And the surfeit of building materials sprinkled about the half-built resort was eerily reminiscent of the balsa wood ‘Spanish’ set from the Are You Being Served? holiday special. Our mousy tour rep avoided eye contact as she handed us our orange ‘all-inclusive’ wristbands. We were told to put them on immediately and keep wearing them to be more easily identified. She seemed nervous. It was the last time we saw her – even the guests’ lynching party a week later couldn’t track her down.
We were then corralled into a dining room by battle-hardened waiters, and bunched up on tables where we were more easily controlled. Happily, we were hungry enough to stomach the intriguing fusion of Anglo-Tunisian cuisine served at the bacteria-friendly warmth of British beer.
Once free to make our own decisions, we hit the bar. We were initially cheered by the realisation that we were both British and entitled to drink any amount of anything for free. A glow of satisfaction spread within me as I choked down my fourth triple whiskey.
It wasn’t to last. An ominous pounding erupted from the outside corridor. A thunderous warrior dirge shook the air before the door crashed open and the Size 12 that opened it was followed by three generations of British sisters, cousins and step-dads clapping in near rhythm while chanting something about Karaoke.
It was a friendly crowd, but we felt intimidated by the presence of so many singers who ‘could have been a professional’. We later dropped in on the hotel ‘nightclub’. We were the only people other than the DJ and the barman. One or the other was usually found in my seat ‘welcoming’ my girlfriend when I nipped off to the toilet. One of our fellow guests whose physique and manner earned her the moniker Sharon ‘20’ Stone made sure such romantic passes were reciprocated. Young local men seeking a glimpse of Western high-life fled the pool table when physically and culturally snookered by the ample bosom she draped over the baize.
The local Medina, and nearby French and German resorts, were buffered from each other by murky stretches of sand. Particularly distressing was the sight of one tearful English woman trying to drag her recalcitrant boyfriend past the security gate while he groaned fearfully: ‘I don’t want to go there!’
But we did, wherever there was. So the next day we got up at dawn and took an extended bus trip to the Sahara. Very refreshing it was too. But it’s nice to get away.
Submitted to The Observer 2005