Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Why the annual holiday exodus is real break for those left behind

You may have noticed the recent spate of vampire trash - movies, TV series, novels, video games. That's running simultaneously with the fad for zombie trash - all of the above, minus sex appeal.

Both genres depend on empty streets, eerie silences, deserted parking lots, empty shopping malls and a terrified and hunted few. Well, after a week in Belfast on either side of the Twelfth, all I can say is - bring it on.

On the Eleventh, as one of the very few turning into work, a friend remarked to the small mixed gathering in his staff room that in the streets outside there were so few about it was like Christmas Day. To which one, let's say "non-Orange", colleague retorted with unintentional irony: "One? It's like three Christmas Days in a row."

Okay, the Twelfth may not be everyone's idea of Christmas but for anyone not in Marbella, Donegal or (presumably) cowering behind their sofa in a barricaded Catholic household, it's been as near to heaven as it's possible to get. People "left behind" seem so much more pleasant to each other, more relaxed, happier than during the hectic, maddening rush of the rest of the year.

Maybe it's the freedom to stand on the white lines in the middle of the road in the sure knowledge that nothing is coming in either direction that is going to disturb your tranquillity that leads to that giddy feeling. Or maybe it's because there are no queues at the petrol station. Or that the soul-destroying daily commute suddenly takes half the time, giving you an extra 20 minutes in bed.

Or that when you leave work supermarket shelves still have things on them and haven't been stripped bare of everything but a mishapen kiwi and an old slipper. And the shop assistant isn't frazzled from trying to ping through so many items a minute, but has time to chat.

Or maybe it's the fact that even in the workplace among those stray souls still doomed to spend the Twelfth in the city there is a clear sense of team spirit. All the work still has to be done, but everyone happily weighs in. Even the office grump finds himself exchanging pleasantries. And someone comes back with a box of ice lollies to share round. And then later someone else suggests a coffee run ... the mood is infectious.

Or maybe it's the fact that you thought you'd missed the best of the sales until you find yourself one lunchtime browsing around the shops. For once they're not heaving with mad-eyed shoppers, but there are plenty of bargains. Look, you hear yourself saying later to Himself, brandishing your haul, this lot was so cheap they were practically paying me to take if off their hands.

When I was a child I was obsessed with apocalyptic fiction and films. It started with the BBC children's 1970s TV series Changes, about a world where the machines died and a couple of kids stumbled around trying to make sense of it all. Some of the scenes from that show haunted me. Controversial and scary, it would never get aired to a young audience now.

Then there were all those movies about atomic bombs, with a few dazed survivors ekeing out a bleak existence in the nuclear winter. Lonely. Desperate. Bleak. The endless toil, misery and paranoia of being Left Behind.

But then it happens - kind of -and you find out that it's not like that at all. It's brilliant!

And so around the start of every July, hearing the bogus, braying regrets of those exiting Northern Ireland, we find ourselves like teenagers urging our parents to go out for the night to the cinema. "We'll be fine, don't worry about us," we chorus. "You go off and enjoy yourselves... yes, yes, we'll not do anything silly ... we'll look after the place."

As soon as the door closes behind them ... yes! You can hear the opening bars of the Conga... de de de dah!

Still, not long now until they all drift back, so just remember let's keep this our little secret ... right?

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