Skip to Content

Culture House Daily

Spectator competition winners: Dante’s holiday from hell

30 September 2018

9:53 AM

30 September 2018

9:53 AM

The seed of the latest assignment — to provide a tale of travel misery on behalf of a well-known voyager from the fields of fact or fiction — was a column in the Observer called My Crap Holiday, which invited readers to share their travel horrors: inclement weather, devil children, oven-like bedrooms, Arctic bedrooms, wardrobe-like bedrooms — you get the idea.

I had high hopes of this one but it clearly failed to light your fire, producing only a modest haul of entries — albeit with a few crackers. D.A. Prince’s Lucy Honeychurch was thoroughly hacked off with Florence: ‘If it wasn’t Cousin Charlotte twitching at every imagined slight and petty irritation or the Ancient Britons gathered over the boredom of boiled meats every evening it was the Italians, jostling and shoving, loud and bad-tempered. Beastly, at best…’ And Adrian Fry’s Frodo Baggins won’t be recommending Mordor on TripAdvisor. Otherwise, explorers — Marco Polo, Scott, Shackleton — were a popular choice.

The winners, printed below, are rewarded with £30 each. George Simmers nabs the bonus fiver.

George Simmers/Dante
We travelled through Hell’s circles, a display
That left me weeping at the sad shades’ plight.
Said Virgil: ‘How about a holiday?’
I gratefully accepted; a respite
From Hellish woe was all my soul desired.
But he took me to streets all neon-bright,
Where staggering men in shorts, all wild and
Drank, vomited and stumbled, swore and fell,
And started fights about the girls they squired,
Which girls would curse and drink and fall as well,
And coarsely hoot when men cried: ‘Show your
It seemed the most degraded place in Hell.
Virgil explained: ‘This circle’s for the Brits
Who damned themselves on holidays like these.
God, since such creatures merited the pits,
Has made those hols eternal, a fine wheeze.
Now, let me show you where the traitors freeze…’.

Paul A. Freeman/Chaucer
Whan that June, with endless days of sun
And ’luminated scrolls promoting fun
Absorbing U-V rays upon the sand
Or prancing to a wand’ring minstrel band,
I rode to Bournemouth, where by chance befell
To me a proper holiday from hell.
Clad only in my codpiece, on the shore,
My skin grew scarlet, blistery and sore;
This malady — from lying on the beach —
I cured by application of a leech.
Replacement of those fluids I had lost,
Through flagonfuls of cider duly cost
A quarter sovereign; then, come break of dawn
I woke upon a seaside inn’s front lawn,
My clothing all besmirched with stinking spew,
My head athrob, as if ’twere cleaved in two.
To cap it all, a wench, some tavern fox,
Purloined my purse and left me with the pox.
Perhaps, next year, to shun vacation pain,
I’ll board, instead, a galleon to Spain.

Hugh King/Edward Lear’s owl
Mr Lear’s poem is based solely on Pussy’s fanciful account of our travels. In truth I doubt that any owl has endured a more arduous journey or embarrassing honeymoon.

Like many well-bred couples we had met through hunting. She stalked and pounced beautifully. She admired my talons and soundless flight. We were soon betrothed and I agreed to her wish to seek the bong-tree.

Pea-green is a notoriously unlucky colour for a boat and our voyage was duly wretched. Seasickness, a surfeit of honey, broken guitar strings and the ribaldry of gannets reduced us to misery before we reached that ghastly, desolate shore. We were greeted by an insolent pig and officious turkey whose financial extortions necessarily preceded our rude nuptials.

Intoxicants in the quince on which we dined led us to wild dancing and horrible hangovers. And the bong-tree disappointed us both.

Bill Greenwell/Robert Falcon Scott
1878. Our Devonian summer hols are wrecked. The five of us set out with notebooks and satchels on a Great Butterfly Hunt, looking for some chrysalises our schoolteacher in Stoke Damerel described in Botany. But we became lost on Dartmoor, and the ponies, which we’d intended to eat, were jolly rough, and frightened us. For hours we’ve wandered, finding only the occasional (fine) specimen. We hoped to find secret kistvaens, but when we found one, some rough foreign boys (and their dogs) had been there earlier, carving their names in the capstone. On the way back, Eddie fell down a rabbit-hole, and tonight, Titey went for a pee, and never returned. We cannot find the Yelverton Road, or Sheepstor, and have eaten our last pastie. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more. For God’s sake look after our pupae. Robert Falcon Scott (10).

Frank Upton/Margery Kempe
Of the unspeakable torment of the voyage say I naught; but in Prussia, among Christian folk, the family of my daughter-at-law, thought I to speed. Yet truly have I met with no such discourtesy or foul abominations, not even in the lands of the Paynim. They have for victual a kind of blood-pudding, made I deem of the sweepings of the shambles, loathsome to the nose, hideous to the mouth and most injurious to the bowels, which in their tongue is named bratwurst, for indeed it mocketh the senses as ill as any urchin. For music, the dudelsack, which is the sound of a devil in agony, and for wit, if anyone should let a fart, it inspireth the greatest merriment. So, at length, I fell to weeping and wailing and was scolded for an old witch, rather than a penitent holy woman. I return to Lynn the morrow.

Megan Beech wrote a poem entitled ‘When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard’. Your next challenge is to write a poem with the same title but substituting the name of the person you would like to be of your choosing. Please email (wherever possible) entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 10 October.

Show comments