The Greek island of Kefalonia is the subject of postcards or thousands of jubilant Instagram posts. The sea is turquoise, the sand white as fresh snow and the warm air smells of wild lavender. Even the local wine has a certain acidic charm – although it’s true that more than half a carafe alongside your evening souvlaki may require a double dose of aspirin the next morning.
It is therefore with sadness that I announce – after returning from my holiday there – that this wonderful Ionian island has fallen under the influence of a very British threat which seems to befalling the seaside resorts and seaside towns of all of continental Europe.
Not the pink-bellied thug, scourge of the Mediterranean. No, this is an even more heinous kind of vacation destroyer. I mean the cell phone jerks who insist on conducting their conversations on speakerphone.
It’s bad enough listening to people chatting on the phone in all our public places. There is a man on my bus to work each morning who insists on using his time to reunite with family in faraway lands, which can be taxing for those of us for whom mornings can be a time somewhat sensitive. But these days, it’s simply not enough to endure such tedious monologues: this new generation of incessant phone chatters is kind enough to offer us both sides of the conversation.
The result: a shrill, ear-piercing din that sounds like someone shouting through a rusty old British Rail tannoy.
HENRY DEEDES: The Greek island of Kefalonia is the subject of postcards or thousands of jubilant Instagram publications
I had barely sat on the plane at Gatwick en route to my Greek getaway when a portly young man in sandals plopped down in front of me and immediately gave in to the urge to call his mother – via loudspeaker , of course – to inform him of our flight delay, which had been, oh, 15 minutes in total.
The dialogue that followed would not have given the late Harold Pinter, or any other playwright, sleepless nights. No, the delay wasn’t too serious, the guy agreed. Yes, it could have been worse. Mom seemed as fascinated as the rest of us by her son’s travel arrangements.
Flying is a hell of a deal, as you might expect, but I had higher hopes for my hotel, a brand new boutique that I expected to be an oasis of serenity , since children were strictly prohibited. Imagine: no squeaky games of tag around the pool, no dive bombs interrupting my postprandial nap. Two weeks of pristine peace and quiet.
At least that’s what I thought. But at almost any time of the day, next to the so-called relaxation area nestled under the swaying olive trees, there were idiots lounging on a deck chair, a cocktail in one hand and a cell phone in the another, who were bragging about the good weather to one of their friends.
Meanwhile, a middle-aged man was treated to a bespoke ball-by-ball commentary of the England cricket match from a friend, which was shared with the rest of us via the wonders of the loudspeaker – and all completely free.
The worst was an Australian Brylcreemed lothario who sat on the recliner next to me one afternoon and then appeared to be on the phone to his mistress in Cyprus, checking to see if the coast was clear to visit her.
What’s even more irritating is when someone decides to play their terrible music at full volume. Or, just as bad, their YouTube videos or tedious computer games, the volume turned up to 11.
At first, I wondered if my irritation was further evidence of my inevitable slide into fifty-something grumpiness.
SPEAKERS CORNER: Annoying cell phone users noisily invade the idyllic village
But Lisa Lavia, chief executive of the Noise Abatement Society, a charity aimed at raising awareness of noise pollution, says stress caused by other people’s noise is a completely normal human reaction.
“We are biologically programmed to be attentive to other human voices,” she says. “First we want to know if the voice is safe – is it friendly? Does this hurt me? Once this is established, we go from being alert to feeling trapped because our brains can’t just tune out the noise.
“It’s like having your hand pressed against a hot stove and someone telling you to ignore the pain – it doesn’t work.”
BEING British, I’ve never once complained – a natural response, according to Lisa, but one that compounds our sense of rage. “Most of us don’t feel comfortable telling people to shut up,” she says, “so we feel imposed on without being able to take action. Which then adds to our anxiety and fear.
Lisa says the solution to the problem is to make people more aware of the stress they cause others, the same way you have to shame litter bugs into picking up their trash.
Either that, or what I wish I had done all along: snatch the vermilion device from their hands and throw it headlong into the sea.