7. The Detective's Detective

WITHOUT EXCEPTION, RESORT TOWNS are boring. Dullness festers there like a gangrene. I have a congenital abhorrence of resort towns, with their artificial streets and artificial plazas. They betray the vacuous narcissism of those who take holidays. Yet as it is necessary to take holidays, both legally and often in order to please others, once a year I find myself accompanying my wife Penny to a resort town, usually a different one to the year before. It is a concession I make to her, as Penny adores taking holidays by the sea and once we have arrived she will not budge. Penny works as a nurse in an emergency department and I myself have a much less demanding job working as a florist in my aunt's flower shop, so it's only right that when the time comes for us to take a holiday that I should acquiesce to Penny's needs rather than my own. My job is so undemanding in fact that if it were up to me I wouldn't even take a holiday. When the shop is quiet and all the chores are done I even have the option of reading if I want to, although I am more into surfing the internet. As a concession to me, Penny years ago agreed that we would holiday somewhere different every year, although usually with the same crowd of people, two other couples whom we know from home. In the early days of our relationship, when my loathing of resort towns was less well-defined, we sometimes stayed in the same place two years running (the Costa Brava, for example) but now the parameters of my contempt for resort towns runs so deep she knows better than to try my patience. The last time we went to the same place two years running was in Oludeniz, Turkey, and needless to say it was hardly a holiday, as we argued on a daily basis. This year we are visiting Tunisia for the first time. We've been to Morocco and Jordan before, but never Tunisia, which contrary to what the guidebook says is one of the saddest places I think I have ever seen. It is barely the third day of our holiday and I am already bored. We are supposed to be here for two weeks in total and I can barely imagine what I will do for the next 11 days. Penny, on the other hand, is in her element. She likes nothing better than sunning herself on the beach for hours on end, reading genre novels, which I despise, mostly murder mysteries and detective novels. She only ever brings one or two books with her in her luggage as we fly on discount airlines and have to pay extra for baggage, but wherever we go she manages to find more genre books one way or another, even in the most foreign places, which she then proceeds to read so quickly that it's hard to believe she's retaining anything about the book (although she retains almost everything, as I have tested her). She seems to have a kind of gift for it, finding hidden stores of detective novels. In a way, when we are on holiday at least she ceases to be an emergency department nurse. he undergoes a kind of metamorphosis and becomes a detective, although a highly specialised and more or less useless kind of detective, a detective on the trail of detective novels. It's almost as if she is reading the detective novels she finds all the more rapidly in order to have an excuse to return to a deeper, more sustaining pleasure, the pleasure of finding more detective novels to read. I have suggested this to her but of course she denies it. It doesn’t seem to bother her if what she is reading isn’t any good. She'll just read it, put it down and say, "Well, that was rubbish," or, "That was a waste of time." I've learned that, in saying that, she's not actually saying that she has wasted her time, for in Penny's mind there is no such thing as wasting time. The thought that she is wasting her time in some activity or another doesn't trouble her. To her way of thinking, all time is wasted time – time itself is intended to be wasted. It's actually a profound thought and totally opposed to my way of thinking but of course she isn't interested in debating it. For her, all jobs are the same: working as a nurse in an emergency department is the same as working in your aunt's florist shop. Even though in my way of thinking her job is much more useful, for her all jobs are the same, and if she works as a nurse in an emergency department it is almost by accident. In one sense I agree with her: work is a waste of time, once it’s clear that there is no glorious career or buckets of gold waiting around the corner. Only for Penny money is a waste of time too. All time is wasted time, and things that others obsess over, like reading and sex and food, are just things to do while time is wasting away. In fact with Penny sex is a marvellous waste of time. But whereas I'm easily bored, Penny is never bored. She leads a busy, active life, the kind of life I can imagine a prisoner leading who’s serving a life sentence, keeping herself busy, enjoying all of the pleasures available to her, losing herself in all kinds of preoccupations, but all the time with the kind of resignation that it’s going nowhere, and has no point. Although I am completely different, I must admit it's a very attractive quality in her, and if I am still in love with her after 16 years it would have to have something to do with this unusual trait - what I call her detective's fatalism.