The Greek island of Kefalonia is the stuff of postcards, or a thousand gloating Instagram posts. The sea is turquoise, the sand white as fresh snow and the warm air pungent with wild lavender. Even the local wine has a certain acidic charm about it – though admittedly any more than half a carafe alongside your evening souvlaki may necessitate a double dose of aspirin the next morning.
So I am sad to report – after returning from a holiday there – that this blissful Ionian island has fallen foul of a very British menace that seems to be descending across holiday resorts and seaside towns all over mainland Europe.
Not the pink-bellied lager lout, scourge of the Mediterranean. No, this is an even more heinous species of holiday wrecker. I mean the mobile-phone morons who insist upon conducting their conversations on speakerphone.
It’s bad enough having to listen to people prattling away on phones in all our public places. There’s a man on my bus to work each morning who insists on using the time to catch up with family in distant lands, which can prove testing for those of us for whom mornings can be a somewhat sensitive time. But nowadays it is simply not enough to be made to endure such tedious monologues – this new breed of incessant phone jabberers are kind enough to offer us both sides of the conversation.
The result: a squawky, ear-splitting racket that sounds like someone shouting through a rusty old British Rail tannoy.
HENRY DEEDES: The Greek island of Kefalonia is the stuff of postcards, or a thousand gloating Instagram posts
I had barely sat down on the aeroplane at Gatwick en route to my Greek getaway when a portly youth in sandals plonked himself down in front of me and immediately yielded to the urge to ring his mother – via speakerphone, naturally – to inform her about our flight’s delay, which had been, oh, all of 15 minutes.
The dialogue that followed would not have given the late Harold Pinter any sleepless nights, nor any other playwright for that matter. No, the delay wasn’t too bad, the chap agreed. Yes, it could have been worse. Mum sounded about as riveted with her son’s travel arrangements as the rest of us.
Flying is a predictably hellish affair, but I had higher hopes for my hotel, a brand new boutique that I was fully expecting to be an oasis of serenity, since children were strictly forbidden. Just imagine: no squealing games of tag around the pool, no dive-bombs interrupting my postprandial snooze. Two weeks of pristine peace and quiet.
Or so I thought. But at almost any point of the day, beside the so-called relaxation area nestled beneath the swaying olive trees, there would be some oaf reclining on a sun lounger with a cocktail in one hand and mobile telephone in the other as they bragged about the gorgeous weather to one of their mates.
Meanwhile, one middle-aged chap was being 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 speakerphone – and all entirely free of charge.
Worst was a Brylcreemed Australian lothario who sat down 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 for him to pay her a visit.
Even more irritating is when someone decides to air their dreadful music at full volume. Or, just as bad, their YouTube videos or tiresome computer games, the volume whacked up to 11.
At first I wondered whether my irritation was yet more evidence of my inevitable slide into grumpy middle-age.
SPEAKERS’ CORNER: Dull mobile phone users are loudly taking over the idyllic village
But Lisa Lavia, managing director of the Noise Abatement Society, a charity aimed at raising awareness about noise pollution, explains that stress caused by other people’s noise is an entirely normal human reaction.
‘We are biologically wired to be alert to other human voices,’ she says. ‘At first, we want to know if the voice is safe – is it friendly? Does it mean me harm? Once that’s established, we go from being alert to feeling trapped, as our brains can’t simply switch the noise off.
‘It’s like having your hand held against a hot stove and someone telling you to ignore the pain – it doesn’t work.’
BEING British, I 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 be quiet,’ she says, ‘so we feel imposed upon without being able to take any 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 are causing others, in the same way that litterbugs need to be shamed into picking up their rubbish.
Either that, or what I wish I had done all along – grab the ruddy device out of their hands and hurl it headlong into the sea.