One particular day in an English town of Gotham, a group of men were rejoicing when they erected a fence around a bush on which on one of its branches a cuckoo was perched.
"Now you can sing for us!"
But the bird took off and flew away without a single note sung.
"Oh dear. We did not make the fence high enough."
The official who witnessed the incident rebuked them with the words:
"You fools! Don't you realise that the bird would fly away no matter how high the fence is?"
"Dear me! We never thought about that!"
The official walked further along, and eventually came to a brook where twelve men had spent the day fishing. As some were wading into the water, they decided upon a head-count to ensure nobody had drowned. But as one counted all the others, he did not count himself, and therefore numbered eleven only. The passing official asked if there was a problem.
"Yes there is! Twelve of us came here this morning, but there are only eleven of us now. One of us must have drowned!"
Then the official instructed, "Do another head-count."
Each of the men counted the others except himself, and each time the number came up to eleven.
"What will you give me to find your missing brother?"
"An agreed sum of money."
The official snapped his whip across the shoulders of each man present whilst counting each one until the full twelve was reached.
"There is your missing brother."
Oh thank you sir! Thank you for finding our missing brother!"
The next day the official came across a trader who was on his way to the market, pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with round blocks of cheese. One of the cheeses fell off the barrow and began to roll down the hill.
"Well I wonder! Why should I carry you all the way to the market if you can make your own way there?"
The official then watched the man empty the barrow of the cheeses, and each one rolled down the hill, one at one direction, another at another direction until they were all out of sight, whilst others made their way towards the bushes where they came to rest. Feeling optimistic, he then declared to the official,
"These cheeses have certainly gone far. I guess they know where to find the market by themselves."
He then called out:
I'll see you all at the market!
But as he arrived at the market, he saw no sign of any of his merchandise. He spent the rest of the day there looking for his cheese blocks, strolling along the rows of stalls in the hope of meeting his stock, and even asking other stallholders whether they have seen any of his cheese come this way, but as far as the officials were aware, this fellow never saw his cheeses again.
So all the officials, who were scattered around the town, returned to King John, and told him everything they had seen and heard, for there were several other foolish acts which took place in Gotham which were witnessed by all of them. The king was indeed amused by it all.
Much fiction has been made about King John, son of King Henry II of England. King John reigned for seven years between April 1199 until his death in 1216. These stories were based on real history. One of his historic campaigns was to raise revenue to fund his efforts to reclaim the French province of Normandy after Philip II's invasion of the land in 1204. One way to raise such funds was through heavy taxation of his subjects. And that is where the above three stories of the men of Gotham fits in. King John, hated by many, was to pass through Gotham in order to reach Nottingham, a few miles to the north. By checking Google Maps, Gotham does exist in real life. It is a small town south of Nottingham, and a road from the south passes through on the way north to the city.
And so when the citizens of Gotham heard that their king was to pass through their town, they were immediately alarmed. Their fear that any financial security they had enjoyed was under threat of taxation, and therefore they cut down trees to lay across the road, forming an adequate barrier blocking the monarch's progress. Angry, he returned to London while his ambassadors remained in Gotham to both assess their tax potential and to have the blockade dismantled. And while such assessments were made, these officials came across such foolishness among the town's residents. They reported the matter to the king, who in turn laughed and promised not to disturb a town of fools.
Their ploy had worked. Rather than being foolish, instead they were at their height of wisdom. Their incomes remained safe from the heavy tax burden King John had levied on the rest of the nation.
Wind forward over eight hundred years and at present there seem to be another apparent act of foolishness which was reported nationwide through the media. That is in a story of a hotel by the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, as I write, the first weekend of August - and in the midst of the holiday season - little wonder that I have heard of this time of the year being "the silly season". A story appeared in a national newspaper this week of how all the guests in a hotel all got up early each morning to reserve their sunbeds by the poolside by throwing their towels on them before filing into the restaurant for breakfast. Hotel Servatur Waikiki in Gran Canaria opens its doors for access of the pool precisely at 8.00 every morning. In readiness of this opening, a crowd of mainly British sun-seekers are waiting. As soon as the doors are open, it is a literal stampede to the better located sunbeds for reservation before breakfast. A towel is thrown on a chosen sunbed, and its owner returns to the hotel until later. A whole stampede - not of cattle - but of grown-up humans!
They give a wise word of wisdom. First, if these sunbeds are left free until mid-morning, they would find them all taken by their rival German tourists. Secondly, because the UK have such drab Summers, there was a national medical report about a threat of low levels of Vitamin D, a vital health sustainer mainly sourced from sunshine. Although I have not come across any cases of rickets, nevertheless, to have a lack of Vitamin D is certainly not nice to health, and could even lead to cancer and cardiac problems, as well as weak bone structure and muscle pain. And so, blessed with such information, sun-seekers desperate for that much-need sunshine ensure that they get it, stampede notwithstanding! After all, two weeks of sunshine out of fifty-two weeks of the year of constantly miserable British weather is a must-have. And therefore I tend to wonder how many times such scenarios are repeated in sunshine spots, especially around the Mediterranean as well as at the Canary Islands.
The Hotel Servatur Waikiki has five hundred beds, according to the media, and there are only 150 sunbeds. Indeed for the need of a pre-breakfast stampede. What a contrast, for example, to the hotel where Alex and I spent our tenth wedding anniversary in the Greek island of Rhodes. I recall the first morning after our arrival when we decided to visit the poolside. We were the only two people there. The few sunbeds which were around the poolside were all vacant. Having the entire swimming pool to ourselves at eight in the morning was a dream-come-true - before mid-morning, which by then the area was crowded with British tourists.
But then, that's not the point. Pardon me if I seem to lack wisdom here, but if sunbathing to boost Vitamin D is so crucial, then I cannot work out why such a need for a sunbed is so necessary if there is a beach so close by. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are more sunbeds awaiting hire - Wait! That's it! Sunbeds awaiting hire. That means paying extra for a day's use of the sunbed. That was how it was like in Greece. The entire beach lined with sunbeds which has to be paid for. We Brits don't like that. An all-inclusive holiday should mean exactly that - every facility already paid for. No surcharges. No extras. Yet we went to a Greek island three times: twice to Rhodes and once to Kos, and if I recall, we only used the beach sunbed twice - once in Rhodes at a resort of Lindos, some miles away from our hotel, and once at Kos. Generally, sunbeds are far from a necessity whilst away from home. A short walk along the beach and there is always a suitable spot somewhere to lay down the towel. And some of these spots are among rocks which adds a touch of drama to the scenery, as well as greater chance of avoiding sand lodging between our toes, which is often why I find sandy beaches irritating.
Then again, the idea of spending the whole day on a sunbed, whether at our hotel or at the beach, has never been my thing. Maybe once in a while, but certainly not every day. There are far more fulfilling ways to spend a vacation than just sunbathing. That is to check out the environment we found ourselves in. A bit of exploring, sightseeing - even if it means standing in a crowded bus or train. To walk through an archaeological site, to admire the tropical or Mediterranean flora making up a beautiful garden, to hike a trail passing through spectacular environment - whether its a waterfall cascading through a rain forest, admiring a mountain range, snorkelling over a coral reef, or hiking through a desert populated with cactus - or craning my neck inside a beautiful cathedral. And there is always room for fun - swimming in the sea or pool, a ride on a roller-coaster, enjoying some nightlife without the need for alcoholic intoxication. Such life-enriching activities to be enjoyed without the need to stampede for a hotel sunbed.
|Cairns, Australia 1997 - on a ferry to the Great Barrier Reef|
And perhaps that was why before I married, package hotel holidays were anathema to me. Back in those days I would have shunned such hotels for the backpacker's hostel, a double bedroom for a dormitory bunk-bed, ranger-led tours for a map or guidebook, and a luxury coach for a hiking trail. From single-destination trips to go-as-you-please independent multiple-stop itineraries. Even after we married, trips abroad was far more to do with sightseeing than chasing a sunbed. To sum up: a fulfilling trip while still soaking in the sun. And an album of interesting, memory-enhancing photos.
And all this has made me ask: I wonder what Jesus Christ would have said or done had he found himself surrounded by a crowd of people about to stampede to the poolside, all in a rush to grab a sunbed? Interesting point. Coming to think of it, I wonder how he would have made out with the people of Gotham during the start of the Thirteenth Century? Would he had commended them for their shrewdness? Or exhorted them to pay their burdening taxes to an egocentric king? Or would he have made a comparison between the wisdom shown by these Thirteenth Century men of Gotham with the present horde of sun-seekers out to grab a sunbed?
I guess I already know what to do in this present-day situation. Stay in bed until it's time to file down for breakfast. Then shower and have breakfast before planning where to go for the day. As for the sunbeds, leave us out. Let them have them. They are welcome to them. While they stampede, we head off to the bus stop or railway station.