How our family found hell on a heavenly holiday | Nikesh Shukla

No one warned us about the enforced fun. Or the Birdie Song. It was like the international edition of every family occasion

Stop. Before you read this, be aware that there are spoilers for season one of The Good Place.

I know what my version of the bad place would be. Specifically, the seemingly perfectly curated “good place” where the demon Ted Danson makes us face our worst fears in what appears to be heaven. My bad place would be in a luxurious hotel resort, with all my family around me, listening to a man on a crap Casio keyboard play the Birdie Song repeatedly until 11pm at night.

I’ve been to my bad place. And it was luxurious. But every night I found myself singing “and shake your bum, just like your mum”, because it was the only thing stopping me from a primordial scream that might rupture through the hotel complex and cause a tear in the hellmouth it sat on.

It was all innocent enough. My dad wanted to take me and my sister and our families away. He insisted on paying, saying: “I’m spending any inheritance you have now,” and we thought, fair enough. I was tentative because I hadn’t been on a proper holiday with my dad and sister since Mum was alive, and I was worried, would it be all the tensions of a claustrophobic Christmas, transported to somewhere hot?

We’d never been to a hotel resort before so I had no idea what to expect. During the day, it was lovely enough. The beach wasn’t too crowded and my children had the best time ever. My eldest daughter was a-m-a-z-e-d that you could ask for ice-cream at any time of the day, and be given ice-cream. And I was a-m-a-z-e-d that my eldest daughter could entertain herself for a good two hours jumping into the pool, again and again, squealing with delight. The days were lazy, hot, glorious and joyful as our kids played with abandon. Only occasionally were we interrupted by the enforced fun committee from the hotel, never taking “the Shuklas are not a joining type” as an answer. And the regimented food times didn’t matter because… we’re Gujarati. We travel with packets of theplas, chakris, masala crisps and gajar pickle.

The nights? Boy oh boy. No one warned us about the enforced fun. As dinner time approached, so did the entertainment. On the first night, like a shot out of the blue, we were subjected to a two-hour kids’ disco outside our window. My eldest daughter sleepily wanted to know why there was someone shouting loudly. I listened. It was Crazy Frog. At full blast. She cried. “I’m tired,” she moaned. “I know, darling, it’ll stop soon,” I reassured her.

I watched from the balcony as children ran around dancing, while their parents sat and enjoyed their evenings. It made me feel like the uptight one trying to stick to a routine, on holiday no less. Even my dad, when I complained about it the next day, bleary eyed, having not got enough sleep before the 4am waking of my youngest, said: “You’re too tense. You need to relax.”

“I equate sleep with relaxation,” I hissed, and in the moment, I found my shoulders tensing and my mouth clamped shut. It was like every family occasion. Just the international edition.

And while the days were lazy, hot, glorious and joyful, we got more and more tired. It was only on evening four that I realised the musician played the same set every single night. I knew that at 9pm, he would play Rock Around the Clock and he would end with Green Green Grass of Home and that the Birdie Song, played early, was the switchover from child-friendly to adult entertainer.

God, I sound ungrateful. My dad takes me on a free holiday and… I’m in the bad place, a luxurious hotel, where every day is perfect, and every night is a karaoke set of your least favourite songs, at full blast, and you can’t even go down to the bar to listen properly, because your kids are trying to sleep in the next room.

We had a nice time. My eldest had infinite energy for jumping in pools, and each time she did it, she was having the time of her life. That was enough for me.


Nikesh Shukla

The GuardianTramp

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