A mate of mine fancied going to Iceland for his holidays once. If I mentioned that to anybody they always said the same thing: "Ooh. I’ve always wanted to go there."
Well it’s not difficult. If you want to spend a week basking in sulphur and riding around on horses with hair like Toyah Willcox, and you’ve always wanted to know what guillemot tastes like, you just go to an airport and get on an aeroplane.
The fact is, however, that actually you don’t want to go to Iceland at all because you’ve guessed that you’ll come home without a suntan. And then your friends and neighbours will think you haven’t been away at all. This might lead them to suspect you’re poor, which if you’ve bought some wine in Reykjavik you will be.
So instead you went to Stansted at four in the morning, where you were herded onto some godforsaken charter jet that whisked you to the Med, where you spent a couple of weeks bathing in t*rds, drinking wine made from old shoes and dining in restaurants that have plastic chairs.
But it didn’t matter because you came home with what you think was a tan but actually was a series of pink and red stripes. Deep down, you know you looked like a raspberry ripple. And now, two weeks down the line, it’s all gone. You have therefore spent what? Two thousand pounds? On something that didn’t look very nice and lasted about as long as a beach hut in New Orleans.
The history of the suntan is an interesting one. In the olden days, anyone with a brown back worked in the fields, which meant those who lived in big houses spent most of their lives under a parasol, or bathing in buttermilk, to ensure their skin remained Daz white. Even when the seaside holiday was invented, in Biarritz incidentally, the upper classes would appear on the sands wearing what now would pass for a pretty decent ballgown.
Then one day in 1923 Coco Chanel stepped off the Duke of Wellington’s yacht in Cannes sporting the full David Dickinson leatherman look and suddenly everything turned 'round.
The Americans took note and began to appear on the world stage, having spent a whole summer with their heads in big tinfoil satellite dishes, and because the Americans had tights and cars with fins we thought they were cool. So when the package holiday came along it gave every office worker in Britain a chance to look like the amazing love child of George Hamilton and Michael Winner.
Not me, though. I accept that I am the colour of forced rhubarb and spend my time on hot holidays scuttling from tree to tree. This is because, more than anything else, I loathe the way suncream costs more than a bottle of plonk in Iceland and is so damn complicated.
You need wallpaper paste on your first day and you gradually come down to Castrol GTX. Which must be topped up with a fifty-quid tub of greasy Bovril called tan deepener. I don’t have time for any of this, and anyway is there really a difference between factor 8 and factor 6? Only in the same way that there’s a difference between semi-skimmed and skimmed milk, I reckon.
Then if I do find myself in the sun, I remain convinced that a UV ray that has travelled 93million miles through space and survived the blitzkrieg of Earth’s upper atmosphere is not going to be defeated by an invisible sheen of coconut oil.
As a result, I panic that I’m burning, which is the fourth worst thing that can happen to a man.
After seasickness, catching ebola and getting married.
And of course I usually am burning, because chances are I’ll have forgotten to cream some exposed part, like the tops of my feet. So then I have to spend the rest of my holiday wearing socks. I learnt, years ago, that it’s cheaper, less risky and much less complicated to read your book in the shade.
Mind you, you still have to apply suncream to your children who, by 8am, are already covered in sand and won’t sit still. And why does children’s sun protection have to have the texture and spreadability of Evo-Stik? I made mine play on the beach in frogman suits.
My ex-wife disagreed with this. She would spend an hour smearing buttery sand into a child and then another hour rubbing herself down with what, so far as I could tell, was cooking fat. And no, I didn't rub it on her back.
Afterwards, she goes to the beach and, using celestial alignment, organises a sun lounger so that she need not move all day. And she doesn’t. She just lies there, like a roast potato, basting. The effect, though, I must say, is stunning. In just two weeks she changes from a dark-haired woman into a leatherback turtle.
And then, of course, two weeks after we come back home, she changes back again. Which means she may as well have spent two weeks in the cooker.
My message then is simple. If you want a tan, get a job mending the roads. Then you can go on holiday to Iceland and spend all your money on wine. And, dodging Bjork of course.