Ann Treneman's Notebook: Going on holiday with Proust and Mandelson

Going on holiday is hard work. Well, bits of it are easy. It's no problem figuring out where to go and whom to go with. I wouldn't say that paying for it is much fun, but at least it's not unexpected. The thing that I hate about going on holiday is packing. For years I have studied other people's luggage. How did they manage to fit their life into just one suitcase? I cannot leave my house for even a few hours without taking a sizeable portion of my belongings with me. "Is all that really necessary?" asks my daughter. "Absolutely," I reply, "because you never know when you might want to become another person. I want to be ready, just in case."

This year, I've given up on trying to streamline my luggage. I am just going to keep buying suitcases until I run out of stuff to put in them. Life is too short to worry about such things. Or so I say. But then people who worry will always find something to worry about. So this year I am not worrying about luggage. Instead I am worrying about holiday reading.

I cannot pick up a newspaper or magazine without reading an article on what I should be reading on holiday this year. Until now I had never really thought about it. But William Boyd has. "For four summers now," he writes, "I have been carting out to France the three volumes of The Pseudo-Memoirs of Mme d'Epinay - a compendious and savage attack on Rousseau by a former mistress - and carting them back, unread." Boyd also says that Don DeLillo's zillion-page novel, Underworld, is the "perfect summer read". His luggage must be even more of a nightmare than mine.

The novelist and poet Blake Morrison has packaged holiday reads into categories. For the beach, he says, you might consider a book with the word "beach" in the title. "This allows you a sly self-referential joke that will impress any post-modernists in the vicinity," he writes. He suggests Brazzaville Beach (by Mr Boyd, who sadly hates to read on the beach, which is too bad because that would be a really funny sly, self- referential joke).

Another category is the classic. "How many years is it now you've been promising yourself to read Proust?" asks Mr Morrison. To choose which classic to take, he says, we can play "Humiliation" with friends. The object of this is to name the most famous book that you've never read. Wow. Well, if I start to play Humiliation - which is a fairly normal game for most commuters, actually - then I shall never get packed.

The Big Issue advises against Salman Rushdie in general and DeLillo's Underworld in particular. "Everyone pretends to have read it but no one can tell what goes on after page 20 because their hands have fallen off from holding the equivalent of a five-pound bag of spuds," it says. In fact I, too, have bought this particular sack of potatoes. But I'm way beyond page 20. In fact, I'm at page 54.

In the end I have decided not to buy another suitcase in order to take Underworld with me. Instead, I went to Waterstone's and headed straight for the "three for the price of two" table. It's so much simpler than worrying about Rousseau, Proust or Humiliation.

In fact, I do have a must-read for this summer. The title needs work, though, so don't be put off. Complaints Against Mr Peter Mandelson is a slim blue paperback (A4, stapled) from the House of Commons' Committee on Standards and Privileges. It does not have a blurb, but if it did, this is what it would say: "Peter Mandelson - in his own words. The story of how an MP on pounds 43,000 per annum managed to borrow pounds 598,000. Classic tale of desire, vanity, delusion and house-purchasing. Provides genuine insight into an unreal world. And lots of political grovelling too."

Now, you may think that you already know this story, but I would disagree. Yes, we all know that Mr Mandelson borrowed pounds 373,000 from his friend Geoffrey Robinson so that he could buy a splendid Notting Hill house and that they both duly resigned over this at Christmas time. But behind that headline is so much more. What is so beguiling about this story is that we can all sympathise. Most of us want to live in bigger and better houses. I certainly would. In fact, it is a major life-goal to get more cupboard space. But I am held back by this little thing called reality. I cannot figure out how to swing it. And I want to know how Peter Mandelson did. Even if you put aside the Robinson loan, Mr Mandelson still managed to get a third mortgage of pounds 150,000 on top of his other ones for pounds 35,000 and pounds 40,000. And he had no income other than his MP's salary.

The mortgage application for the Notting Hill house is included in this document. It is a revelation. On it he is described as a "Minister for Parliment" (sic) though he was just an MP at the time. When asked about any current mortgages, he mentioned only one. When asked whether he had any hire purchase or loan agreements, the answer was no. And his signature is there, too, under that declaration of how everything is true, etc.

Now, I have always found those loan forms rather intimidating. I feel I should give my correct job title, for a start. I also tell them every obligation: every credit card debt is totalled, every car and bank loan disclosed. I list everything except the newspaper bill. But now I am wondering whether I haven't been taking this all a bit seriously. Is there any need to be quite so detailed when filling out these forms? After all, there have been three investigations into Mr Mandelson to date and no one thinks that he's done anything illegal.

There also are some tips for dealing with families. When he signed his mortgage form in August, Mr Mandelson believed that his mother would provide the rest of the money for the house. He is not alone in having such dreams. And we all know how difficult it can be to mention real figures, especially those in excess of pounds 300,000. He waited till September. "I do not think she ever realised," he testifies. "I did not realise, but then, to me, it is a large sum of money, but to my mother it was a fantastic sum of money, really, considering she bought her house with my father in 1951 for pounds 4,000 and she has never moved from that house... It suddenly seemed a lot of money." I particularly like that word "suddenly".

There is much, much more in it, too, of course. The book costs pounds 11.50 (available via 0870-600 5522) and the ISBN is 010 5562238. It has lots of uses. You could refer to that form for inspiration, for instance. Plus, it is a good thing to have on the bookshelf. It is a talking-point. The other day I was reading it on the Underground and a man started to talk to me. I thought he was trying to chat me up but then he said: "Is that about Peter Mandelson? You know, I don't blame him. Everyone is trying to do the same thing. I'm a mortgage broker; I should know." I think we could be talking best-seller here.

Photographs are strange things. They represent a split second of your life, and a highly edited one at that. You remember only the ones you keep. All those hundreds of shots that you shredded because you looked like a gargoyle are forgotten. But studio photographs are in a class of their own. My family loves studio photographs. Every few years or so we are dragged into one and the results are then air-brushed and put on full public display. This warps your mind, because you come to think of yourself as air-brushed.

This week I found myself in the studio again, and was relieved to see that a make-up artist was on hand. It was not a short session. There was plenty of time to chat. We talked about changing our names. Mr Make-up had an idea. "Why don't you use your porn name?" Now, I gather from colleagues that this game has been about for a while. Just in case you don't know, you get your porn name by putting the name of your first pet with your mother's maiden name. My first pet was a dog and this made my porn name Benjamin Franklin Bartels. "Very good!" said Mr Make-Up. I wasn't so sure.

We then tried opera singer names (your middle name followed by your street name) and mine was Carolyn Cherry Orchard. Suddenly I remembered that before the dog there had been a mouse. It had escaped from its box and nibbled through the sofa. My father murdered it, saying that no mouse was worth the cost of a couch. Its name was Whisky (after the box). So, there it is. Whisky Bartels. Now that has a ring to it.

Finally, I was ready for the photographer. "Sometimes I think that people hate me more than they do the dentist," he said. I assured him that that was not the case. It took a long time to take the photograph. My chin was in the wrong place. My hair was straying. I did not feel like myself.

Sometimes you do not even know that you are playing a game called Humiliation. Sometimes you are just getting through the day and it sneaks up on you. I'm sure such a thing would never happen to Whisky.

Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape