The Irritations of Modern Life; 58. Postcards

IT'S THAT time of year again. As half the country lie unclothed on foreign beaches, turning an interesting shade of magenta, the other half get to share their "wacky" holiday experiences via the postcard.

I don't know about you, but whenever I see that coloured piece of paper peeping out from behind the electricity bill, I get an attack of the heebie- jeebies.

There on the kitchen table is a picture of an ape, and on the back of this card are the words, "saw this and thought of you". Mmm, very droll. The friend, who the previous week had entertained you with hours of badinage, has suddenly morphed into Alan Partridge.

Last week I received a card from an old friend. On the front was that well known cliche, the peachy bottom covered in sand. Scrawled diagonally on the back were the words: "boobs, bums and beer, what more could a man want?"

This "faux-fun" is all part of the holiday-season pressure to have a good time. Otherwise sane individuals step on to a foreign beach and turn into buffoons intent on two weeks of slapstick comedy. They have their hair plaited with brightly coloured beads and collapse into giggles as they are pulled through the sea on a giant rubber banana.

The summer holiday, it seems, is a licence for all kinds of embarrassing behaviour. Which is fine. After all, one of the purposes of the two-week break is to escape the minutiae of everyday life.

But there is a holiday self and a home self, and the two should never meet. That's where the postcard goes wrong. It collapses the distinction between the two, and the embarrassing anecdotes you write in that euphoric state of stupidity are recorded for ever.

I always wonder why people send postcards. Why waste good sunbathing hours scouring tacky shops for a funny card, and then wracking their brain to write something that at best sounds like contrived wit, at worst like a bad joke gone wrong?

Yet it seems that, faced with the job of communicating with their non- holidaying friends, the postcard writer is suddenly gripped by the need to make his holiday sound as off-the-wall as possible. "Got trollied, went for a midnight dip, stole Dickie's trunks and watched him walk starkers back to the hotel. Ha, Ha!"

And it doesn't stop there. Come September, you're bound to get that message: "Hi, having a few friends over for beer and holiday snaps..."