What we have to look forward to now are chilly mornings, falling leaves, nervous colleagues, thin nylon shirts, new shoes and the smell of TCP on acne. Instead of beaches and bare breasts, teachers and text books await us. No matter how hard we con ourselves into believing that we want to feel the cool caress of drizzle on our cheeks, deep down in our hearts we all bitterly lament the demise of another summer.
If only the earth would stop rotating with Britain sunny side up. If only global warming would speed up. Come to think of it, if only we had rented that villa in Marbella for an entire year instead of just for a fortnight. In theory we are now supposed to be back at work, refreshed and ready for the long autumnal session before Christmas. In practice we are disoriented, jet-lagged and horribly behind with our work. The friends that we made on holiday and the Chianti that we drank are already blurring into embarrassing lapses, to be quickly forgotten through overwork.
One alleged advantage of having a job is that it puts time off into context. We all know what this means: I used to meet people travelling in China, who, when asked how long they had been away, would say things like: "Oh, let's see now, is it four years or five?" To judge by their haggard expressions they did not look as though they were on holiday. The unemployed of Marbella presumably don't consider themselves to be on holiday, either. Looking at it from another angle, though, I am worried that a disadvantage of holidays is that they put work into context. Perhaps if we never took holidays, work would never seem tiresome in the first place. And then we wouldn't need holidays anyway.
As a matter of fact, this idea seems to be catching on. Consider these statistics I have received from Cable & Wireless Communications about the habits of British managers while they are on holiday. These reveal that unadulterated holidays are a thing of the past. Of those holidaying in Britain, nearly half stay in touch with their office. More than one in 10 of those holidaying overseas are also unable to resist the call of work. In all, 64 per cent of British managers have been contacted by their office while they have been on holiday.
But there are still some who retain old-fashioned notions of what a holiday should be. A quarter of those surveyed said they would contact the office only in an emergency. These perhaps are the grumpy bosses whom colleagues fear to ask what they have done with the keys to the filing cabinet; they may be those who will return from their holidays to find themselves jobless. Smart friends in the City assure me that the main cause of anxiety while on holiday is not being in touch, but falling out of touch.
It transpires that the old distinctions between work and non-work are going out with the century. Deckchairs for the new millennium (being built in Germany, I believe) will contain slots for mobile phones, lap-tops and modems. No pre-dinner cocktail by the swimming pool will be complete without a quick update on the client list. Any form of relaxation at all, in fact, will be meaningless unless it has been approved five minutes earlier by an e-mail from work.
A dastardly plot to enforce overwork? It needn't be, as long as the process works the other way as well. If holiday is going to seem like work, so work should come to seem like holiday. Research should be carried out immediately into designing the office chair of the next millennium, incorporating features of the sun lounger, such as reclinability, artificial sunshine and an automatic cocktail dispenser in one arm. If we could sit and work in chairs like that, the annual demise of summer wouldn't be half so sad.