Sir Vince Cable will be appearing at Write on Kew literary festival on 24 September

'I love reading a good page-turner on holiday'

Until I was about 10, holidays were Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington.

Aged I think five, I remember a seemingly interminable journey – it was probably an hour – from York to Scarborough. Bucket and spade on the beach, hot, uncomfortable room in a boarding house and lots of fish and chips.

I have a pride of origin.

I try to be objective about it, but York, where I grew up, is a wonderful city. It's full of history; you can walk through the medieval streets and they're very authentic but they're lived in. My parents were quite involved with the Minster – my mother was a guide and my father sang in the choir there, so we were part of the history.

When I was in Parliament I made a point of travelling every year to keep my sanity.

My wife, Rachel, and I would go skiing once a year, usually in Courcheval 1850, and then in the summer we would normally do a couple of weeks. When I was Secretary of State we spent a couple of weeks in Ireland, going round the Antrim coast, to Donegal, Mayo, Connemara.

During some trips I was on the phone every day.

We were on a lovely holiday in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia. There was a steel factory that was teetering on the edge of going under, but we stopped it from happening. Last year I was skiing in Tignes and there were daily calls as there was a company going bust with 2,000 workers, so I was on the phone to trade unions and trying to help people.

Sir Vince skis in Courcheval

I only learnt to ski 10 years ago.

I was over 60 by that point and some people thought it was a slightly suicidal thing to do but I did get the hang of it and I really enjoy it. I don't operate at black run level but I'm sufficiently competent to get the most out of it. I've never tried snowboarding but if I started again I would do.

Lounging by pools isn't my scene.

In Corsica we did a bit of swimming. An hour at the beach is fine, not sitting the whole day – I like to get up and do things. We're not rockclimbers but we do enjoy good hill climbing and coastal walks, a few miles a day – we're not into 25-mile endurance marches. I like a mixture of that and culture, looking at beautiful churches and museums.

I never take work books on holiday.

I love reading, I get through lots and lots of novels. I usually take two or three books every time I go away, and then when we come back from our walks I sit down and read. I love good quality page-turners: Le Carré, William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks, that sort of thing. This year there was a very creepy Scandinavian thriller, based in Devon, by Hakan Nesser; it's called The Living and the Dead in Winsford.

The happiest and most memorable holidays were my two honeymoons.

The second one, with Rachel, was in South Wales. We had a few days walking in the Brecon Beacons and then on the Pembroke Coast. And my first, with my late wife Olympia, who I married in Kenya, was an epic African adventure – quite different in character. We started in Zanzibar a few days after a communist revolution and then we went to Addis Ababa and travelled overland across Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. We hadn't got much money so we stayed in the most squalid hotels in town, went to villages where people hadn't seen strange foreigners before, and took bus trips on unbelievable ravines in Ethiopia with drivers who didn't seem to have brakes. I think the adversity sort of brought us closer together.

If I was fantasising ...

We do quite a few touring holidays and if I could have a really snazzy car, an Aston Martin, to go down the German autobahns without worrying too much about speed limits, that would be my thing.

Sir Vince Cable will be appearing at Write on Kew literary festival on 24 September (