What I didn't do on my summer holidays

'It is common for columnists to be on holiday; rare for them to write pieces about their holiday experiences'
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The Independent Online

"Miles Kington is on holiday." Those are the words which sometimes appear at the end of this space when it is being written by someone else. Never at the beginning, only at the end. So this is perhaps a unique happening in the history of newspaper columns - a day when the words "So-and-so is on holiday" appeared at the very beginning of a piece. In fact, while we're about it, why don't we go for two world records and put it at the start of the second paragraph as well?

"Miles Kington is on holiday." Those are the words which sometimes appear at the end of this space when it is being written by someone else. Never at the beginning, only at the end. So this is perhaps a unique happening in the history of newspaper columns - a day when the words "So-and-so is on holiday" appeared at the very beginning of a piece. In fact, while we're about it, why don't we go for two world records and put it at the start of the second paragraph as well?

"Miles Kington is on holiday." The words give the impression that the absentee columnist is lolling on a beach somewhere in the south of France whereas he is doing nothing of the sort - yes, he is in the south of France, but he is much more likely to be having a really bad time trying to find a parking space in a busy French town or, worse, wandering round a busy French town desperately trying to remember where he found the parking space for his car and even, if he has a hire car, trying to remember what it looks like.

Not that this happened to me, if only because I try not to buy English papers on holiday, and because, even if I succumb, I can rarely find The Independent on sale. I think there is a reason for this, and it's nothing to do with the vicissitudes of newspaper distribution. It's to do with the fact that most other countries already seem to have a paper of that name already.

The Irish have an Independent, the French have an Indépendant, and so on. So when M Dubois, newsagent in a busy French town, is ordering his foreign newspapers for the tourist season, he probably says to himself: "Tiens! The Independent! No, I will not get that - the English can buy the French Indépendant if they want one!", little realising that he is condemning wandering English columnists to two weeks of not knowing if they are on holiday or not.

It is very common for columnists to be on holiday, but it is comparatively rare for them to write pieces on their return about their holiday experiences. "What I did on my summer holidays" is a title more associated with the classroom than the media.

At first sight, this is a little odd. It is well-known that most columnists try to process all their daily lives and all their little experiences into material for a column, so why do they not sit down on their return and write columns on their exhilarating/exhausting/tragic vacation experiences?

The Punch humourist Basil Boothroyd always did. He used to rely on his holidays for a fund of quirky, wry, bittersweet anecdotes, and for weeks after he came back he would be regaling us in print with tales of the time the staircase fell down in the Greek hotel or the day he spent traipsing round a busy Italian town trying to remember what his hire car looked like. In fact, someone once asked Basil when he came back from his hols what sort of a time he had had, and he said: "Dreadful. Nothing went wrong at all."

Well, I think I know the reason that columnists do not, apart from Basil Boothroyd, sit down the day after they come back and write a piece called "What I did on my summer holidays". It's because they want to save the material up for a travel piece.

From time to time, travel editors run out of stuff to print about travel and they desperately ring round journalists saying: "For God's sake, have you been anywhere recently and can you write about it by Friday?" and you say: "Well, I went to France last summer" and they say: "Oh, God everyone went to France last summer and they have all written about it. So where did you go?" and you respond off-handedly: "Well, I spent most of my time wandering around a town I didn't know looking for a car I couldn't recognise..." and they say: "Brilliant! A piece on the difficulties of parking abroad! Friday, then..." And you are just about to reject out of hand the ridiculous idea of writing a piece about parking abroad when the travel editor names a sum far larger than what you would get for writing a column about it, and you say yes, and that is why columnists, on the whole, do not write columns entitled "What I did on my summer holidays".

I remember once John Higgins, late arts editor of The Times...

...to be continued tomorrow

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