Andrew Martin: It's only a holiday if you are working

We high-flyers must simply accept that in the electronic age, the idea of "getting away from it all" is over

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It's absolutely typical of Colonel Gaddafi that he should begin to capitulate just as David Cameron embarks on his second attempt to have a well-deserved holiday. Having come back from Tuscany because of Tottenham (and elsewhere) the Prime Minister has now had to come back from Cornwall because of Tripoli.

You do have to admire his commitment to relaxing. Last week he was interviewed at The Oval by Jonathan Agnew for Test Match Special, and Agnew couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice when he observed, two hours before the interview was due to start, "My guest is already here".

Agnew then opened proceedings with a harder question than Cameron might have been expecting, along the lines of: "Some people would suggest that, instead of sitting around watching cricket, you should be running the country. What do you say to that?" "Oh, I don't think anyone would begrudge me an afternoon at The Oval," Cameron smoothly parried.

He reminds me of an earlier Conservative leader, the very sanguine Arthur Balfour. I remember my history teacher telling me that, at the time of the ultra-tense Agadir Crisis of July 1911 (Germany sent a gunboat to Morocco, threatening war over colonial possessions), Balfour, as leader of the opposition, was on a "three-month golfing holiday in Scotland". And so he remained as the potentially calamitous events unfolded. I suppose, to be fair, it's just about possible that in those days of slower communications, Balfour didn't actually know about the Agadir Crisis until he got back to London and someone told him.

In the light of recent events, I guess his laid-back heir has learnt that it's always fatal to type the complacent bounce-back email: "I am out of the office from Monday. In the event of an urgent enquiry, please contact my colleague, Mr Nicholas Clegg, on..." In fact, those messages are very often a bluff. When I get them, they're invariably followed by another from the same person beginning: "Dear Andrew, Good to hear from you. With regard to the contract, I think the following..." You just know that the executive in question has been fiddling with his BlackBerry, and praying for an interruption to the quality time he's been spending with his children.

"Sorry about that, dear," the executive says to his wife on the next deck chair, "...had to deal with a very important query from Andrew Martin." "Andrew Martin?" she muses. "Isn't he that annoying twit whose emails you normally ignore?" But now holidays are conditional; if you're at all bored, you switch on your electronic device.

I wonder if Mrs Cameron minds. I wonder if our PM is on the end of the same laboured sarcasm directed at me by my wife when I've interrupted a family holiday for professional reasons: "Well, I'm sure what's happening in Tripoli is just terribly important, and it won't wait a minute, and you're absolutely the only person in the world who can sort it out."

I myself once returned to London from Cornwall in order to attend a meeting. "But you can still check out that restaurant on the other side of the bay," I said to my wife, while trying to look miserable as I re-packed my recently un-packed bag. "Just go with the children." "But it won't be the same without you," she said. And yet when I returned to the holiday, she and our two sons had settled into an entirely different groove: "Oh, we don't go to that beach any more. We've found this lovely new, quiet one." But when I accompanied them to the new beach, it had somehow ceased to be lovely and quiet. Having not been the same without me, it was now not the same with me.

I think we high-flyers must simply accept that in the electronic age, the idea of "getting away from it all" is over. There'll be plenty of time for going on holiday when we're dead.

Andrew Martin's latest novel, 'The Somme Stations', is published by Faber

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