Tim Key: I do find it tough to get a tan. I think I'm just not built for it in the way that my dad is


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The Independent Online

I feel like I'm not getting enough credit for my suntan. I've got one, don't worry about that. I've just spent two weeks on holiday in Taiwan, so I have got a suntan. But the way people have been reacting, it's as if I've just returned from a couple of weeks doing something indoor-based in Leeds. I'm just not getting the credit.

I've just this minute got back from the pub and I'm seething. I'd met my friend CDG for a pint and – in spite of the fact that I was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt, and in spite of the fact that I kept looking down at my tanned arms and sometimes slapping them – she did not mention my suntan once. She talked about her views, she listened to my anecdotes, she sipped her Amstel, but did she recognise my newly brown skin? No she did not. It wasn't until I snapped, banged my tankard down on the table and yelled "Are you blind? Look at my bloody arms love!" that we even began to discuss it.

I've had this problem before, and now that I've cooled down I'm more philosophical. Truth be told, I do find it tough to get a tan. I don't know why that is – I think I'm just not built for it in the way that my dad is. Anyone who's ever studied my beard will know that I've got a fair bit of ginger in me and so my skin is often more interested in burning than lightly browning. I remember a time when I was in Cornwall and burnt quite badly. Not an anecdote per se, but it gives you an idea of how fraught my relations with the sun can get. That time in Cornwall I was burnt to an almost lobster-like degree. I was in so much pain my walk developed into a slow, gasping scuttle and, in the second week, I began to develop pincers.

I was confident this time though. I felt Taiwan, with its mystique and its proximity to things like the Philippines, might have been able to turn things round for me. I was travelling with a seasoned pro, too; poking round Taiwan with my friend Nuggets, who is a tanner. He merely has to leaf through a travel brochure and he's bronze. Watching Nuggets toasting on beaches and riversides and occasionally wink at me gave me an enormous amount of confidence. The guy doesn't even use lotion. Whereas I like to always start with a fairly high factor like, say, a sweatshirt, Nugs is happy to ride bareback. He just doesn't need the stuff.

But he's a good friend and, out of empathy, he would always mime smearing cream on at the start of a session. While I slapped it on liberally, he'd take the time to rub himself all over, too – as if 'applying'. Really, though, he'd just be stroking himself to improve my morale. I actually found this charade patronising, and I didn't enjoy doing his back much. But it gave me strength, soaking rays next to Nuggets. I felt his relationship with the sun might rub off on me and I think that was why, when we headed back on to our plane, I was optimistic.

But CDG, among others, has cut that optimism to absolute ribbons.

I could have throttled her this evening. She kept on pressing her wrist flush against mine and laughing. And next to hers, yes it did look pale. I was scrabbling round looking for white things to contrast my skin against. A napkin, some snow, anything would have done. I asked the barmaid for milk, I pressed my arm against my teeth. CDG obviously laughed like a drain and ultimately I put my cardigan on and told her I'd show it to people in daylight, when it looked more golden.

But now I'm even beginning to doubt that. The light from my screen bounces off my skin and I squint. It is a weak and milky hew. Sleep now, and then tomorrow, more of the same. Reuniting with friends, regaling tales of Taiwan and then being forced to tell them, face-to-face, about my suntan.