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In which I obey the Tan Commandments

As we approached Malaga airport last week, my younger brother asked if our holiday had left me rejuvenated and ready to take on the rest of the year.

While I spent most of my time prostrate on a sun lounger, stuffing Cornetto into my mouth, I had to admit that I was still absolutely exhausted.

I never stopped working during the holiday. Indeed, like thousands of other holidaymakers, I worked almost round-the-clock.

On my tan.

Let's be honest, sunbathing is choresome. It is a grind, like a dead-end job you despise, but nonetheless depend upon.

I defy anyone who says they enjoy lying in the sun for hours, turning their sweat-drenched body like a pig on a spit.

So why do it? you ask. Well, looking like a pig on a spit is preferable to having skin the same colour as a frozen cod.

My family missed the memo on responsible sunbathing. We are what travel agents call 'drop and flops'. With a particularly large contingent of my extended family represented on this last holiday, I was reminded of the tan commandments that have passed down from generation to generation (most of which make no sense whatsoever).


"The evening sun brings up the colour... You get the best tan by walking along the shoreline." And then that well-worn cliche to justify our excessive behaviour: "Sure, you need the Vitamin D."

Irresponsible is an understatement. My aunt spent the last days of her holiday fuming about a sunscreen that did exactly what it said on the tin. "That's the last time I'll ever buy that," she asserted while inspecting her milky white calves.

"I'm not going to put any factor on today because I'm only going to be in the sun for half an hour," I sheepishly told my grandmother one day, bracing myself for the inevitable reproach.

"Wise woman," she answered blithely, while readjusting her sunglasses.

My family are stuck in the '80s when a deep tan was seen as a status symbol. We almost hold a reverence for the family member who tans the deepest.

I believe that a tan is the ultimate panacea, indeed the harbinger of a new era in my life. I lie on the sun lounger imagining my new life with my tan. {Dream sequence} "You're hired! And by the way, great tan... You're so brown. Do you have a boyfriend?"

Everything looks better with a tan. Even your fantasies.

The irony is that no matter how much we look forward to our holidays and being released from the drudgery of the nine to five, we are soon clocking in eight-hour shifts on the sun lounger, looking forward to getting home with a chocolate brown tan to show off.

The remit of the sunbather goes a little bit like this. Find spot, liberally apply sunscreen and lie back. Twenty minutes later, rivulets of sweat are powering relentlessly down your thighs and your belly button has become a small swimming pool. You are drowsy but you can't quite work out if you are at sleep's antechambers or in the early stages of a hallucinatory episode.

So we learn to self-incentivise. Just like the coffee and muffin you promise yourself once you finish that Excel document, we motivate ourselves with a cooling dip in the sea once we do another 20 minutes on our fronts. "Sure, where else would you get it?" we say, as we try not to pass out before we hit the water.


To the casual observer, this dip looks like a spontaneous frolic in the ocean. In truth, it is the difference between life and death.

But still we enthuse about how pleasant the water was. "Bliss," we say, while scrambling towards the sun lounger before the sand scalds our feet. "Isn't it great to have absolutely nothing to do?" we remark, nose pressed uncomfortably into a towel, arms awkwardly outstretched to allow for maximum surface area exposure.

This compulsion to wrap ourselves in self-imposed shackles when we don't have to makes me wonder why Communism never worked. Everyone works together in harmony with one common goal: a tan. It's positively Utopian for the first week. "Anyone for an ice-cream?... Will I put some factor on your back?"

But then competition creeps in and it soon becomes every man for himself. Lunch is for wimps as you start to put in the double shifts... "Why didn't you wake me?... You're wearing fake tan, you sneak."

"Your back is bur..." "F*** off."

The lowest moment of my addiction came as the sun was going down on the beach two days before I left. No matter how I positioned my sunbed, I was still in the shade. So I got up, walked over to a sun spot and just stood there, hands cupping my lower back, staring at the ground with an intensity that suggested it was the first time I had ever seen sand. I stood there for half an hour.

Rejuvenated? I've never worked so hard in my life.