Summer's silly season

THE almost bovine patience of the English has long been a source of admiration and irritation to the rest of the world. It is generally attributed to the depressing climate under which we labor and take our recreation. We are so used to waiting for the rain to stop that we can bear anything, be it traffic jams, bus queues, or tapioca pudding. Nowhere does our patience express itself more forcefully than in our hopeless acceptance of what is termed over here as the ``silly season.''

This takes place between the middle of July and the end of August, when families are on holiday and are therefore not supposed to be interested in anything of a serious nature. Statistics show that solemn events do take place in the holiday season, and that international politics do not stand still because the British are at the seaside. But to judge from our newspapers, the whole world is completely carefree.

The amazing amount of silliness that greets our eyes each morning may be slightly due to the fact that editors are also on holiday, and have left yards of empty columns to be filled somehow by junior-assistant-sub-editors in a proper panic; but we have ourselves to blame for a lot of it. For this is the time of year when we have a chance to see ourselves in print.

We are a literary nation. We have a long heritage of expressing ourselves on paper, and this is obviously the moment to do it. So as we shelter from indigenous rain or sun, our noses on some foreign shore, we pick up our pens and bombard the press with letters. An astute editor has only, before leaving for the Costa Brava, to write himself a letter saying he once saw a rabbit trying to swim the English Channel, for a torrent of letters to pour in from earnest correspondents who have witnessed similar aquatic feats among their animal friends.

Then there are ``links with the past,'' always an old favorite, with an admiral writing to say his grandfather remembered being told by his great-aunt that a cousin had met a man who was at the battle of Trafalgar. This being immediately capped by a letter from a general who, as a boy of 6, was planting lettuce when he was accosted by an old man who had been planting cabbages when George II died.

Then there are more serious problems to be aired, such as ``Ought people to marry on 60,000 a year?'' or ``Is it `done' to use napkin rings?'' There are articles on the best way to catch shrimps, or how to stop your children's ears from sticking out, or whether it is better to brush your teeth up and down or sideways. All this being interspersed with photographs of bathing belles or pandas sucking bamboo shoots or Brighton beach lashed by a summer storm.

Somehow we are drawn into the whirlpools of inanity which eddy round our newspapers in the late summer months. There is nothing to be done about it. The advent of the Silly Season seems as preordained as the coming of spring. Suddenly it is upon one. The first letter, about a spaniel that shares its kennel with a duck, taking one, like the first snowdrop, by surprise.

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