Sounds of silence

When I worked in an Oxford college, a sure fire way to generate silence over coffee or lunch was to give the same one-word answer to either of the following questions:

Q1: "Where are you going on holiday?"
Q2: "Where have you been on holiday?"

A1, A2: "Majorca" (or, if you really wanted to get them going, pronounce it with an emphatic 'J' sound in the middle).

Needless to say, none of these experts had ever been anywhere near the Balearic Islands and certainly had no intention of ever doing so.

Having just got back from the Canary Islands, I can report that another word that's guaranteed to be met with an identical silence (even from people who aren't fellows of Oxbridge colleges) is 'Tenerife'.

There are, you see, some places to which you should simply not go. Never mind the fact that you could do with some relief from the gloominess of November in England, or that you don't feel like doing anything more strenuous than sitting in the sun for a few days, reading a book or two or just listening to giant waves from the Atlantic crashing into the piles of lava that spewed out of a volcano not so long ago.

But before taking any notice of the detractors of places like Majorca and Tenerife, it's worth being aware of two rather important things about which their disapproving silences rather miss the point.

One is that there must have been something desirable about popular destinations for them to have become popular destinations in the first place. So, in the case of these two islands, both are blessed with some spectacular mountainous scenery and benign climates that match anything you'll find in the British Isles in the best of summers, let alone in the middle of winter.

And, although I've never been to Benidorm, you only have to look at photographs of the place to see that the masses of tower block hotels and apartments stand on a long curving beach that must have been extremely attractive before the cement and concrete mixers got to work

The second thing that detractors don't take into account is that there is much more to islands like Majorca and Tenerife than the overpopulated mass resorts on which their negative images are presumably based. What they don't know is that you don't have to go very far to find havens of peace and quiet, in areas of outstanding natural beauty, that take some beating anywhere in the world.

Deja in Majorca is one such place. And, on the evidence of the past few days, Garachico in northern Tenerife is another.

My only complaint is not, unfortunately, peculiar to either of these villages, but concerns something that's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid wherever you happen to be, namely the scourge of piped music.

If, like me, you don't much like being forced to listen to music chosen by the proprietors of bars, restaurants and hotels, I'd strongly recommend a visit to the PIPEDOWN website - where you'll find some interesting results from surveys into what people really think about piped music, information on some important victories so far and details of how to join this important organisation.

You may find, as I did when I joined, that friends and relations brand you as 'sad' for doing so.

But 'SAD', as in seasonal affective disorder, is something I don't mind admitting to - any more than I don't mind admitting to visiting places like Tenerife as a way of making the last three weeks before the shortest day of the year that bit easier to bear.

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