Summer is almost over. Quite soon, I shall sharpen my metaphorical HB pencils and go back to school, and the radio schedules will return to normal, and the papers will stop commissioning silly season fillers. The worst summer holiday fillers are the ones about going on holiday. They are made more hilariously awful by being written by someone who is just off to Umbria or that fashionable bit of Cornwall, as if Craig Brown has decided to parody the entire middle class, in every single print article in every paper and gazette.

I don’t really get that exercised about this. I am my own parody, after all, with my thoroughbred obsession and my insane William Hill account. (Very happy and bulging after the bank holiday weekend, mostly thanks to man in form James Fanshawe.) But what does drive me nuts in the head is the creeping use of the collective We which infects these fluff pieces. I can’t tell whether it is on the march, or whether I just notice it more. The straw that broke this grumpy camel’s back was a sentence which went something like: ‘We can’t live without our iPhones and iPads, even when we are on holiday.’


As long as this little band is happy, I care nothing for shoes or bad hair daysAs long as this little band is happy, I care nothing for shoes or bad hair days
A furious klaxon went off in my head. What manner of fandangle was this? I had just come back from my own holiday in the Hebrides, where there was in fact no telephone signal, and I had experienced no withdrawal symptoms at all. I had done that great old school thing, and read an actual papery book. (I admit that I did find a place where I could get the internet, and used my computer to put up some photographs of Stanley the Dog getting his first glimpse of the sea, but that was more a public service than anything else.) I did not recognise this We of whom the writer spoke.

It was also quite hard to identify the We. Was it all humans? I imagine that shepherds in Orkney do quite well without iPhones. I would be surprised if the nomads of Mongolia yearn for iPads. Was it then just Ordinary Decent Britons? But surely there must be nurses from Hull and farmers from Shropshire and joiners from Lincoln who go perfectly happily on holiday without any Apple technology. Was it then simply the readers of that particular periodical? Even then, how could the writer be so sure that the entire cohort was addicted to Mr Steve Jobs and all his works? Think about it for even a moment, and the whole notion collapses into nonsense.

And the grooming which concerns me is that of this elegant ladyAnd the grooming which concerns me is that of this elegant lady

The Collective We is flung about with rash abandon. It is used to refer to the political classes, or the voting public, or women, or the media, or even sometimes, on a particularly mad day, the entire human race. It contains a sort of arrogance – I know what this entire assorted group is thinking and feeling and desiring. Its use for the ladies is particularly galling, since it plays to the worst stereotypes, weirdly perpetuated by females themselves. We all want to lose six pounds; we all have our little obsession with shoes; we all yearn for Mr Right. There’s a faux-chumminess in it, a bogus we’re all in it together. The implication seems to be that somehow fretting about cellulite or envying your friends’ more perfect lives is fine, because we all do it. In fact, the writers of these We pieces really mean I. They are usually speaking of themselves; the spurious We simply opens the box of stereotype and shoves everyone else into it.

I carry no desire for Mr Right, have no interest in shoes, and do not wish to lose six pounds. I go happily on holiday without an iPhone. I spent the last week obsessing alternately about the Ebor Festival at York and The Ashes. I suspect I am neither more nor less typical than the next woman. From a most unscientific straw poll, I found that there are many ladies out there just as entranced by Blowers calling every human he meets ‘my dear old thing’ and many who do not know what I am talking about. Imagine if I had written a piece, referring to my fellow females, which began: ‘We are all glued to Test Match Special this week.’ It would be absurd.

The awful thing is that I have a suspicion I may have fallen into the trap of the Collective We in my spotty past. I think I may have thought it warm and fuzzy and embracing. I hope not, but I cannot be sure. As I get older, I grow stricter and more empirical. Show your working, I want to shout, at all these strident collectivists. We, whether ladies, Britons or humans in general, are as individual as snowflakes.