Holidays abroad are overrated, so why leave home when virtual postcards can do all the travelling for you? Arnold Evans shows how.
The whole point of sending holiday postcards is to provoke in the recipient a stomach-churning, teeth-grinding, fist-clenching spasm of envy and resentment. The more exotic the location, the more pain it will cause. Unfortunately, if you're holidaying anywhere abroad the chances are that you will arrive home long before the card. As you share with your friends liqueur from a funny-shaped bottle, you'll let slip that the flight was a nightmare, the weather atrocious, the hotel a disgrace and the locals all deserved locking up. Like an old soldier displaying his war wounds, you'll show where your sunburn peeled, where the mosquitoes got you and the vertebrae you damaged dancing The Macarena. When you start to become lachrymose - always a side effect of liqueurs in funny-shaped bottles - you will assure your friends that the best place to spend the holidays is at home. And the next day, they receive the postcard saying what a wonderful time you are having.
I have such a message in front of me at the moment, together with a picture of happy bathers in a garishly blue Med. But unlike most postcards, this photograph was taken by the sender - and, what's more, I received it not weeks after it was sent, but within the hour.
Needless to say, it was shot using a digital camera and arrived as an email attachment. It's from a friend who wouldn't dream of going on holiday without his laptop - the hard disk, filled to the brim with sales figures, market reports and presentations in need of a polish. In his defence, I should say that he is paid by results, so any extra work he does is probably reflected in the size of his annual bonus.
Teachers have no such excuse. But many of them, it seems, treat holidays as an opportunity to put in some overtime. One mind-boggling statistic says it all. According to Government minister Estelle Morris, on Christmas Day last year, the School Standards website - hardly a bundle of laughs at the best of times - received a staggering 21,897 visits from teachers who chose to forsake the family and the pudding in favour of some inservice training. Sad or what?
But however hard they work, there is no excuse for not sending a few electronic postcards. The workaholic sales rep says it's easy. When the rest of his party are visiting the obligatory beauty spots, medieval monasteries, and the distilleries where they make the stuff to put in funny bottles, he finds his way to the nearest cybercafe, where he bulk-mails his friends with the digital photo that's most likely to make them envious.
If you intend to send your own virtual postcards, remember it's not the picture, but the words that make all the difference. To add that all-important note of authenticity, include plenty of local colour. Again, the Internet will prove an invaluable resource. After a few judicious clicks of the mouse, you'll end up knowing more about your chosen locality than most of the people who live there. For example, you can ascertain what the weather is like at that moment. You can tune into the region's radio stations, view webcam broadcasts, study bus and train timetables, find out what's showing in the local flea pit and what plats de jour are being served at the restaurants with enough savvy to publish their menus online.
Remember to include a few anecdotes and pen portraits of unforgettable characters. These can be gleaned from the purple prose of all those tourists who have discovered that the Internet is the ideal medium in which to wax lyrical about their hols. Finally, incorporate a few words of the local lingo in your message - it always adds a certain je ne sais quoi. For this, you need look no further than www.travlang.com, which offers a quick introduction to no fewer than 31 languages.
This might seem like a lot of effort just to email a virtual postcard, but you'll find that it's a lot less stressful than having to go abroad to send a real one. The more time you spend travelling by modem and mouse, the more convinced you'll become that siteseeing is far more relaxing than sightseeing - that you don't need to visit the wide world when you have the whole of the World Wide Web to explore.
Indeed, the WWW is the ideal destination for anyone too busy to take a proper holiday this year. So, if you are planning to spend your summer in front of the screen, don't forget to send me a postcard. At a conservative estimate, I expect to receive at least 21,897.
Email postcards to Arnold at:firstname.lastname@example.org