Arriving at Palma airport, the first thing we see is an electronic billboard advertising the Sun newspaper. And jostling with shaven-headed, heavily tattooed, navel-pierced folk from Toxteth and Moss Side to collect our luggage, it is only a few minutes more before I begin to experience the defining characteristic of the middle-class Brit abroad: a curious feeling of shame and self-disgust at all obvious displays of Englishness. I don't just mean the nipple rings, the drunkenness and the livid, Arsenal Red cases of sunburn. It's also Brits braying loudly across the swimming pool at the Sheraton Hotel, where I'm staying, to ask each other if Jemima has got any sun cream on; or if Toby is wearing his full anti-sun bodysuit. Afraid that I myself might be mistaken for some ghastly Del Boy on his hols, I even stop my kids from buying sombreros in a souvenir shop near the cathedral.
It isn't just me: the English abroad complain when they find a place is full of English people, as if that devalues it. This feeling is reinforced by an awareness that things in the rest of Europe are generally much cheaper than in Britain. Taxis, clothes, drink, fags, DVDs, CDs, rail fares, you name it, Britain is the greatest retail swindle in the world. Yet the rider to all this is that, as always, I will be relieved and delighted to arrive back home again. For all its manifest faults and awfulness, who in his right mind would want to live anywhere else?
Why do so many English writers want to go and live in New York, for example? Numerous novelists and hacks of my acquaintance have relocated there in recent years, and yet, as often as I go, I can't see why. It's not as if it's any easier to write in New York than elsewhere. Nor are there better stories to be found there than in London, for example. I once asked Don DeLillo about New York literary society and he described it as non-existent. On the face of it, New York seems like a cutting-edge kind of place, but the newspapers are lousy and everyone seems so up themselves. Last October, I attended a dinner party where a well-known journalist opined that the Upper East Side of Manhattan was the most beautiful place in the world. "What?" I asked. "More beautiful than Paris, or Venice?" "Yes," he said. "I really think so." This only goes to show that New Yorkers are the most self-obsessed people in the world. Which probably explains why the likes of Martin Amis et al feel that they have to go and live there. It is nothing but self-importance.
My seven-year-old, Charlie, forbidden to see Terminator 3, managed to see Terminator 2 on video. Since our arrival in Majorca, he has been putting the robotic pidgin Spanish he learnt watching this film to good use. Every time a waiter brings him a Coca-Cola, he waits until the waiter is turning to leave and then says: "Hasta la vista, baby." I wonder how many other English kids have uttered the same phrase in Spanish restaurants this summer and, as a result, how many Spanish waiters are cursing the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger?
I have spent the past two days trying to obtain a ticket for a bullfight. Finally, I am rewarded with a front seat at the local corrida, much to the loud disgust of my children, who almost choked on their beefburgers when I told them I was intending to go. I last went to a fight in Majorca 35 years ago and was lucky enough to see the great El Cordobes. Marvellous stuff. But why do I want to see this barbaric spectacle? Perhaps because I live in a nanny state where everything seems to be forbidden. But I think the real reason I am prepared to go to a bullfight is that I am not prepared to be a hypocrite about eating meat.
There is nothing particularly humane about what happens to British animals killed for human consumption. Factory-farmed chickens, halal and kosher meat, all of it is killed behind closed doors with none of us meat-eaters prepared to face the bloody reality. At least in Spain people are not afraid to face up to the inherent cruelty in eating meat. The same British tourists who buy Spanish leather goods or go to a beach barbecue the minute they get off the plane are probably the loudest to condemn so-called Spanish barbarism.