The ns guide to self-indulgence - Sunlight

Ha! So now maybe sunlight isn't so bad for you, after all. As one who spent her twenties frying on Greek beaches each summer, and her thirties worrying desperately about skin cancer, I think the time has come for a little moderation. Yes, we all agree the days of trying to get nut-brown by mid-July have come to an end: there are simply too many horror stories of malignant moles around for us not to be a little wary. Only an idiot really burns now.

But the idea of hiding behind a sunshade all day, in voluminous white cotton garments, to avoid even a hint of sun on the skin sends me into a tailspin of depression. When the sun comes out, I can no more stay inside, or in the shade, than I can avoid a cold beer at barbecue time. It's said that there's an ailment called seasonal affective disorder - sunlight deprivation, in everyday language. Well, I'm a sucker for that, and so are many others. My doctor told me recently that 50 per cent of her appointments are cancelled during a heatwave - and most of them never rebook. The sun, it seems, cures many ills.

So how do we enjoy the sun without risk? The answer is one word long: dappled.

A hot summer's day needs fluttering leaves overhead, a cool green canopy - and you sit or lie at the edge of it. This way, you get the warmth, a little colour in your skin - and you don't burn. If you are really well placed, you can probably even avoid too much vile-smelling, greasy sun lotion.

There is only one apparent problem: the bobbing shadows make reading almost impossible. But that is also the point. On a hot summer's day, books are strictly for resting across your nose as you lie back and breathe deeply. Newspapers are even better: the financial pages, in particular, make a good sunscreen when it's too warm; they are the perfect aid to the little doze that a hot, hot day is all about.

This article first appeared in the 26 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, I took tea with Pinochet