It was, so Wikipedia reliably (I guess) informs me, 1861 when the term “silly season” was first used. For ‘The Times’, work would be left to “feebler hands” when the paper’s “great men” were away shooting on a “Scotch (sic) moor” or were on a Swiss mountain.
This was when parliament was not sitting and when the “gay world” was no longer gathered together in London; oh how the meaning of words has changed. As a result, the “great oracle” became what it was not at other times - “simply silly”. The title of the article that provided this criticism was “The Silly Season”.
Curiously enough, this wasn’t in summer, as “in the dead of autumn, when the second and third rate hands are on, we sink from nonsense written with a purpose to nonsense written because the writer must write either nonsense or nothing”. In the second edition of ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable’ (1894), the term “silly season” was listed for the first time.
The definition to be found in Brewer’s was to eventually be “the part of the year when parliament and the law courts are not sitting”. This was seemingly 101 years later, when the fifteenth edition was published. By then, it meant August and part of September.
In Mallorca, it can seem as if everything grinds to a halt in August, including the traffic.
The island is on holiday. The Balearic parliament’s 59 members do not gather, as they do at other times, which might therefore be more legitimately described as silly seasons. News is slow, news is short. But is it really?
There is something of a predictability with August - the Royal Family on holiday in Mallorca and their jaunts to wherever; scorching temperatures; celebrities, either on or off yachts; statistics for this or that, as no month’s news would be complete without an abundance of figures for employment, tourism, property sales, etc.
This August is no different, and yet it can feel as if news has been reduced to just two topics. August is not so silly. It is Covid and it is what’s happening or not happening with tourism. Nothing else really seems to matter.
One longs for a return to the lazy, hazy days of high summer when Mallorca was on the beach and silliness could reign supreme. But was it like this in the past? Out of interest, I’ve looked back over the past five years and what news there was on this day (August 10).
Very little, one would have to say, qualifies as silly. In 2016, there was admittedly “A girl’s commandments to her boyfriend on holiday in Magalluf”, which was pretty silly.
Whitney Travers from Edinburgh didn’t much like the idea of boyfriend Kieran Lumsden heading off to Magalluf with his mates, so she took to Twitter to tell him what he could and could not do. Otherwise, there was, for instance, “Balearics cannot cope with further increases in summer tourist numbers”. There was also “Government launches sustainable tourism campaign”.
Tourism, tourism and more tourism, and the themes were not really different to what they still are (if one can put the impact of Covid to one side for a moment). The one major difference was that Biel Barceló was tourism minister and not Iago Negueruela.
In 2017, we had “Owners start to cancel apartment rental bookings”. Fines of up to 40,000 euros were in place for owners who did not have licensed holiday rental properties. The fines are most certainly still in force, and yet we’ve been hearing recently that the number of illegal rentals has been increasing.
Enforcement has always been the weakest link. There was also “Arran protest leader to be fined 1,200 euros”. Remember the flares being let off in Palma during an anti-tourism protest? Barceló expressed his “total rejection” of actions such as those which Arran have been carrying out against tourism, yet Barceló was often criticised (wrongly in my view) of himself having been anti-tourism.
A year later, there was “Baby dies after having been left in a car”, the shocking but tragic case of the grandfather who had forgotten that he had left a ten-month baby girl in his car. On that day the high was 32.5C. In 2019, illegal immigrants were intercepted off Mallorca. There were sixteen of them. On one day last week there were 121 and seven boats.
But then there was 2020. “King hears Mallorcan politician concerns at the impact of the virus”; “Health workers at the Vilafranca health centre are isolating”; “Spanish government looking at ‘exceptional’ benefit for 700,000 workers”; “Police acting against Magalluf nighttime beach parties”; “Two new deaths from coronavirus in the Balearics”.
The King has been hearing politician concerns again while he has been in Mallorca. Police had to clear the beach in Magalluf in the early hours of Sunday morning. Coronavirus? There were 232 deaths by August 10 last year. The latest figure is 877.
Deadly serious. Not silly.