While I was reading all about the furore of the scavengers on the beach near Sidmouth – or salvagers depending on your point of view – a thought came to me. Watching someone struggling up the beach with a barrel of wine, two rolls forward and one roll back, it occurred to me that had my grandmother been alive she'd have been down there in thigh-high waders, with a powerful torch, some kind of wheeled transport and a happy gleam in her eye. And, oh yes, a sturdy walking stick to repel all attempts to snatch her booty. Long Joan Silver would have been in action. And probably a century earlier waving a lantern. The press, of course, had a field day, or perhaps I should say a beach day. They gleefully reported that people were getting loads of goodies washed up on the shore, then a mere 24 hours later roundly condemned them for getting loads of goodies washed up on the shore. A day later and they were the scum of the earth. It's a strange anomaly in our laws that call taking things rescued from the sea salvaging whereas taking things found on land is theft. In other words, on the beach it can be 'finders keepers', on land it is stealing by finding. Not that most people who rushed down to grab the bounty of the waves bothered about that – they were too busy dragging half a ton of wet dog biscuits up the shingle.
I've always tried to avoid being boring. I know there are worse sins and that most of us can, on occasions, turn enthusiastic chit-chat into tedium just by going on too long. However, I think that most of us do have a built-in 'stop it you're becoming boring' meter. We note that people's eyes are glazing over, their eyelids begin to droop, they yawn a lot and sometimes they get up and go and make a cup of tea while we're in mid-sentence, all sure indicators that we are boring them. Real bores don't have such a thing, or if they do, they have the ability to turn it off. They go on and on, not appearing to notice that their chosen victim has lost the will to live after the first half hour of a riveting description of how they fitted the blinds on their conservatory all by themselves or have worked out the shortest route to Glasgow without the aid of a sat nav system. Real bores have absolutely no idea they are boring. They take their audience's silence to be total fascination with the stories they are being regaled with. Not for one moment do they imagine that the look of quiet desperation on other people's faces is anything to do with an overload of facts on the intricacies of maintaining the piston engine. On one paper I worked we had all too regular invitations to functions in the town, usually dinners, issued by a variety of organisations who wanted the press there to report their chairman's speech and didn't think the price of a dinner was too high. My editor, who was charmingly sexist, usually marked me down to go on the grounds that I was a girl and girls liked dressing up in their best frocks. 'But not to go to the North East Sussex estate agents' annual convention,' I used to protest in vain. So there I would be, the only single female at a function for 150 people, because they never gave two tickets so I could take a partner. Because of this I was usually paired with elderly single males who had been designated to look after me and they were on occasions stupefyingly boring. I also realised that they were often very lonely people who usually didn't have the luxury of a captive audience, so tried to be kind, which wasn't easy after the second hour of 'my life in marine insurance'. Often, after the chairman's speech, I would stagger home with a headache and vow to throw myself on the editor's mercy and promise to do anything rather than sit though another formal dinner, even if I had to go to every single one of Hove Borough Council's meetings for the next 12 months instead. But he never listened and would gleefully book me in for the annual bash of the Portslade and district electricity sub-station employees. I once intended to write a 'great bores of the world' book, but decided it would be too boring to sell. I did compile a list of best boring subjects and seem to remember that it was headed by golf, followed, and not necessarily in this order, by car maintenance, bird watching, anyone's career unless they were round-the-world yachtsmen or great white hunters, train spotting, wartime memories from those who never got further than Aldershot, collecting strange things like paper napkins, and, God forbid, health problems. The latter from people to whom it is never wise to inquire 'And how are you?' because they tell you at length. And, oh yes, football, at least to those of us who are not fans and who can't bear hour-long conversations about offside rules and memories of goals past. I once interviewed a man who collected train tickets and had never been anywhere. He had hundreds of little cabinets made to accommodate them (they were cardboard tickets in those days) and had a wish list of those he hadn't got. He wasn't even interested in the places they went to, just in owning the tickets and had no desire to travel beyond his own town. Then there was the woman who claimed the world's greatest collection of beach pebbles and was trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records... Come to think of it, I should add autograph hunters – especially those with a book full of people no-one else has ever heard of. Like the person who played somebody's cousin twice removed who appeared for 30 seconds on EastEnders five years ago. Then there are people who are fine when talking to people of similar interests but boring when not. I probably fit into this category with other gardeners. We yak on about plants and Latin names etc, oblivious to people dropping like flies around us. What has brought this on is that I've just added another group to my ever-growing list of most boring. These are even more boring than people who show you their holiday snaps, dragging out bundles of pictures of people you don't know in unlikely bathing costumes. 'And here's Uncle Walter on the promenade in Rimini,' they say, 'just in front of the cafe where we had our lunch, only you can't see that because it's across the road.' By the time they've got near the bottom of the pile you are so numb that even if they said: 'Here's a picture of Brad Pitt with no clothes on', you'd hardly notice. No, even more boring than that are people who insist on telling you about their dreams. Just hearing someone say: 'I had ever such a funny dream last night', and your heart sinks because you know you're in for a visit to the realms of fantasy and they're going to detail each and every night- time experience. Even worse, they'll sometimes ask you what you think it means. 'How the hell do I know why you dreamt of a man in the red satin cloak riding a bison and singing an aria from La Traviata?,' I want to scream. 'I don't know why you were being chased up a pine tree by a giant hound. Nor do I have any idea why you were running through the town centre wearing only your knickers, but I'm quite sure it isn't some kind of portent, more likely because you ate half a pound of mature Cheddar for supper.' I don't dream, or rather I don't remember dreams very often. Except the other night I dreamt I was being crushed by a huge orange rug and woke to find the ginger cat had jumped onto my chest from the windowsill behind and was standing with his back to me – nice view – kneading the duvet furiously to get comfortable. That, I think, can be classed as a nightmare.