I have to own up here, I love the beach: I love looking at it, I love walking on it, I love finding unexpected treasures and shiny things on it, but I hate laying on it. I hate sand sticking to my skin, I hate sand between my toes, I hate it in my sandwiches and I hate it in my shorts. In fact, now I come to think about it, I love the beach, but I hate the sand.
What a day on the beach does allow me is the unfettered opportunity (thank you mirrored sunglasses) to people watch, and what the people being watched on the beach seem to lose is all inhibition: if they’re going to row, they do so at the top of their voices; if they’re OCD about sand on the towel, they will spend hours sweeping and wafting, never sitting, never laying, constantly ‘tutting’ at whoever walks by; if the first splash of briny against the nethers is unduly cold, they will let the whole world know.
Women of all ages, shapes and sizes look great on the beach. Men look fat, burned and confused: wondering how long they have to sit before they can reasonably wander off to the bar; wondering how long they have to keep playing with this stupid biff-bat before they can sit down again; wondering how long they’ve got in the sun before they look like a flame-grilled Manitou. Scattered along the water’s edge there is always an uneven line of Speedo’d men adopting the pose never seen in any other circumstance: ankle-deep in salt water, legs astride, hands on hips, they stare vacantly out to sea wondering how much further they would have to go out before they could decently have a wee?
Children – surely the only valid reason for spending an entire day on the beach – are being yelled at, cajoled and bribed with ice creams that will be 90% sand before the second lick. Put a child on the beach and they will head towards the sea. Put an adult on the beach and their whole life becomes dedicated to preventing the little buggers from drowning themselves, and quietening them when they threaten a screaming fit having been prevented from doing so. Mothers wearing ill-considered bikinis chasing children are faced with the single dilemma: catch the child or constrain the breast?
On the whole, swimming costumes are made in two varieties: those designed to accentuate and those designed to conceal. It is the accentuators that are least adapted to the female form and the most likely to put you off your lunchtime hotdog when worn by men. The concealers are loose and voluminous, giving the beach the appearance of being a sea of animated tents, all attempting (there is nothing on this earth – including sunburn – as uncomfortable as sand in the sun cream) to stop themselves from cooking.
The beach is also always full of couples who, although undoubtedly together, are not yet fully comfortable in one another’s company and for whom the intimacy of having their back creamed by their partner is simply a step too far. They are easily spotted: they have either a red back or a dislocated shoulder. They never turn their back to the sun. The beach is a canvas of bronzed fronts and skinned-fish backs.
Those who do not want to be here – surprisingly small in number – become increasingly apparent as the day grinds on. They sit whilst everybody else lays, they wear T-shirts and shorts and refuse to eat sun-warmed sand-infused cheese and pickle baguettes, they decline the bottled water on the grounds of it being tepid and full of bread after the children got there first. They write whilst everybody else reads.
All in all, I have to admit that the beach would probably be a better place without me…