As the day draws to a close, and the sun now lingers—mellowed by the dusky haze—over the horizon a while, down vaguely to the right, before bidding the shore goodnight, I start feeling just a tad chilly, and I’m not alone.
Much as there was no gong and no whistle, no starting gun and no fanfare to announce the beginning of the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll this midsummer Sunday, so there is no clarion to call people back into their clothes, or to summon them into the pubs and the bars, or back to their houses, should they have no friends and made none during the day or simply show no inclination to hang out into the evening. Instead, with the colder air breezing in from the sea, and the rays at their acuter angle subdued, you start to spot a jumper here, and a cardigan there. The hats come off, for a while, as they are no longer needed for shade and not yet against wind, and the T-shirts go on, and once you’re wearing a top there really is not much of an incentive not to also wear something around your wriggly rump any more. So on come the shorts, gradually, and the jeans and the chinos, without anyone making a deal of it, big or small; and by and by, the beach and the seafront, the deckchairs, the benches, the plastic seats outside the beach huts, and all the promenade, they start to look ‘normal’ again.
Of course, I’m bound to find myself asking, what’s ‘normal’? And it’s not a facetious question, this, here. A Sunday talking to people—all kinds of people—strolling and pausing, stopping here for a drink, there for a tea, meeting friends of my new friends and their friends who introduced me to theirs, my frame of reference for any such thing as normality has been blown wide open, and it hadn’t exactly been closed narrow to begin with.
There was a university lecturer from Leicester whose sister lives in the country with her husband and their three kids; they all were out and about, the kids mainly playing down by the water, the adults mainly standing around, nursing pints. There was the former MP whom I thought I recognised, but I didn’t: I got her mixed up with somebody else, and from the wrong party. She was there with her boyfriend, and he had bumped into some mates who were actually kicking around a ball for a while. That was quite a sight, for, I warrant, these were not athletes… There was a bus driver and the obligatory cab driver too, and several nurses and teachers. Some middling managers of one enterprise or another, and a sizeable contingent of hipsters, in every sense of the word.
The overriding feel of the entire day was defined by nothing so much as by its extraordinary ordinariness. Perhaps it’s the mindset: the easing into this ease, the deliberate nonchalance of letting it all hang out, quite literally, and not paying attention, to any of it. All day long. I suspect that regular goers to nude beaches find none of this anywhere near as noteworthy as I do; I imagine that they’ve been saying so, all along. For me, it was new. Though not, hand on heart, entirely unexpected.
I don’t know what I expected, but planted in my mind from somewhere had been a vision of a perfectly normal day in the sun, with perfectly normal people doing perfectly normal things, in the nude. And that’s just exactly what it was. More or less. Of course, there was something of a garden party atmosphere, with all this milling and strolling and stopping for chats and Pimmses and fruit bowls and the ubiquitous tea. Of course, it was an especially leisurely day. In an especially ordinary way.
Is nudity a great leveller? Of course it is. Is it liberating? In some sense, no doubt. Is it practical? Absolutely not. Do I wish me more nude days in more towns of this world, just like this? I’m not even sure. One of the things that makes the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll on the last Sunday in June every year such a special occasion is, perhaps, that it is, after all, special. And it really helps being by the seaside. Near a small town. (Or a couple of them, to be precise.) It helps being in England, maybe, I don’t know. There is still—after all—an unruffled no-nonsense albeit quaintly eccentric friendliness in this country that, with all the madness in and around it, manages just about to keep it sane. At least so it feels. Especially on a day like today. Or is it all just nostalgia? Am I hankering after a world that has changed beyond recognition, that simply no longer exists, and projecting upon what is there my idyll, in a quirky distortion?
Not from my experience today. The people I met and spoke with today are just exactly as I’ve always experienced them, only more so. Maybe that’s what the nudity does, more than anything: it lays us bare, of course, that’s pretty obvious, but does being bare make us more vulnerable? Certainly. In every way. Does being more vulnerable make us more honest? Very possibly. Does being more honest make us better humans? I like to think so. Honesty in all cases in all circumstances in all situations? Maybe not. Maybe a civilisation needs to mask part of its face some of the time (maybe some part of it even all of the time?); maybe in order for it to be civilised in the first place, it needs to be clothed, in something or other. Skins, textiles, manners, etiquette, agreed upon forms of conduct, the compact of the exchange to make it bearable, pleasant even…
I’d been taken, all through the day, with how civil everyone was. How unirritable, how forgiving. Perhaps that’s what it does to us, being naked: could it be that perhaps it encourages us, allows us, even, to forgive?
I imagine the woman sitting across a small plastic table from me, wearing clothes. I confess I have done the reverse thing before. Of course, who hasn’t? Or hasn’t anyone, ever? I don’t even know. It’s not something I talk about to my friends: have you ever sat on a tube train or on a bench in the park or in a cafe, or stood in a pub, and imagined the people there naked? All of them? Or even just some of them? And taken the thought further into their world and wondered: how do they make love? Do they ‘make love’, or do they have untrammelled, wild, passionate sex? (Why do we have to say ‘have sex?’ Why, in a language that verbs like no other, have we not adopted ‘to sex’ as a verb? As in ‘how do they sex?’) And with whom? What do they look like, and sound like, and feel like, during their sexing, and in the shower, afterwards? What will they have for breakfast, if anything? Who or what do they see when they cast a glance in the mirror, naked? Is it normal to ask yourself these questions? Or is it weird. What isn’t ‘weird’? What is?
Now, I’m sitting opposite a middle aged woman who has a certain amount of volume to her body—her breasts sag a little, her tummy folds over the patch of pubic hair that adorns her vagina, her arms wobble as she gestures, which she does a fair bit—and I wonder what does she wear, normally? She has spread towels over a half dozen plastic chairs on which we all sit. My small backpack leans against mine, and part of me feels tempted, still, to just reach down now and take out the shorts and the shirt, and put them back on. Part of me though feels relaxed. Quite remarkably so.
Her girlfriend, the woman’s, is pouring tea from a pot into half-size colourful mugs which have on them motifs of beach life in England. They’re handcrafted and pleasant and add to the general feeling of familiarity. There is nothing remiss with this world as I see it, it seems, and I wonder why do we call our partners, if we have them, which at this time I don’t, ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when they are clearly way into their forties or fifties, and what, then, is a transgendered friend. Surely not my ‘transfriend’?
The ‘girlfriend’, who is certainly nearing her mid-forties if not in fact pushing fifty, and of a similar build to her partner/lover/otherhalf/technically-wife-though-they-be-not-married-even-though-now-of-course-they-could-if-they-wanted-to, while pouring tea into the mini mugs that are more sturdy than dainty, but lovable all the same (a bit like the couple themselves), recounts the story of their progeny—the mugs’—and how they—the couple—got them from a friend of theirs who in turn had made them herself especially for their beach hut here, outside which we are sitting, as a present.
But my mind isn’t on tea or on mugs or even on the extraordinarily large buttock that advances on me alarmingly as she bends down to pour the sixth mug. Instead, my mind briefly wanders into un- or only tangentially related territory, and I wonder can we not just call this, ourselves, the Rainbow Community. We’ve adopted the flag, we enjoy the concept, it’s served us well, it does the job and it’s friendly. LGBTTQQIAAP sounds, frankly, ridiculous. It may be inclusive, but as a word it’s unpronounceable, and as an acronym preposterous. And though it list everyone anyone can currently think of, it’s bound to be incomplete. There is certain to be someone out there somewhere who does not feel their gender or sexual identity adequately represented by either ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’, ‘transsexual’, ‘queer’, ‘questioning’, ‘intersex’, ‘asexual’, ‘ally’, or ‘pansexual’. Rainbow, let’s face it, does the trick, as in: ‘Brighton & Hove is a haven for the Rainbow Community, there is no real reason why Bournemouth & Boscombe shouldn’t be too.’
I have a feeling the idea can hardly be new, and I surmise it has probably been tried or at least aired before and for some reason or other rejected, or dismissed, by at least some. But, my mind goes: we need better than a string of letters that looks like an unsolved Enigma code and has no sound. ‘Rainbow’ is fine, seriously. It may have hippie connotations, and the peace movement of the 1990s may have a claim on it too, but so what. It’s embracing. It’s non-ethnicity specific, it’s even pretty. It’s natural. Rainbows happen all over the world. All the time. Like living, like loving. Like questioning, querying and doubting. Like being naked under the sun. For whatever reason, to whatever end.
We could call ourselves the Turing Community, with a reference to the unsolved enigma that is being LGBTTQQIAAP, and to honour a human who has done more for humanity than most others and suffered terrible injustice as his reward. I resolve to try it out on my new friends here, at the next opportunity and say something like: ‘The Turing Community has really made great strides this century, but the struggle is by no means over.’ Upon which they are bound to ask: ‘What’s the Turing Community,’ to which I’ll reply: ‘Us, the Rainbow Community,’ and there’ll no doubt be a long discussion about what we should call ourselves, and whether we can even think of ourselves in any way as a ‘community’. And that could be fun, or at least diverting. Or conversationally stimulating, who knows…
Before I can do so, we are joined by another friendly couple who are participating in the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll together with their little dog. The dog is panting a bit in the heat now, so he gets a bowl of water as a priority. Everybody gets up, that is my big burly new friend, who’s effectively adopted me as a Nude Beach Stroll newbie, his somewhat demure friend who has not been saying much since I tagged along with them, and their sunny woman friend whose welcome it was that had won me over so quickly and convinced me to join them.
The British ritual of kissing friends and close-enough friends of friends, even if you have never met them before, on the cheek, once—or twice? you can never be entirely sure—here takes on an additional layer of ‘slightly awkward’, because parts of peoples’ bodies that are usually unnoticeable enough, wrapped in some clothing, now dangle and wriggle, and you just have to get used to the odd nipple or tip of a cock brushing against you, and make nothing of it. As do these kind folk, whom to be with I feel happier and more comfortable about all the time.
There is now a veritable plethora of people represented around this little impromptu tea party, and instead of toying with gender nomenclature, I imagine them going about their ordinary business during the day naked. That’s just as entertaining, I quickly realise, as imagining them clothed. The host couple, it transpires, are both social workers of some sort, though one, it appears, in the statutory, the other in the voluntary sector. The mixed couple who have just arrived are semi-retired, it seems, but I can’t quite disentangle their various community involvements and interests from their part-time professional activities, which lie broadly in the region of ‘consultation’.
My burly new friend is a carpenter, and his friend who turns out to be his partner—the one who strikes me as a little suspicious, or possibly simply wary of me—a lawyer. Their woman friend works for a big company on the outskirts of town. In personnel. I imagine being employed by her big company on the outskirts of town and needing to see her about my annual leave or my P45, and wandering through a large open plan office full of naked people sitting at computers doing things that to me are incomprehensible in the way, say, cricket is, but not quite as fascinating or soothing, and knocking on Jane’s door and hearing her friendly, warm, sunny voice call, ‘come in!’ and finding her sitting there at her own desk with her big broad smile, and her very red lips and her quite strawberry hair and her freckled nose and her large-nippled breasts, and her necklace that has a Buddhist—I reckon—symbol on it (or maybe it’s just generically spiritual), and her interesting silver green-shade coloured nails. And I imagine her offering me a seat.
There are many things inherently impractical about being naked. You don’t want to, for example, sit down on a leather chair where you know someone else has just sat, for maybe half an hour or longer, talking to their Human Resources manager about a recurring health issue. What exactly is the issue, you wonder, and is it contagious? – Or indeed carpentry. Now, in some respects that makes a little more sense: making furniture is proper physical exertion, and why should a carpenter not wish to do so free from textiles. But perhaps, for reasons primarily of personal safety, no more than topless…
I like his chest, Paul, the carpenter’s, as it bounces when he laughs at a joke I wasn’t quite listening to and therefore didn’t quite get, and I like his magnificent belly which doesn’t seem fat so much as voluptuous. He is wholly, and wholesomely, attractive, though not in a classical, or traditional, or obvious way. His personality beams and bestows on the people around him reassurance. I like that. His living partner (of many years, it transpires) is the exact opposite. Dry and wry and analytical. They obviously complement each other, and although he, the boyfriend—yes, you see, it really doesn’t work for him, ‘boyfriend’—hasn’t warmed to me yet, I sense his underlying suspicion, if that’s what it is, slowly ceding. It’s maybe the tea, maybe the realisation that I am not going to be a threat to him or his relationship, ever; or perhaps it’s the cookies. I wonder could it possibly have happened that we’ve been served hash cookies, without being told, but then dismiss that idea as absurd: I would have fallen asleep by now, because my tolerance of dope is practically zero.
I suddenly long for a Prosecco and wonder is that an option, when I’m pulled out of my disjointed but pleasurable reverie (in the nude) by hearing my name spoken, loud and a little provocative: ‘And what is it you do, Sebastian?’ Clare asks me with a look of frank expectation. She’s the girlfriend of Jane and the one, I believe, in the host couple whose social work is more statutory. I’m momentarily startled, and before I can prevent myself from thinking the thought, I wonder, but for a fraction of a second, what happens when nudists get involuntary erections, but I gather my senses and I reply: ‘I am a writer.’
The Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll is a joyous event that happens each year on the last Sunday in June. It starts at midday and goes on all afternoon, often into the evening, though not normally much beyond sunset.
Anyone can participate irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual, affective or otherwise expressed orientation, looks, or outlook: it’s really just an opportunity for anyone who wants to to wander along the beach in the buff and feel good about it, about themselves, about each other, and about the universe.
Since nobody organises it, nobody ‘owns’ it, other than the people who happen to be there taking part in it, and since nobody ‘owns’ it other than in the sense that everybody who takes part in it does, there are no rules, beyond those of common sense and kindness. What you wear or don’t wear is in fact up to you, but sunscreen is generally recommended. That said, The Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll takes place in any weather at all, and it is not unheard of for everybody to get perfectly drenched, effectively taking a half-day long shower, naked in the summer rain.
Many people, especially the hardier ones who cover the whole stretch from Sandbanks to East Cliff, like to don some comfortable footwear; and hats, owing to their pervasive usefulness, really come into their own here. They also come in all shapes and sizes: something of a niche subculture thrives, and participants with time on their hands go to town over creating their own, but this is by no means compulsory. You don’t even have to wear a hat. You don’t have to wear anything, that’s the beauty of The Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll.
Since carrying anything, including your phone and money, is such a pain when you wear nothing, there is hardly any trade or commercial activity that particularly caters to the nude strollers. Instead, a convention has emerged whereby the hundreds of beach hut owners—whether they themselves feel compelled to join in the general nudity or prefer to wear their usual beach attire, entirely as is their wont—provide cups of tea, coffee, biscuits, or, if they are of a particularly generous bent, glasses of Pimm’s to the strollers who stop by for a natter.
“There are,” after all, and as many a pub and cafe along many a coastline has written on a sign above the bar or on a chalk board by the entrance, quoting Yeats, “no strangers: only friends you haven’t yet met.” And indeed, lifelong friendships have formed here among people who have lived maybe three or four streets away from each other, but who have never found an opportunity to as much as say hello, until they stood on the beach by another near-neighbour’s hut, sipping from a mug or a cup and maybe dunking a biscuit or enjoying a vape or an old school fag, overlooking the rhythmic roll of the sea.
Some of these friendships flourish into love, and quite a few of the toddlers who run along on the pebbles here probably owe their presence to this fine, and, at the end of the day, very British tradition. In that same tradition, though, sex in public is frowned upon. That is not to say, of course, that after hours and after dark, in some of the huts, or over the water at Studland, behind some of the dunes, in the relative privacy of the midsummer moonshine, some love is not made in the old-fashioned way; but in the main, and certainly for as long as the sun sits anywhere in the sky, the day and the evening are fully family friendly.
Nobody really knows now how it all started, but legend has it that two guys in their twenties had entered a dare: to streak from the Jazz Cafe at the Sandbanks end of the bay all the way—some seven or eight miles—along the sea front to the Beach House on the Christchurch Harbour.
It was about lunch time, and they reckoned the sun was most definitely over the yard arm, so they had themselves a couple of cocktails for courage, stripped naked, and started to run. It took them all of about fifty yards before they were out of breath, and they thought that, while it is perfectly acceptable for mad dogs and Englishmen to go out in the midday sun, it was simply not the done thing to run. Instead, they eased into a gentle canter and then a trot, which readily transmuted into their stroll.
Strolling, they realised to their delight, had the immense advantage of allowing them to hold a conversation while progressing slowly but pleasurably along the beach, and of course their barefaced, bare-chested cheek and unclothed loins attracted a certain degree of attention. Also opprobrium, at first, it has to be said, but they were charming about it and talked to anyone who wanted to talk to them, answering offence with banter, and aggression with wit, and before long some mates and then some mates of theirs and some girlfriends and then some girl friends of theirs and then people who didn’t really know anyone but thought they were amongst a congenial bunch, started to join them, and by the time they all got to the Beach House they were having a regular blast.
Of course, the most committed of purists now follow the route in its fullness in the original direction, but there is absolutely no obligation to do so: if you prefer to stroll with the sun in your eyes and head east to west, that’s just as enjoyable, and if you simply want to sit on the beach or wander up and down a bit between the piers, that’s just fine.
The whole point, as anyone who knows The Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll will tell you, is to be comfortable in your skin and to celebrate your communion with your fellow humans, free from stress or strain or pressure.
Morning crept up on Boscombe Beach like a girl, home late from a party: a little tousled, a little ablush; in the small hours, with a hazy memory at best of what had happened the night before.
Andy and George had taken a boat from the boat house at Christchurch Harbour and tuckered out a bit to sea, not very far, just enough to get a good view. The completion that Stefano and Paul experienced on Studland Beach together in physical union, they, Andy and George, achieved on their boat in a serene, cerebral, perhaps even spiritual way: they sat next to each other, close, close enough to feel each other’s presence, but not holding hands or intentionally touching, just so close that what was between them was nothing more than proximity. And they watched in equal awe and wonder, equal to each other, equal to that of spectators elsewhere. They did not take pictures, or videos; they sat in the little boat they had ‘borrowed’, bobbing up and down a bit on the shallow waves of a calm sea with a subtle breeze coming in more or less from their left now, as they were facing the beach. They knew they had done a terrible thing.
Beautiful, outrageous. Gorgeous. And terrible. With dawn now creeping home on them too, George started the engine of the little boat and steered it straight to the shore where they landed not far from Boscombe Pier. Once again, nobody took notice of them, two pale, dishevelled teenage figures, as they wandered along the beach, absorbing the gash of a wound they had inflicted on it: hut after wrecked hut, smouldering in the morning haze. The odd fire still burning. Water puddles from where people had attempted to extinguish a blaze. Ruined belongings. Melted plastic crockery and disfigured chairs. Exploded gas bottles and broken glass. Splinters of wood, singed at the edges. Blackened, browned. And every now and then, not often, but here and there, the blue or amber flashing lights of ambulances and police. Surprisingly few fire engines. But ambulances and police. And yellow tape now, here and there, and blue and white tape too, and then, mixed into the smell of coal and sulphur and burnt wood and overheated metal, a different smell, an alien, unfamiliar one, sweet and pungent in equal measure.
Here is where George, instinctively, without noticing, took Andy’s hand, and when they had been walking slowly before, they now moved with hesitation, caution, peering between the people who in places gathered, in places stood forlorn, in places comforted each other, surrounded by those now busy, answering the call of catastrophe: the rescue personnel, the life savers, the paramedics and the competent bystanders turned volunteers. A sheet-covered body. A stretcher. A woman, terror in her eyes. The quiet, undramatic unfolding of disaster aftermath.
Moving through these scenes in silence, slowly, Andy and George, holding each other’s hands, began to sense that they had attained a kind of absolute: none, not one of the beach huts they passed was unscathed. All were damaged, most were destroyed. And the loss on people’s faces: they were only beach huts that had gone, not homes, not schools or hospitals, not museums, temples or shrines. But for the devastation written on these expressions, it might as well have been all of those. Cherished these huts had been, loved. The few, modest possessions each contained had meant more to their owners than treasures in a bank vault or safe. To some cynic much may have been tat, to these people—honest, unassuming people—they had embodied memories and harboured care.
Nothing epitomised their loss more poetically than a ceramic figure of a fat beach couple, grinning ear to ear, one a bucket in one hand with a shovel sticking out of it, the other waving a little flag, both arm in arm, both with their sun hats on, standing on a mound of sand with the omnipresent caption “Life’s a Beach” in thick letters embossed on it: its shards lay shattered on the ground next to the burnt shelf it had fallen from, and two disembodied chubby faces now simpered stubbornly from among char-stained debris.
George and Andy walked along the beach for a while, then went up to George’s flat, where his dad was out—presumably, they thought, outside somewhere, assessing the damage, talking to neighbours; they didn’t mention it or ask—they went and sat on George’s bed. Then George lay on his back and Andy did so too. And Andy turned over to his side and rested his head on George’s shoulder. And George put his arm around him a bit, and they fell asleep.
When they woke up it was four thirty in the afternoon, they had slept uninterrupted for nearly twelve hours. George’s dad sat on the sofa in front of the television, which had the news on, showing the scene outside no more than seventy yards from where he was sitting. George got up, used the loo, went into the kitchen, said, ‘hi dad,’ and poured himself a glass of water, took it back to his bedroom, where Andy now stirred. He gave him to drink from his glass, and Andy now got up too and used the loo, and then they both went into the living room and sat down on the other sofa, at a right angle to the one George’s dad was sitting on, and George’s dad looked at them both and said, ‘are you two all right?’
Andy nodded and George said, ‘yes,’ and then they sat in silence and listened to a reporter from the beach not seventy yards from where they were sitting, only outside, and there they remained sitting in silence as the reporter described the spectacular fire and confirmed that the number of casualties so far was twelve but could rise as there were some people missing, and several were in hospital with severe burns, and among the victims were two girls who were twins, aged five, and a picture came up showing two lovely, lively, smiling girls, aged around five, and there was also a dog that had died in the fires.
George’s dad was shaking his head in incomprehension and a nondescript anger, and Andy and George sat on their sofa at a right angle to him, and then George got up and went back to his bedroom and lay back down on the bed on his back again, and Andy followed him and lay back down on his back next to him, and this time George turned over and put his arm around Andy, and Andy turned towards him and put his arm around George, and they lay there, not really sleeping and not really waking and certainly not dreaming, their foreheads touching and their arms oddly entwined, but in a comfort all of their own, and an hour passed, or possibly two, and then the doorbell rang.
The hut made the front page of the Argos. That in itself, George felt, was quite gratifying. He and Andy were already back in Bournemouth by the time they found out, online, that their test had become a local news item in Brighton & Hove.
It nearly didn’t. When they got to Brighton, exactly as planned and with no eyebrows raised from anyone, via Uncle Edward’s in London, they found to their dismay that Brighton beach huts in the main were bigger, fatter, and squatter than those on Boscombe Beach and, more to the point, they mostly sat flat on the ground.
George’s approach had been—and to all intents and purposes still was—to plant a tiny charge of homemade explosive under each third hut and, considering the average distance at which they are spaced, hook three charges up to one kitchen timer. Preassembled and primed, it would then be possible for two people to, comparatively swiftly, place the devices in batches of three, in a relay sequence.
Bearing in mind the overall distance to be covered, any obstacles on the way, and the obvious need to remain inconspicuous, they had, he estimated, a window of opportunity lasting approximately three hours. If one person was able to plant one set every two minutes, then, allowing for a margin of error of ten minutes per hour, the two of them would be able to plant fifty sets an hour, which would cover 450 huts. Times three made roughly 1350. That, George thought, was not quite enough. He had been hoping for about twice as many. But Andy remained unperturbed: ‘You’re not thinking of the wind.’
That was true, George had not been thinking of the wind. Should he think of the wind?
‘We don’t know what the wind will be doing on Midsummer Night.’
‘It always does something, and it normally comes in from about there.’
Andy was standing on Brighton Beach, facing the water and pointing vaguely to his right. What was true of Brighton was also true of Bournemouth and of most of the English South Coast. The wind, mostly, came vaguely from the right.
That made a big difference. As George knew—although he had never expressed it and didn’t do so now—in the face of uncertainty, likelihood is your friend. And in all likelihood the wind on Summer Solstice night would do on Bournemouth and Boscombe beaches exactly what it normally does: come in vaguely from the right, more or less the south west.
This could double capacity at a stroke. Maybe not quite double. For practical reasons, the individual devices within each set could not be spaced further than two huts apart, not least because George and Andy had by now started assembling them. But the sets themselves: they could be spaced out a bit. Perhaps as much as three huts apart. So George’s diagram in his mind now looked more like this:
Which meant one set of three could actually cover a dozen huts. A hundred and fifty sets would now light up 1,800 of them. That was a pleasing number, George thought, and Andy thought so too:
‘It’s pleasing,’ Andy said. It sounded slightly incongruous, coming from a teenager barely the size of a twelve year old, but it was true. It was pleasing.
The project of getting hold of a hundred and fifty kitchen timers had started almost immediately, but the trip to Brighton, via London, proved instrumental, because there are only so many kitchen timers you can nick in and around Bournemouth before somebody starts thinking that’s odd. The trip to Brighton via London though took in numerous household and hardware stores, DIY centres and ordinary larger scale supermarkets, in none of which digital kitchen timers were considered high enough value items to be individually tagged, with maybe one or two exceptions of the more ‘designer’ variety.
George and Andy eschewed those and bagged the smallest and cheapest they could find, and before long their little suitcases were filling up with timers of every type and description.
Uncle Edward remained oblivious to all this, as he was not the kind of grown-up to snoop into teenagers’ bags, or any of his house guests’ for that matter, of whom he’d had many. He wished them a good night out on the Saturday, when he was going to go to the theatre and dinner with a friend, and they headed down to Brighton.
As previously agreed, they did not tell Uncle Edward they were taking a train down to Brighton, so as far as he was concerned, they were just heading into town. They did not specifically tell him that’s what they were doing either, because it went against George’s grain to lie to his uncle, whom, after all, he liked very much.
Following what looked like a potentially fatal setback, owing to the ‘wrong’ beach hut design being prevalent on this part of the coast, the two boys—who here, among the curious mix of the youthful laid-back, the middle aged gay, and the residual resident retired looked oddly at home—on their stroll happened upon a hut that seemed, and turned out, just about perfect: part of a group that looked a little older than the others, it sat on a low but accessible base, it was in good but not pristine condition, and its location, towards the end of the beach, made it, if not exactly isolated, then still comparatively quiet.
With the temperature mild, and just a faint breeze wafting in from, vaguely, the right, and the hour approaching eleven at night, there were people milling about, but not too many and, as predicted and hoped, none of them paid any attention to the odd young couple among them. At this point, poised and calm, they didn’t look like juvenile arsonists, at least no more than juveniles do, without meaning to, anyway. They looked like any teenagers, one tall and languid, the other minuscule and mercurial, who probably should be heading home about now, and who would be doing just that, so as not to miss the last train to London, albeit not without a curious detour.
The deed itself was done in seconds and, within the specified minutes of deliberately ‘programmed’ delay, resulted in a most satisfying bang.