∞² Revival

As the day draws to a close, and the sun now lingers – mellowed by the dusky haze – over the horizon, down vaguely to the right, for a while, 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 Boscombe & Bournemouth 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’. Then again, 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 them – 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 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 nothing so much as 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 Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll on the last Sunday of 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 to 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?

Jupiter

I shall return to Saturn. I’ll not ignore it, not have passed it, unawed by its majesty. Unwondered by its spheres. Unswayed. It sways me, Saturn; but not now. Now I am drawn on further, down – not down, across – the path: the gravitation is too strong, its presence too immense, I must succumb to Jupiter. For a moment. For a while. For an eternity that lasts a fraction of a thought. For a whirl of a gas storm. For a communion. With Callisto. Io, Ganymede. Europa. These friends I have not met. These habitations. These absorptions. Thoughts. Sensations. My body, more than my spirit, attracts them and they me. We enter each other’s orbits, and dance. Moons they may be, mere satellites to a planet all of their own, but I enjoy them, their company, their zest, their life. Their juvenation. I visit them, they me. We journey not together, we relish the here. The nowness of it all. It is not mere. Have I not longed so long to be in the now?

This here is good, I like it, though it will not, doesn’t have to, last. The mightiness that overshadows us encumbers us not: we are not oblivious, but we don’t care: choose not to be intimidated by this massiveness, this bold inelegance. The world right now, that world that is not this world and that is this world still though we may never wish it so, it bears great force, great danger, anger too. But not for us. We delicate ourselves out of its artless rage. We are not like that. Are not of it. It not of us.

I no longer feel the need to explain myself and I no longer long for the need to be free. I am free, now, having got this far, and I relish that freedom more than I treasure my life. I am not Jupiter, nor ever want to be. That bulk, that pompousness. That body of hot air covered in cold. That implacability. That dehumanising fervour. And yet, these satellites, seductive with their charm. I’m glad I came here. Happy to have paused. I’ve long abandoned the idea of destination. These are sojourns on a celestial perambulation. How privileged I am. How powerful. How small. Here, seeing Jupiter be big, be brash though not beguiling, I believe my time has come. This is not new, I’d thought on one or two occasions once or twice before I felt the tug above my wings but here I realise my strength is not outwith. You may be one and a half score septillion times the size of me, but you are no match to my mind. You have the mass; the sun has all the power: I have the intellect. To survive. To discern. To accommodate myself in this universe, or any other. To thrive.

I launder my library of references by adding experience. The hunger to live. The need to swallow. The acceptance of millions of potentialities in one go. The taste and the texture. A slither of hope, of forbearing of premonition. A spark of the imagination. A tenderness, returned. And wanted. Handsomenesses. No warriors, these, no battle axe ire, no strategy and no plan. No tactics. No goal. A glorious swim in the sea, a pool of tadpoles of random configurations, a swirl in the mind of the gods. Ye gods. Ye godlinesses. Ye buds of brimming boisterousness. Ye flowers and sparks. Ye spermly waggers of tails. Ye lusciousnesses. Ye beetrootjuiceredvoluptuousness. Ye inspiration.

Ye words.

Saturn calls me back, I know. I’ll have to detour there, a loop. This Jupiter wilfulness cannot last. I feel for Ganymede, I feel for Europa. Ye Kepler-452b. I feel for you too. I feel for my brother who is writing these words in a universe just like ours only different, having acceded that that’s what he’s doing without knowing why. I feel for my coccyx, I feel for you. I feel for you and I sense you are there and I feel strongly for a new love a new warmth a new glow a new smile a new touch of a new hand a new face and new dimples a new tuft of hair and a belly button, a new mind a new generous heart, on the horizon. Where is the horizon, in space, in the orbit of Jupiter, near one of his moons? I baffle myself into submission and accept the reality as it is though I know full well that there is no such thing and there is no such thing as necessity, distance, perspective or pain. There is pain, it is felt, it is lived. Does it have to be, ever? It need not be celebrated quite so. There is no hate, it is an illusion, and there is no anger, it disappears. There is there is there is love.

I like that thought and take comfort in it although I can’t prove it, and I think of my new love on the horizon whom I haven’t yet met. Literally, have not yet met. We know each other, we are in communication, we are getting closer all the time, but the thrill of the unknown persists and we both hold on to it a while longer not because we want to but because we want to believe that we must. So we must. So we do. We’re pragmatic like that, and we have lives to live. So we think, so we hope, so we trust.

I salute Jupiter for all his preposterousness and kiss each of his moons farewell. I’m not sure I need to come back here: this was good, this was fun, this was excellent, while it lasted. But possibly, probably, for me, it has now run its course. I bid thee farewell, most mighty of planets: you have been, I know, quite misunderstood. But don’t worry, my gaseous friend, for so have we all…

∞² Revival

I grow interested in the myth. More than interested, intrigued. Why is it a myth? Clearly there must be some foundation to it. But nobody knows. Does nobody want to know? Everybody wants to know everything, always; but do they really? Is it kinder on the mind, and warmer on the heart, not to be certain, about certain things?

Who, I wonder, were these ‘two guys in their twenties’. Shouldn’t there be a plaque to them? Should they not be celebrated as local legends in their own, quite literally, lunchtime? (It was around then, after all, that they stepped, in the nude, into leisurely ‘action’.) Do they still take part now, many years later, perhaps in their thirties, approaching their forties or even fifties? They could be dads, by now; in fact, if – as in any respect other than their initiation of this curious custom they appear to be – they are fairly average males then all likelihood suggests that they are. Do they live in Bournemouth, still, or Boscombe? Did they ever?

That may be a clue: perhaps they weren’t actually from here. Maybe they were just visiting, this is a distinct possibility. Because if they were native to the Bournemouth and Boscombe community then surely, but surely, somebody would know who they are. Then again, if, as is said, some ‘mates’ joined them on their first stroll, then there must have been mates to do so. Maybe they were visiting too? Perhaps they were part of a group, of an Australian sports team? Maybe a language school? They could have been hearty Scandinavians, here to learn English! Or maybe they actually didn’t have any mates here at all, maybe they were just talking to strangers at first, but became readily friendly with them, and these erstwhile strangers who were now effectively friends had mates and they joined them, impromptu, and that’s how it all happened. Who knows. Well, exactly: who actually knows?

My early investigation into this matter of waxing importance – waxing, in importance, at any rate, to me – yields nothing. Yes, the Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll happens each year on the last Sunday in June; yes, it attracts a fair bit of attention nowadays, people come to participate from all over the region, even the country, maybe the world, but there is no website and no guide. No official history, and no founders. No club and no charitable foundation. More than intrigued now, I’m fascinated: how do these things come about?

My mind latches onto something, but it doesn’t know what. Maybe it’s my subconscious mind: it knows, it wants, it needs there to be more to this than meets the eye (though what meets the eye would, on occasion, seem quite enough…) and it thinks it knows that there usually is. So likelihood would suggest. And in the absence of certainty, likelihood is our friend. I want to go with that, that notion, that thought. My mind senses, below reasoning, above intuition, that there is a connection and that this can be found. But not by ‘traditional’ means. (What, in any case, are ‘traditional’ means?) It realises, my mind, now, that it has to let go and take an approach that is not a route, that is not direct, that is not determinate or determined, that is neither logical nor pure, neither chaotic nor abstract, neither instinctive nor wise.

So what is it? Perhaps I am making it all up but that doesn’t matter: I stand on the beach looking out to the sea and I notice the air coming in from vaguely the right. Over there. By the headland. Is it a headland? Is it a beach. I like the waves, they are steady and impermanent at the same time. They are waves and particles too. They are full of tiny molecules, but that is not what I mean. They are wet but their power is implacable.

If nobody knows, then maybe they need to be told. I decide to delve deeper and take a detour, via the sea. There is something somewhere that somebody would rather were not the case. I shall find it and let it be so…

∞² Revival

The Boscombe & Bournemouth 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 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 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 up to you, but sunscreen is generally recommended. That said, The Boscombe & Bournemouth 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 wear 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, whereby 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 Boscombe & Bournemouth 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 evolved 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 disposable cup and maybe dunking a biscuit or enjoying a vape or an old-fashioned 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 got 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 done 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 and answered 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 just want to sit on the beach or wander up and down a bit between the piers, that’s perfectly fine. The whole point, as anyone who knows The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll will tell you, is to be comfortable in your skin and celebrate your communion with your fellow humans, without stress or strain or pressure.