Revival [5]

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 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 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?


< Revival [4]       Revival [6] >

 

Revival [1]

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, 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 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 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 mug or 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 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 perfectly 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, without stress or strain or pressure.


Revival [2] >