∞² Revival

I resolve to dive in. Not the water – that’s way too cold for me, this time of year, early summer, just after the solstice and before the sea has been warmed by long days in the sun – but into the experience of it all. There, inside the experience, may lie a clue. If not a clue, then perhaps an insight, a truth. It could be random, it could be real. My research has yielded nothing. I have spoken to cafe owners and life guards; to beach goers and hut holders. To dog walkers (where they’re allowed, the dogs) and to joggers. Hoteliers, I spoke to, two of them. And two police officers, one a young woman, the other a young man, both attractive, both friendly, both clueless as to the origin of this tradition that is still, after all, fairly new; but a tradition nonetheless. Age has no bearing on the soul of a matter, be that a culture, a person, a people, a place: roots burrow deep, far deeper, we know, than the living thing that we see may suggest.

Everybody, of course, has a story to tell. Most of them charming, some of them harrowing, all of them sad, in a way. I’m surprised to find that is so. No matter who I talk to, and for how long, there is always, always a moment of sadness. How did I miss that, in my perception, and for so long? How sadness seeps through the seasons, irrespective of who you are. Here, many remember, with a scarred sense of fondness for how it all brought them together, the Solstice Spectacle several years ago now, when two youths had set fire to almost all of the beach huts along the seafront in the most brazen, most wanton, act of arson anyone could recall. Nobody refers to it now, as some ‘newspapers’ did at the time, as a ‘massacre’; and few people, though the sadness over the girls does prevail, the twins, who’d perished, aged five, having been put to bed in one of the larger huts, while the parents were sharing a rare moment of intimacy, just outside, in the twinkling night of summery stars, are weighed down now by sorrow.

So into each other, so absorbed by their bodies, the parents were at that time, that they didn’t notice the bangs, or the heat, or the flames from the beach in the distance at first, or the smoke: they took it for fireworks in the sky, for being at one with each other for the first time in ages; and the chain lit up so quickly, by the time the Calor gas bottle exploded and they’d rushed back to their hut, just a few yards, a few steps really, no more, it was way too late. The devastation still registers in the young mother’s eyes; the young father holding her hands, as they sit, outside their new hut, overlooking the sea. They are no longer young now, these two, but they do have a son and a daughter, aged twelve and fourteen. They are not happy, but they’re content. And they have no anger now in their hearts, and no hate. Then, they did, they tell me, they wanted them dead, the two youths who had done this to them, who had taken their daughters. Now? Now they feel a kind of resignation, and calm. Life is like that. ‘Life is like that,’ the young father, no longer young now (maybe a little young, still), but proud of his son whom he shows me a picture of, after he’s shown me one of the twins, and before he shows me one of his daughter too, ‘life goes on; has to, really.’ The young mother, who I know, although she doesn’t tell me, feels guilty for having left the girls in the hut while stealing, for the first time in weeks, maybe months, a bit of time just with her man, to enjoy, to inhale, to taste and to have him, in the freedom of the seaside air and after the long struggles for daily survival, in and out of the sun, smiles a wan smile of undying regret. She could have saved them, her eyes – though they be adorned by kind lines after all – tell me, pleading for my forgiveness. I have no need, nor do I have any gift of forgiveness for her, it has nothing whatever to do with me: I only feel love for these people, and thank them their honesty and their trust. ‘Thing is, we couldn’t have saved them,’ her husband, squeezing her hands, so in tune he senses her anguish without needing to ask any question, tells me: ‘it was just too quick. When this kind of catastrophe strikes you down you have to, if you can, just get up again. Kids die in accidents. In a car crash. If we’d been lying there with them, and had fallen asleep, we’d both be dead too?’ His voice inflexes a question. The doubt. The ‘catastrophe’. It sounds a little incongruent now, but true. Maybe he wants to be sure, more sure than he is. Who can blame them. I salute them, I wander on.

‘Boscombe & Bournemouth has had its fair share of tragedy,’ the old lady tells me, ‘maybe more than.’ She sits further down the beach, in front of her own hut, that is hidden a little, tucked away behind a bit of a bluff, and she nods at me sagely. I expect her to go on, but she doesn’t. There’s something in my memory that I can’t recall that makes me think that I know what she’s talking about, but the look that she gives me suggests that the time isn’t right. And so I don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell. Some things are best left unspoken. Yet for a while. 

And so I take the plunge. The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll. I have never been naked in public. I’m innately shy. People don’t think so, they think I am confident, bold even. I’m not. It’s the last Sunday in June and I’m curious: will it happen. And how? The weather is glorious, hot: more than thirty degrees. I shower, smear sun cream all over my body, wear shorts and a shirt and flip-flops; the near compulsory hat, and the shades, and head out. It’s just gone lunch time and I expect to be disappointed. For a while it looks like I might be; and then, suddenly, unnoticeably almost at first, then more and more obviously and quite naturally, it happens. Here a naked person, another one there. A couple, a group, some talking, some smiling, without exception all sunning themselves and their bodies in the luxurious heat, they are strolling along the beach. As I get there, they are vastly outnumbered by clothed people, but the clothed people don’t bat an eyelid, with the exception perhaps of the odd tourist. I am on my own and I don’t know how to do this now, where should I stop to undress? I feel lost, I must look it, too. I need not fret, it turns out. A big burly man with a lot of hair on his chest and a belly protruding far over a very small penis beams at me baring the broadest of grins: ‘you look just like someone who’s come to stroll in the nude.’ For the duration of half a thought I want to say, ‘sorry? Who? Me? Oh no, don’t worry about me, I’m just looking for a place to buy ice cream.’ But his friend smiles at me too and I like her for that. She’s generous, kind. Their mutual friend, I assume, seems to be thinking about something, but he too gives me a nod of encouragement, and so I say: ‘Yes. I am.’

‘I hope you’re wearing sunscreen?’ the big man, who steadies my arm as I step out of my shorts asks me, and his friend cocks his head a little as if to comment, not strictly approving, but not dismissing either, my soft cotton trunks. I take them off too. And the shirt, and I put them all in a little backpack I’ve brought along for this purpose, and I step back into my flip-flops and put on my hat and say: ‘thank you. My name is Sebastian.’ We shake hands and they tell me their names and I put on my shades and we stroll.

∞ Pyromania

The display on the night was magnificent. The dreadful beauty of destruction. Summer Solstice in Boscombe and Bournemouth would never be the same again. Some people, idiotically, would refer to it later as the Midsummer Massacre. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. But it was violent, catastrophic. And exceptionally elegant too. The people in Totland, on the Isle of Wight, probably had the best view, apart perhaps from some revellers who had gone down to the Needles and stayed there till sunrise.

But the subsequent notoriety of what George and Andy never gave a name to, what by no stretch of the imagination could be truthfully described as a ‘massacre’ – either by intention or by outcome – and what therefore, somewhat clumsily and by the uncomfortable default that envelops events that happen too quickly and then linger, became known as the Solstice Spectacle is largely attributable to a couple of unassuming and in most senses of the word pretty average men in their thirties, Stefano and Paul, one Italian, the other English, who had decided to spend the afternoon on Studland Beach and – having previously been oblivious to its naturist stretch – found themselves teased out of their swimwear for the first time in a more or less public place by sheer opportunity.

Having brought along a picnic hamper and two bottles of Verdicchio (Stefano had insisted it not be Pinot Grigio, for once!) and gone through said bottles with unsurprising ease by the time it got dark, they had then felt comfortably relaxed but also just a tad horny, but not wanting to risk making a nuisance of themselves or incurring the wrath of other naturists, had withdrawn a bit behind some dunes and the long grass and no more than lain in each other’s arms and maybe fondled each other a bit and then, in the unusually warm air of the night – even for a Midsummer Night, on an English beach – dozed off. They had woken up again at what must have been some time after midnight, maybe close to one, and the alcohol having eased off but not so much their libido, Stefano had remembered that he may just have a tiny bit of M left in his backpack, from a session he had been to with a couple of guys a few months ago, which had been really rather enjoyable. This proved to be the case and although the little sachet he’d pushed down one of the outside pockets of the backpack at the time on parting and more or less forgotten about contained just enough for maybe twice two shortish lines, that was certainly enough to give them a pretty good time for the next couple of hours or so.

Stefano was in a blissful place looking out over the expanse of the sea upside down on the sandy slope towards the beach with Paul over him and inside him, the two of them so into each other, so in synch, so absorbed in their rhythm that nothing, nothing else mattered, that everything, everything was good and warm and I am you and you are me, and the way they were together they both got to the point where soon, but please not just yet!, but soon they both would erupt; and they built up to it and they moaned and groaned and called each other’s names and oh yeah and oh god and dio mio and not yet! and I want to cum, and me too and yeah do it and yeah do it and just as they did, Stefano a fraction sooner, which tipped Paul now over the edge too, just at that moment the sky and the beach and the sea lit up and their orgasms lasted and lasted and their happiness and their joy and their union was complete and a chain of lights adorned the coast, in explosion after explosion like gorgeous fire crackers in the distance, and blue flashes sparked and yellow flames rose and thick smoke rose in the purple red orange skies and both of them lost their minds for minutes and maybe for hours but for these moments they were it all and it all was they and that was the universe and the universe was wonderful and one.

There were maybe two dozen or so other nude people who had elected or ended up spending the night on the beach and none of them had really been particularly aware of these two. Sure, if those who had settled in closest had kept quiet and still for a while they would probably have heard, faint in the distance, the unmistakable noises of two people getting high on a recreational substance and on each other, but nobody did, because they had their own conversations, one small group even had their guitars, some had their whispers and others their quieter unions to celebrate and so nobody had minded or noted the glorious coming together of Stefano and Paul.

But now everybody was on their feet, by the water, watching the spectacle unfolding on Bournemouth and Boscombe Beaches, all the way from Sandbanks to Christchurch: it was awesome in every original sense of the word: awe-inspiring and profound. Stefano, still high as a kite, and like the the others on the beach largely naked – some, perhaps, had put on a shirt or wrapped a shawl round their shoulders – was in a Heaven all of his own exclaiming in Italian, ‘mamma mia! che bello! dio mio! che spettacolo! che spettacolo! che spettacolo’ and Paul, equally high but less Mediterranean in his expression kept hugging him and smiling and laughing and smiling and kissing him and then they just held hands and stood there, naked as the universe had made them, among the others who stood there naked and amazed and awed.

And so it came to be that by far the most vivid, most famous, most watched and most liked, most discussed, also, most shared and most, in its own peculiar way, cherished video of the most horrific devastation ever unleashed on the English Seaside was also, and looked and felt and sounded and would be experienced for decades by people the world over as, a fantastic, poetic, ecstatic celebration of humans just as they are, as they are when in love.

∞ Pyromania

George knew nothing about incendiary devices. What he noticed, however, over the next three or four days, as he was walking past these huts during the daytime, up and down the beach in both directions from his flat near Boscombe Pier, was that not all, but many of them must have, tucked away in them, a bottle of Calor or similar gas, used to fuel the mini-stoves. This would make his task, and that it had already turned into a task, of that he felt pretty certain, so much easier. It also prescribed his window of opportunity. The bottles, he reasoned, would be unlikely to be there out of, or come to much use towards the end of the season. And season was not yet in swing. It was early June, the sea temperature at around twelve degrees Celsius was not yet attractive to casual bathers (even if some hardy swimmers could always be spotted of a late afternoon or early evening), and so it would make sense, he believed, to strike at a significant-enough moment, soon. 

George’s one or two friends at school were not the kind you could make accomplices in what he knew was not going to be easy an undertaking and not one designed to make him popular with his relatively new neighbours or the holidaymakers who rented the huts for the summer or part of it. He had no confidant either. The time frame he had just set himself was clearly too short to acquire one too, and so he would have to rely on his own resources and relish the moment, when it came, most likely on his own. This did not make George sad, he was used to doing things on his own.

Except, there was a boy at school who liked and watched him more than he knew. Whether it was a teenage crush, or simple idolisation of an older, cooler, more worldly youth, or whether it was something else, neither George, nor the boy, nor their parents, nor the Earnest Psychologist would ever be able to tell with any degree of certainty, or authority, even though the Earnest Psychologist tried. The boy’s name was Andy and he was two years younger than George, just turned thirteen. He’d been aware of George for a good few weeks now, ever since George had arrived at school, as it happens, and he’d known, instinctively, that there was something special, something noteworthy, something edgy and therefore interesting about him. He half expected to find that he owned a snake or collected spiders or kept a diary in Esperanto.

Little Andy – he was remarkably short and remarkably nimble on his feet and swift with his hands –  surprised George as he was looking up small detonators on the school computer. George used the school computer for doing his research because he reasoned that on a computer used by teenagers of all predilections there were bound to appear search terms associated with blowing up stuff, without attracting the immediate attention of MI5.

‘What are you doing?’ Andy asked, in his forthright, unawkward manner that stood in such contrast to his shy demeanour.

George looked up (only a little up: Andy standing virtually came face to face with George sitting) and fixed his eyes straight into Andy’s:

‘I’m going to make some beach huts go bang.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

‘How?’

‘I’m just finding out.’

‘Which ones?’

‘Ideally: all of them.’

‘Wow.’

‘Exactly.’

‘All of them?’

‘Can you imagine?’

‘You’d see that for …miles.’

‘Exactly.’

‘When?’

‘Summer Solstice.’

‘Summer Solstice?’

‘Summer Solstice.’

Andy was already a conspirator. He didn’t know it yet, the Judge, on the counsel of the Earnest Psychologist, with appalled leniency in her eyes, would later abnegate it, but Andy knew, George knew, they were now in this together.

‘Isn’t that in three weeks?’

‘Better get a move on then.’

George shut the computer and stood up, now in is moderate but lanky length towering over little Andy. He ruffled his hair. Andy felt a shudder of delight charge through his young body. The fear of the forbidden paired with a first, inexplicable lust.