Monday, 6 June 2016

Eschewing the Beach Brigade.

I was reading a feature today on how Perth, WA is becoming the world capital of the Homicidal Sharks Convention. It was accompanied by a picture of a beach thronged with bodies – live bodies, bronzed bodies, bodies done out in gaudy attire. If there’d been a sound track with it, I’ve no doubt it would have been loud. A heaving mass of humans choosing to worship the sun in that supremely unimaginative way to which the mass of humans is given. I began to wonder which I found the more horrific, being eaten by a shark or sitting on a crowded beach, but the thought drifted without conclusion…

To me, a beach isn’t a playground; it’s a place to connect with the totality of the environment. I want to watch how its level changes from day to day, sometimes revealing underlying rocks and ancient tree stumps. I want to feel the texture of the sand - sometimes dry, sometimes damp, sometimes wet, sometimes frosty. I want to watch the sea and work out why it’s a sludgy brown one day, electric blue the next, and nearly black the day after that. I want to feel the mood of the waves and link it to the wind, the temperature, and whether it’s raining or not. I want to watch the littoral birds diving in the shallows, and the maritime birds diving far offshore, and then turn around to watch the larks dallying above the dunes. And there are insects among the grasses on the dunes, and moths, and stripey caterpillars…

I can’t do that in a crowd. I can only do it alone or accompanied by some special person I can trust to join me in the connection. (And there aren’t too many of those.) Besides, if I sit in the sun for more than about thirty seconds I become fidgety and fractious unless I'm either reading, eating or talking to one of the special persons mentioned above. And I don’t like crowds.

So how do I define a crowd? Well, I lived by a beach in Northumberland once and walked on it nearly every day for a little short of two years. I could just about tolerate a lone person walking a dog somewhere in the distance. Any more than that was a crowd.   

4 comments:

Madeline said...

I feel the same way about beaches, although for slightly different reasons - if I sit in the sun for more than thirty seconds, my skin starts to burn off.

You've pretty much perfectly described what I like about the beach. Your description reminds me in particular of the beaches in Maine we used to visit when I was little. Because of the aforementioned skin burning off problem my parents and I would often go very early in the morning or at dusk to the beach (also, after 6 pm the beaches allowed dogs). I think you would like Maine a lot.

JJ Beazley said...

Ah, so now I know why you want to live in Iceland.

I could have talked about the coast of Pembrokeshire instead. It's much more spectacular than Northumberland - no sand dunes, but lots of cliffs with paths where thrift grows in profusion, In May the clifftop path looks like a cottage garden. And you get to hear adders scurrying away into the undergrowth just before you reach them, and you can see lots of islands where monks used to live, and pristine gulls come and share your lunch and pose enthusiastically for photographs, and things like that...

I'm sure I would love Maine. It's only a short boat ride to Canada from there. (Only kidding.) The sea is much more characterful when it's on the edge of a deep ocean, so the awareness of being on the cusp of an environment in which you can survive and one in which you couldn't is more profound.

Email following later.

They only allow dogs after 6? Scandalous!

Madeline said...

After 6 in the peak season, with some exceptions. My favorite trips were in the off seasons, though. The beaches are cold and desolate.

JJ Beazley said...

Now I'm wondering whether we have such rule or bye-law on British beaches. I haven't been to one in a long time. I suppose it does make a certain sense if it's a busy beach with lots of kids around. But does the same rule apply to public parks?

And I must admit, I prefer my beaches warm and desolate.