Specs on the beach

I do hate to be beside the seaside, unless it’s raining.

I never really learnt to swim as a child. My first encounter with undrinkable expanses of water came during compulsory lessons at the municipal pool provided by a downtown primary school in a large English container port. Swimming underwater was lesson two, and a powerfully built woman with a long wooden pole was on hand to beat any heads that emerged from the chlorine. Why go to all this effort if the shipyards have done their work properly, I wondered, and decided to become a cowboy instead of a pirate. I got the hang of things later in the Caribbean (yarr!), but a beach still doesn’t feel right unless rain is falling, a gale is blowing and the few brave souls to venture forth are firmly swaddled in crackly plastic. It is said that the DG has come to an accord with the missus to go on beach holidays only if there is a generous selection of nearby bar holidays to be had. That strikes me as reasonable. At least you may be able to read something–the sports pages, anything–and at the very worst you will be spared the hideous boredom and fear of incineration that invades you (me) after five minutes of sun and spotless sands.

Here‘s Colm Tóibín talking to Paul Morton over at Book Slut about another of the terrors facing northern man on southern shores:

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Mediterranean and I like the summer in the Mediterranean. And if you’re Irish the Mediterranean summer is a nightmare. [Mediterraneans] know how to move on a beach in a way we just don’t. When I go to beaches, I want to get into what you call bathing trunks and what we call our togs. I get a towel. I put it around me. I tie it the best way I can. Then I slowly begin to remove my trousers and my underwear, with the towel covering me. One hand sort of holding the towel and one hand sort of pulling them down. This is the most ungainly position you can ever be in in your life. Then I try to get the togs or the bathing trunks and pull them up. The Italians and Spaniards never do that. They go to the beach with these things on. So the whole business of how you change and how you change into bathing costumes for us and for them is so different. And we’re so frightened… I’m so white, for example. And they’re so, with their shoulders… If [an Italian or a Spaniard] is walking down towards the sea on a beach they’re so ready for anything. An Irish person isn’t sure it’s not cold.

I had a nice chat about passports this morning with a gentleman in the popular seaside resort of Bangor, Northern Ireland. “How long is it since you’ve been back? Well, you’ll find a lot’s changed, but some things are just the same. It’s a fine cloudy day, and we’re expecting showers tomorrow.” Sounds like heaven.

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  1. Bar proximity is a year-round issue, not just beach holidays. But, there are drawbacks. The quid pro quo for the beach-holiday-bar concession is that the Missus DG feels she carte blanche to try and remove my towel during the delicate act of underwear removal.

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