Today, sadly, beaches have become dangerous places. Sharks, litter, untreated sewage, the tinny blare of your neighbours' personal stereo, these are as nothing compared with the glaring threat that is the modern sun. Once an excuse for ice-cream and the subject of innocent ditties ("The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hooray...") our ozone-depleted sky has now transmogrified into a source of sinister-sounding UV radiation (formerly known as sunlight). Formerly a delightful sign of health, childhood freckles have become "sun damage". And sea and sand, at one time as essential to a successful family holiday as crisp sandwiches, simply reflect up to 90 per cent more sunlight - sorry, UV radiation - even if you are in the shade.
Instead of using bronzed toddlers and naughty dogs to advertise their products, pharmaceutical companies now issue horrifying statistics about skin cancer (second most common cancer in the UK, 40,000 new diagnoses each year, some attributable to a single case of childhood sunburn, noses and ears are particularly at risk). Other scary facts: those Thomas the Tank Engine sunglasses with no UV rating you bought as an emergency bribe will actually allow more radiation in.
Why, then, do the boys and girls in our illustrations look so happy? Surely not because they have endured the childish torture of being smeared with sun protection lotion "at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. Rub it on to your skin, rather than in," as Johnson & Johnson now sternly advise? Because they have been promised whatever Spanish is for King Size Cornetto if they consent to wearing a hat? Because they don't have to go to school for six weeks?
No, silly, these children are celebrating because they are modelling the latest in safe but fashionable beachwear, including a pair of thigh- protecting check shorts designed by Osh Kosh B'Gosh; a shoulder-covering stripy dress from French Connection; and a back-shielding T-shirt designed by George at Asda.
So far, so many cheerful designs in cotton. But children's clothes are about to become so technologically advanced that even the most water- crazed, sun cream-resistant boy may be persuaded to wear some of these items at the beach. On the far left, our model is wearing a tight sporty Osh Kosh T-shirt (stockist enquiries 01604 790613) in a shiny Lycra-esque fabric developed in conjunction with the Australian Radiation Laboratory, who sound very scary but know their UV radiation like no one else. New, dry and unstretched, it blocks at least 97.5 per cent of the stuff, giving an SPF factor of 50-plus. And it looks cool on a surfboard, too.
Even more boy-friendly is the BhS T-shirt modelled on the far right (stockists 0171 262 3288). First thing in the morning it features a fiendish- looking blue shark. When exposed to UV light however, the shark turns an even more fiendish orange: pale tangerine in moderate UV light, flaming puce in more intense conditions. So cloudy or not, if your son suddenly turns day-glo he knows it's time to submit to the horror of sun cream. When the T-shirt reverts to blue, he can safely ignore your pleas.
These T-shirts are obviously aimed at boys (other designs include footballers and a gorilla), but the company that patented the ink has also just produced a range of UV-reactive nail varnishes. In the bottle and fresh on the nail they appear to come in only three shades: clear, pearl and glitter. Once exposed to sunlight, however, they take on a lurid range of colours, from purple to green - meaning time to cover up. While your daughter pretends to be a teenager, you can paint your toenails red and feel less depressed about the state of your foam cups.
(ILLUSTRATIONS - FROM LEFT)
UV protective high-necked sports tunic, from pounds 20, ages 1-12, available from Oshkosh B'Gosh, 17 Kings Road, London SW3 and selected stockists nation-wide, inquiries 01604 790 613
Blue pastel check shorts, pounds 23.50, ages 2-8, by Roobarb & Custard,
available by mail order, inquiries 0171 835 0010
Red/ orange/ blue striped velour zip-neck tunic, pounds 19.50 with matching shorts, pounds 19.50, ages 2-8, by Roobarb & Custard, available by mail order, as before; Adidas Norton Trainers in navy suede in sizes 1-5, pounds 37.99, style; HE 713 23, Freemans.*
Blue/orange/white striped T-shirt with matching shorts, from pounds 12.99, by George at Asda, available from Asda branches nation-wide, inquiries 0500 1000 55
Blue/orange/white daisy summer dress with cross-over back straps, from pounds 12.99, ages 2-12yrs., (style FK40453) by Freemans, as before; Black leather sandals, (come in pack with the white sandals above) from Freemans, as before.
Blue daisy boys swim trunks in 100% cotton by Mini Boden, from pounds 12, age 2-12 yrs. Available by mail order, inquiries 0181 453 1535; UV interactive `Shark Fears' cartoon T-shirt by Creative Expressions in navy/white and green/white, 100% cotton, from pounds 9, available at Bhs stores nation-wide, stockist inquiry number: 0171-262 3288.4)
Blue and white striped sailor bathing suit by Mini Boden,
pounds 10, ages 2-12yrs, available by mail order, inquiries: 0181 453 1535
`Kampina' orange, fruit bathing suit with ruffle skirt, pounds 29.50, ages 2-12yrs, by Oilily Jeans, available at 9 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 823 2505 and selected stockists nationwide, inquiries; 01225 469 259; Kangaroo sandals with easy grip strap fastening and textured insole, pounds 22.99, in (child's) sizes 8-2, style; BP 653 03, Freemans, call 0345 900 100 to order or 0800 900 200 for a catalogue.
`Hioui' green/blue striped short-sleeved summer dress, pounds 20, by French Connection, available from 249 Regents Street, London W1 and stockists nationwide, inquiries 0171 580 2507. Kangaroo sandals with easy grip strap fastening and textured insole, pounds 22.99, in (child's) sizes 8- 2, style; BP 651 43, Freemans, as before.
Light blue, long-sleeved cotton cardigan, pounds 14 by French Connection, as before; Seashell and starfish blue sleeveless pinafore, pounds 9.99, ages 3- 10 yrs, by George at Asda, available from Asda branches nationwide, inquiries 0500 100 055
White leather sandals with double buckle fastenings, pack of two; pounds 12.99, (child's) sizes 6-12, (style BG 612 73), from Freemans, as before.