The second time I came across naturists, in the Ardeche region of France, they were more difficult to avoid. After a long day's drive, my partner and I had set up camp on a beautiful site. It was next to a river and, being very late in the season, it was empty except for one other tent. We pitched our tent at a polite distance from our neighbours, went for a quick swim and then poured ourselves a much-needed aperitif each. As we sat outside, relaxing and enjoying the evening sun, our neighbours emerged from their tent, gave us a friendly wave and started cooking dinner. Both were large, Belgian (that we had ascertained from the identification badge on their car) and probably in their early 60s. They were also both naked. We were in a naturist campsite.
They were a sociable couple and spoke perfect English, but I tried to avoid having conversations with them. I could just about cope with passing the time of day with the naked woman, but when the man stopped for a chat on the way back from the toilet block, I did not know where to look. I found that I had to stare him directly in the eyes for the entire time we were talking about the weather because I didn't want to look down, or for him to think I was looking down. If he had been wearing a pair of trunks, it would have been fine. It was also awkward because I felt that in chatting about the weather, we weren't getting to the point. What he surely wanted to say to me was, "Why don't you take your clothes off?" and what I wanted to say to him was: "Why haven't you got your clothes on? What on earth possesses you to come on holiday to a particular place for the specific reason of going around naked? How long have you been doing this?"
Of course, being a dressed person in a place for undressed people makes you feel uncomfortable, but certainly less uncomfortable than actually taking your clothes off. The third couple to arrive on the scene succumbed to the pressure exerted by the naked Belgians, but then they did pitch their tent much nearer to them.
They arrived clothed, presumably, like us, unaware that the campsite was different from any other, and remained clothed the following day. The next morning, however, the woman did not get dressed, although her partner did. The morning after that he too was naked. They had got pally with the Belgians and they all sat around the campfire together, starkers.
It wasn't just the campsite that was open to nudists. The Ardeche region seems to attract them in their thousands and the vast majority of them, it has to be said, appeared to be German. On a canoe trip down the river we saw naked swimmers and whole colonies of naked sunbathers. Curiously, I saw many families together where mummy and daddy had their clothes off and the children had their clothes on. Even young children can be sensitive about their bodies - brainwashed by a culture that considers the naked body shameful and unnatural, I'm sure naturist parents would say - and prefer to keep covered up. I imagine these children are very reluctant to show their schoolmates their holiday photos.
At this point, in the interest of balance, I would have liked to include some quotes from naturists in support of their proclivity, but I don't know any. None of my family or friends are naturists and neither are any friends of friends or friends of relations.
Perhaps I could have contacted Health and Efficiency, the organ of the naturist movement, for some names. I came across this publication several years ago when I answered an ad for freelance writers in a newspaper.They wanted articles about people who liked to take their clothes off and have fun (but not in a pornographic sort of way) and requested submissions be accompanied by photographs. I was short of cash but I couldn't bring myself to invite the neighbours round for a naked romp in the garden while I stood there taking snaps.
You may wonder what I look like. Is my body so gruesome that I feel it best to keep my clothes on for everybody's sake? No, it isn't. It is far from perfect, but no worse than average. I am not obese or covered in excess body hair. But I would feel very silly walking around naked in public.Reuse content