Kate Simon: Woman About World

Oh, I do hate to be beside the seaside

I have a secret to confide: I only discovered the joys of sunbathing in adulthood. No, I haven't lazed on the Copacabana or seen the beautiful bodies on LA's Venice Beach. I've never caught the rays on Bondi or played in the waves off Koh Samui.

I have a secret to confide: I only discovered the joys of sunbathing in adulthood. No, I haven't lazed on the Copacabana or seen the beautiful bodies on LA's Venice Beach. I've never caught the rays on Bondi or played in the waves off Koh Samui.

I haven't even hired a sunlounger in St Tropez. And it's all the fault of my Dad and the humble windbreak.

Well, it may seem like an inoffensive length of fabric and poles to you, but to me it is the nadir of the holiday experience. After all, if it's going to be so cold and uncomfortable that you have to lug a special piece of anti-adverse-weather apparatus along with the buckets and spades and parasols and deckchairs and towels, what's the bloody point of being there in the first place?

Let's face it, some beaches aren't meant for sunbathing. They're meant for wrapping up. And by some, I mean most of Britain's beaches. I realise that this will make me Public Enemy Number One with the Go On Summer Holiday In Britain brigade. And, yes, I am aware that the sun does - sometimes - shine in this part of the world. But no, I'm sorry, huddling behind a windbreak may be a national pastime but it offers only one perspective on holidays: they aren't meant to be enjoyed.

And that's exactly the lesson my father set out to teach us - with the aid of his windbreak - back in the Seventies. What a jolly good job of it he did, too, because it didn't occur to me to go near a beach in the pursuit of pleasure until my friend Jo dragged me off to the Greek island of Kos when I was 26 and showed me sun in a cloudless sky.

Oh happy days, when Dad would bundle us into the back of the Vauxhall Victor and set off on the six-hour drive from Cheshire to the north Devon coast and a fortnight's purgatory in a dank house in Hartland. Poor old Mum did her best to create a holiday atmosphere on exactly the same housekeeping money as we lived off for the other 50 weeks of the year, rustling up picnics of cheese and pickle rolls, cheese and pickle rolls and ... cheese and pickle rolls. Then, off we'd go to the beach, Dad squeezing into his swimming shorts with the little motif of the diving lady, chivvying us into the "bracing" (read freezing) waters of the Atlantic, before retiring to the shelter of - the windbreak.

Do I sound bitter? Well, I mean to. After all, how would you like to get back to school to find yourself sitting next to Sarah Taylor with her tales of exotic holidays in sunny Mallorca and adventures with Cold War policemen extorting "speeding fines" from her father on the highways of Yugoslavia?

But try as we might to persuade him that there were alternatives to the Devon coast (like how about the rest of the world?), my father was resolutely opposed to this new-fangled idea of leaving Britain in pursuit of good weather and broadening the mind until his dying day. "Why would I want to go abroad? I did that during the war," he would retort - and he wasn't joking - while rolling up the windbreak (OK, I put that in for effect).

And so it has become my quest as an adult and a parent never to go on a summer holiday to the north Devon coast and never to own a windbreak. Well, that's not quite true, I have been on holiday, in summer, to the Devon coast and very nice it was too. But the windbreak is a definite no-no and, it seems to me, can easily be avoided by doing the bleedin' obvious and going somewhere hot for the summer holidays.

Like Spain. Except last month, when we headed down to the beach on the Costa de la Luz, on Spain's southern coast, we were confronted by a sea of windbreaks. So it was blowing a Force 8 gale (I exaggerate, though not by much), but you don't go to a Spanish beach to sit behind a windbreak. Even if it is the notoriously windy Costa de la Luz. It's hot. The sun's out. Don't these Spaniards realise that the very sight of a windbreak can bring Los Blancos (that's us) out in the kind of goosebumps only seen in the grey seas off the British coast.

Somewhere up there, my Dad must be having a good old laugh.

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