Meet the beach tribes: A who's who of the British at play on their annual seaside holidays
Are you an Adonis in Speedos or a Frustrated Foodie? John Walsh presents a satirical who's who of the British at play beside the seaside
The Speedos Adonis
You can see him wading painfully out of the North Sea at Aldeburgh or Southwold, subconsciously mimicking Daniel Craig's emergence from the waves in Casino Royale. Unlike Craig, he cannot quite get a purchase on the shingle in the shallows and has to wave his hands in ungainly semaphore to stay upright. More damningly, he is wearing swimming trunks. Something in the summer air, in the balmy zephyrs of Suffolk, has persuaded him that his body has not gone to ruin at 50, but is in the peak of fitness. If he remembers to suck his white, crêpe-y stomach in and maintain an upright posture at all times, he'll look good in tight trunks – easily as good as Mr Craig, in his celebrated blue budgie-smugglers.
Because the beach is boiling hot, he has walked down to the water's edge in his Jesus sandals, which he now retrieves. They are preferable to flip flops, which he thinks are common. The grey hair on his chest and his head, the professorial poise, the demagogue footwear, all proclaim that he is a serious, intellectual cove, just as the tight trunks advertise that he is a virile dog. All he needs to complete the ensemble is his Panama hat and Boots sunglasses. With them he tramps along the beach for an hour, stopping to talk to friends from the BBC, resting golfers, fellow civil servants. He notes the jealous admiration in their faces, a raising of their eyebrows in approval at his choice of tight swimwear. If they show any signs of life, he thinks, he might suggest they have a little game on the beach. He'd even consider throwing a frisbee around, if it didn't make him look like that pitiful middle-aged git, Sir John Sawers of MI6, whose tragic torso was plastered all over Facebook by his wife.
The Hot Lolita
Matilda is too warm. She is wearing her plain grey bowling shirt and white shorts, and has to keep her arms and legs covered because she was very silly yesterday and slathered some Tanfastic on her limbs last night and it was a clear ointment so you couldn't see if it was making any difference, so she just put more and more on, and when she woke up her arms and legs were all streaked and awful so she can't let anyone see, but it's just as well really because her Mum bought her this really gay pink bikini and it just looks stupid when she wears it because she hasn't filled out properly yet, and the horrible boys stare at you and make gross remarks.
She can feel her face burning in the sun because she hasn't really put enough Piz Buin Factor 50 sunscreen on. Her Mum insisted she rub in lots of it, but that would mean no sun at all would come through and her skin would stay the colour of putty after a week at the seaside, instead of becoming a lovely caramel shade like Anna who's so lucky, her skin never goes all lobstery and she's got boobs so she can wear her bikini, unlike some people.
Matilda is so hot, she would love to get a Slush Puppie but she can't because there are boys all round the refreshments shack, because that awful girl Ellie is there laughing in that stupid affected way and letting on she's 16 when she's only Matilda's age. How can boys be so stupid to be taken in by such an annoying little bitch? Her hair is beginning to itch and sweat is starting to drip down her face in an unbecoming, unladylike fashion, and dear God, how she hates being 13...
The Game Old Birds
The Thermos flask and the picnic blankets are in the boot of the CV. His binoculars (ornithology and furtive voyeurism) are in the glove compartment, with the ginger biscuits, the Kendal Mint Cake and her emergency sou'wester in the event of sudden squalls in Cardigan Bay. Their books – he is halfway through the complete Patrick O'Brian seafaring sagas, she is not making much headway in the new Sarah Waters – are on the back seat, bookmarks in place. Their Ordnance Survey maps and copies of Wainwright's Walks still accompany them on every holiday, though they seldom hike far these days.
Gerald and Margaret are in their seventies, but they still believe in the efficacy of the seaside trip. They believe in the power of ozone, the magic of gull-cry and pong of bladderwrack, to heal their souls and lift their dispirited hearts. Reaching the end of their lives, they cling to the beginnings: how the sea and sand once inspired them to run like dogs across the sun-mirrored mirage of the beach and eat Sky Ray lollies watching the distant sails of yachts. Now, no matter how rubbish the actual weather, they will walk on the strand, shiver on the beach, perch on the esplanade benches and patronise the tearooms as if the heat were tropical and the crowds abundant.
Gerald and Margaret don't need the actual summer to be summery. They bring their own summer and live in it like Second Lifers, ignoring all evidence that the real-life promenade is lashed with hail and the yachts in the bay have capsized. As long as they have a rug and biscuits, a warm beverage, the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and a chocolate Magnum apiece, it will always be Holiday o'clock inside them.
The Loping Dude
Marcus is 18 and is into, like, everything. Now his A-levels are over, his text books torched and his brain cleared of the rubble of learning, he is ready for experience. Glastonbury was a hoot, and sleeping rough wasn't too bad in his uncle's Winnebago, but there were so many of his pals from Marlborough around, it might have been the school sports day (only with more Neil Young).
This is different. Marcus is at the seaside, at Padstow or Rock or Fowey. He's here with Quent and Baz, and soon they'll be joined by Danny and Torka, and then they'll see some action. They'll drink Coronas all morning, Penis Collapsos all afternoon and Flaming Sambucas all night. With any luck, some fit girls from Bedales or Cheltenham will join in horseplay with surfboards in the shallows, and, if they're real sports, might get their norks out to sunbathe. After that, Marcus isn't sure what'll happen. He likes making girls laugh with his crazy antics, but if they're not big laughers, he's not sure how to proceed.
So Marcus lopes slowly along the beach in his long purple surfer pants from Fat Face, and his Transformers T-shirt. To the onlooker, his rolling gait, as he sways this way and that, suggests a youth in the grip of dreadful melancholy; but no, it is only a hangover. Sometimes he wishes he didn't always have to wake up with a Grand Prix rally crashing round his head. This is his heyday. These are the best days, of friendship and fun and getting your end away. What was that film on the box, about the kid shagging the war widow? Summer of '42. What's that Bryan Adams song about meeting his first girlfriend? Summer of '69. This'll be Marcus's summer, the unforgettable Summer of '09. If only he could remember which bit of this bloody beach he arranged to meet Baz and Rocky on. If only he could remember anything...
The Frantic Foodie
Bella absolutely loves the Isle of Wight, just adores its quaint atmosphere – like stepping back into 1956 – and its funny place-names (Blackgang Chine! So piratical!) but if you really press her, there's one teeny thing that annoys her: the food. Nobody must think her a snob, and of course there are some dear little fruit and vegetable shops in Bembridge and Ventnor, but frankly, if you want the best British seasonal produce, you're not going to get it in the VG supermarket in Cowes, are you?
Bella knows sorrel is in season in August, as is rabbit. Can she get fresh sorrel anywhere? Can she hell. The little shop people look at her in a funny way and offer her jars of dried oregano. So primitive! And why is there no rabbit in the butchers? She has a lovely recipe for gigot de lapin with calamari (and sorrel) that would be perfect for welcoming friends to their rented farmhouse – but can she buy a bloody rabbit? There must he hundreds of bunnies hopping about the island. Did nobody have the sense to shoot some? She returns home with some frankly third-rate pork (not even organic, my dear), feeling a little frantic. If there's still no sign of sorrel tomorrow, she'll have to climb along the cliffs with a pair of scissors, looking for tufts of samphire to snip.
Bella's husband and children race off to the beach with inflatable dolphins soon after breakfast every morning; she shudders to think what fast-food atrocity he'll buy them for lunch. Bella stays behind (she likes the sun "but it doesn't like me," she explains to all) and broods. Tears prick her eyes. Her life has a hole in it. Without proper Brazilian medium roast coffee from Whole Foods, she just isn't herself. The toast here isn't wholegrain and whatever marmalade they have in the shop, it just isn't Ottolenghi's Lemon and Vanilla. It's not right. Surely Ottolenghi must have opened a branch down here. Has nobody but Bella any sense of what's important?
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