Matt Chorley: Why can't the Brits hack it at the seaside?

Our writer fears the 'sand sandwiches' season is here again

Related Topics

Rain or shine, this weekend millions of us will get up at the crack of dawn and head for a traffic jam snaking towards the seaside. Brits at the beach have no idea how to behave. So we slip on our factor 50 blinkers and try to pretend we are the only ones on this overcrowded stretch of brownish sand.

There we are, standing essentially in our pants with nowhere to put loose change, averting our gaze from the pert bottoms and fat backs in the queue for overpriced ice creams.

There is so much pretending. We pretend we can hear the sea over the sound of the couple next door arguing. We pretend not to have goosebumps. We all – men and women – pretend not to look at the woman sunbathing topless.

It is never like the adverts, where cool, lithe young hipsters kick over the white sand while gazing out to an azure sea. Kick sand here and it's liable to end up in someone's mouth.

Choosing a pitch is a complex business. Go too close to another group and risk looking like a creepy weirdo. Leave too big a gap and you can be sure a group of students will park themselves in it while you're in the sea/toilet, ready to devour an industrial supply of weed.

Last weekend we were plagued by a group listening to what appeared to be the Sonic the Hedgehog theme played at double speed while someone struggled to send a fax. I think it used to be called techno.

Things go wrong even before leaving home. So much stuff to pack. I have always admired those leathery, slim, retired couples who stroll on to the beach in just a thong, flick out a towel the size of a small dishcloth and voilà – ready for sun worshipping.

Even if we didn't have children, we would still be hobbling through the car park with three carrier bags digging into hands and banging into legs, bulging with picnics, books, water, suncream, newspapers, towels, raffia mats and the oh-so-easy-to-pack-away pop-up tent. But what sort of depraved moron takes bongo drums to the beach? Thirty-somethings desperately trying to pretend they are in Goa, not West Wittering. All. Sodding. Afternoon.

Anyway, pitch chosen, everyone sits for approximately four minutes before announcing at five to 11 in the morning that it must be time for lunch. Pork pies, Scotch eggs, crisps, olives, cocktail sausages, breadsticks, quiche, grapes, a platter of Italian meats and cans of soft drink are all carefully laid out on the gritty picnic rug. You eat the ham roll you made at home, decide that actually that's filled you up, and then pack everything away again.

Be sure to zip up the cool bag, just in case an inconsiderate beachgoer has brought a dog. A dog! As soon as you spot a dog you wonder if it's going to bite someone or shit in a freshly dug sandcastle moat.

Wherever you are on a beach you are never more than six feet from someone doing the Towel Tango – trying to slip their pants off, and trunks on, without flashing a bright white bottom. Or worse.

After lunch, it's time to head to the water, which can be dangerous. California has sensibly banned frisbee throwing. Frisbees are pointless. Most children can't throw them and adults never seem to learn flicking a frisbee under a big hairy leg does not make it a "sport". Just sit down.

If you're lucky you can paddle in peace, but chances are you'll have to dodge an overweight 15-year-old hurtling towards you on a boogie board, while further out women try to gauge if they are deep enough to have a wee without anyone noticing.

Don't get me wrong, I love the beach. Every crunchy sandwich, every wasp, every squashed sandcastle, every inch of red-hot sunburn. It's just the people I can't stand.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor