Long-term resident


I haven’t been to a beach for twenty-three years, because, with time, I have come to loathe the places

When I first came to live in Catalonia I loved going to the beach. This was partly because of the novelty value: London was bereft of beaches (not to mention its scarcity of sun). But mainly it was because the beaches here made me feel I was in any one of dozens of films and TV series in which the height of luxury and coolness and affluence and pleasure in general was represented by shots of good-looking, sunglassed people lounging around on the sand or splashing each other on the edge of a sea whose immaculate blueness stretched to the horizon and an unvisited beyond. A cheap ticket would take you on the RENFE’s creaking, barely-upholstered trains from Barcelona to nearby places on the Maresme coast (Premià, Vilassar, Arenys, Sant Pol, Caldetes...) and there you’d be, stretched out beside the seaside, living the life of Riley and convincing yourself that this was how the other half lived. And if you were a heterosexual male accompanied by a girlfriend you could even imagine you were playing a bit part in one of the early (and sexist) Bond films.

I haven’t been to a beach for twenty-three years, because, with time, I have come to loathe the places. It’s not just the physical inconvenience of sand seeping into the overpriced sandwiches and beer you bought at the local beach kiosk, or of having to smear sun proof chemicals all over your skin leaving you smelling like a hospital, it’s the atmosphere: hundreds of people clustered together under their parasols doing sweet FA, as if they were killing time in a waiting room; other people tossing balls around and - for some reason - laughing their heads off as they do so; and yet more people sitting in circles and talking trash before they mosey over to a jam-packed beach bar to talk more trash...

In general, the impression any beach gives me now is of an unbearably hot, overpopulated swathe of sand chock-full of semi-naked adults suffering collectively from a prolonged attack of infantile regression.

And maybe that’s what makes what is sometimes improbably called ’beach culture’ so repellent: most of its acolytes are adults; that is to say that they could be – for example - any one of the grown-ups who appear in the lyrics Vi Subversa (aka Frances Sokolov) wrote for the Poison Girls’ song ’Persons Unknown’ (1980): ’housewives and prostitutes, plumbers in boiler suits/truants in coffee bars, who think you’re alone/big men on building sites, sick men in dressing gowns/agents in motor cars who never go home/.../accountants in nylon shirts, feminists in floral skirts/nurses for when it hurts, persons unknown/astronauts and celibates, deejays and hypocrites/liars and lunatics, persons unknown/hopefuls on football pools, teachers in empty schools/kids into heroin not yet full grown/typists and usherettes, black men who can’t forget/.../closet idealists, bald-headed realists/rastas and bikers, the voice on the phone/pimps and economists, royalty and communists/rioters and pacifists, persons unknown/visionaries with coloured hair, leather boys who just don’t care...’ So why the hell do such real-life people act like the children they’re not whenever they find themselves on a beach? In fact, the only human beings who never have to pretend when they’re on a beach - because they’re having such a wonderful, innocent, genuinely good time – are children. Every time I pass by the edge of a crammed beach, I can’t help wishing that only children – who are banned from so many other places – were allowed on it. And that the adults larking about with unconvincing smiles were somewhere else, anywhere else, being housewives and prostitutes, plumbers in boiler suits...


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