Now I go to the beach quite a lot. I'm very lucky. I have a range of beaches about an hours drive away and for this I am highly blessed and make the most of them. So I have quite a lot of beach experience.
And by this I mean REAL beach experience. I love the beach but I have what I would call 'realistic expectations' and looking around me on some beaches, at the amount of marital disharmony and general stress, I think it's time that I brought expectations down a little.
The problem is many people are drawn to the beach with expectations derived via commercial propaganda in the form of advertising. This has seeped into their sub-conscious and over-ridden their own, real, previous experiences.
Back when I was a child, what you expected from the beach was some (if not all) of the following:
- a long trip in a hot car with no air-con, a trip during which your thighs would become actively sealed with the car seat covers resulting in searing pain every time you moved.
- a rug to sit on.
- sandwiches full of sand even though the beach you were sitting on was usually made of pebbles or grit.
- horrific blisters from the jelly shoes that 'saved your feet' in the rock pools.
- an ice-cream if you were very very lucky
- a go on the 2p slot machine thing if you were even luckier and it was a beach with 'facilities'
- sunburn/windburn/hyper-thermia/delete as applicable.
Well people are shown images such as this:
and I think that for some of them this is what they sub-consciously hope for.
Let me just give you a gentle reminder of what is wrong with these photos......
The top one - we will forgive her the flat stomach and lack of stretchmarks and instead focus on the fact THERE IS NO SAND ON HER TOWEL. This never actually happens. Within minutes the whole thing is a sea of sand. As is your bikini gusset and ear holes. There is also nobody else sat near here. In real life, as soon as she had cracked open that Kindle, 6 lads on the beers sporting horrific sunburn and playing some tinny music on an iPOD would have rocked up.
The next one (which I stole from the The Celtic Sheepskin Company who do make very nice clothes yadda yadda yadda) is even more misleading as it makes out that your 'beach essentials' are a pair of flip flops and a nice cotton outfit. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. If you have children you will need about 30 others things too - mainly enough food so that you don't have to keep leaving the beach to source more. However - be careful not to take the 'be prepared' thing a bit too far here. I have noticed a recent trend for people to arrive at the beach and pretty much set up what appears to be a fully functional camp, complete with catering facilities and basic navigation systems. This does seem to slightly defeat the object of going to the beach in the first place but hey, who am I to comment if you feel a 60ft square secured area is necessary for a bit of sunbathing, a few sandcastles and a hot dog?
The third one down - cheesy family in the sea. Where do I start? It won't be like this. I've actually noticed that unless men are actively doing something on the beach (like surfing or trying to start a fire or drinking 8 cans of Stella before mid-day) they are not particularly good at it. They don't like just sitting around. This can lead to tensions. I saw a magnificent example of this recently. Couple with small child paddling in the sea..... words were had about how cold it was and her whinging about not wanting to go in.... more words were had..... she stalked off in a big humph.... he screamed the immortal words 'THAT'S IT, YOU JUST FUCK OFF BACK TO YOUR FUCKING PHONE AND YOUR FUCKING CANDY CRUSH'.
Oh how I laughed.
Although shortly after that karma took me down when a large wave rolled me over, skidded me along the shingle and dumped me at the feet of a shocked looking man. I subtly returned my left breast to my swimwear, rolled over as gracefully as possibly (i.e. not very gracefully) and crawled off in a nonchalant way which screamed of 'yeah, and of course I MEANT to do that'...... (whilst silently crying into my sand-encrusted beach towel).
And finally the last picture. Well where does one begin with this? Don't study the picture too hard, the 'dad's' teeth are so white they might blind you. But the thing is that 'family' in the picture give you the false hope that a day at the beach is effortless. And here's the thing.....unless you fly to the Maldives, Mauritius, the Caribbean or some such other place - this is VERY UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN IN THIS COUNTRY.
What is more likely to happen in this country is this:
This is a real life photo of a real life family (well two families. Kind of) on a beach in Cornwall this year.
That's right - it is not a refugee camp. It is a day out on a British beach.
The family is mine and my friend Emma's (Emma's the one who got drunk and bought something like 350 silver foil take-away cartons off Ebay, just 'because').
We love this photo so much because a picture really does speak a thousand words.
But I will add some words anyway.
So first things first, our cars are parked behind the white building you can see on the far horizon. About a mile away. A mile is a long way with whinging children. It's a fucking long way with 6 whinging children.
The second thing is the actual sea is about a mile in front of us. The tide is out. Right out.
The third thing is when we left our cars to search for the elusive sea it was beautiful sunshine.
The fourth thing is that it is not now beautiful sunshine and a large cataclysmic storm is rolling in across the ocean.
Note that we have no need for flip flops, beautiful cotton beachwear or fluffy beach towels. We have no need for Kindles, or Ray Bans or string bikinis. Me may actually be in need of a deck chair or two but we could never have carried them there. Our beach towels are those crumpled wet things covered in grit under the big bags. The big bags are full of crisps and sandwiches - there was also cheese but we lost it in a battle with an over enthusiastic Golden Retriever.
The child in the clashing outfit on the far left is my eldest son - the one with Aspergers - who looks happy enough counting waves and no doubt pondering the statistical risk of us all being hit by lightening. Still - it should be said the same happiness level could be achieved by sticking him in a window which overlooks any reasonably busy highway.
The child sat on the rock has been to search for sea caves, in which we can shelter from the storm in order not to die. He has returned with the news that he has found one but it is quote: 'not family sized' so we are going to have to pick who we take and who we leave behind in the great lightening escape......
The woman in the purple hood is Emma and she's having strong words with one of her sons who is somewhat hysterical about the prospect that we are all about to die and is begging for a right to enter the sea cave.
The one with the shovel is mine and probably plotting who to knock out with the shovel in order to secure a sea-cave ticket.
The tallest child, holding some shoes, is a teenager and probably wishing he was at a foam party in Ibizia.
Hell actually I'm taking the picture and I wish I was a foam party in Ibiza.......
I honestly can not for the life of me remember what happened after this photo was taken - but we are all still alive so it wasn't a lightening strike.
And with that I'm off to stay on a British beach for a week with my mother, both kids and 2 dogs - in a small caravan.
May the Lord have Mercy on us all.