JUNE 12, 2007
Embracing the coastal life, we decided to rent a beach hut for the week. For the unitiated, the beach hut (or the twee 'beach chalet' as the local authority insists on calling it) seems a uniquely English phenomenon, much like the allotment (a small patch of land that suburban gardeners rent from the council ostensibly to cultivate vegetables but mainly to provide a pretext for avoiding the wife and children). The beach hut is essentially a tiny piece of territory to nurse, a small shed, right on the beach promenade equipped with four deck chairs, a camping stove and a fold-out table.
It's for sheltering from the sun, or rain, changing into a swimsuit, and brewing the thrice hourly cup of tea without which English life would collapse. Sleeping overnight in one's a no-no. I'm sure that running your business out of the hut or using it for carnal relations (or-heaven forbid- combining the two) is against the local by-laws too.
I'm not big on kitsch and nostalgia, nor am I into hanging out in a glorified garden shed so the whole ritual left me a bit nonplussed: old folk going leathery in the sun sat outside a 3 yard cubed shack? On the busier stretches of promenade Hut-ites look particularly curious sat out front of their plot: it's a bit like that other (apocryphal) British practice of picnicking in the lay-by of a busy road (I've tried to translate lay-by to American but the nearest I get is 'highway pull-off' which- to my double entendre tuned ears- sounds a little smutty), hut dwellers determinedly relaxing in their deck chairs, home comforts (radios, cups of tea) to hand while all the beach traffic, cyclists, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, rollerbladers, pedestrians pass on the tarmac a few feet in front of them, obscuring their view of the sea.
As you can tell, I'm an inveterate observer and am wont to turn into Dr Spock or an amateur Alain de Botton (or 'joyless prig' as my wife might put it. At least I think it's 'prig') ruminating over the sociological and philosophical aspects of such rituals rather than actually enjoying the moment. Over the weekend with the family I managed to switch off my Vulcan tendencies and really enjoy the experience. Our hut's on a very quiet stretch of the beach and the weather was glorious. The kids, needless to say, lapped up the beach (the boy literally chowing on vast amounts of sand).
I was something of a cliche of an Englishman on holiday (no, not the string vest/ knotted handkerchief on my head; nor the drunken lout, starting fights and refusing to engage with the local culture)- I fell asleep in the sun and ended up sunburnt. I've now got what I believe is known as a 'farmer's tan': naked, I still appear to be wearing a white t-shirt. It seems as though the glow of my computer monitor is no preparation for hours spent in the sun.