Magazine article The Spectator

On the Beach

Magazine article The Spectator

On the Beach

Article excerpt

At ten to five the sun rose. Me and the boy were seated in our directors' chairs on the beach, mourning the embers of our dying fire. We were about midway along a five-mile curve of shingle, about 30 yards from the sea.

The sun came up, as I told my boy it would, in the east. First a rim, then this big boiling orange orb appeared behind a hill and climbed remarkably quickly into the air. A small hapless cloud that happened to be in the area was burned off. The moon, low and translucent in the west, slunk quickly away. After that the sun had the sky to itself.

There wasn't a puff of wind; the cigarette's-worth of smoke from our fire went more or less straight up. The waves collapsing on the shore were piddly. In spite of their lack of vigour, however, every other one washed up hundreds of tiny silver fishes that died in shining rows on the wet shingle.

After the sun had cleared the hill by about half an inch (about quarter past) a figure appeared beside the shore to our right. He was casting his rod into the sea, catching a fish immediately, tossing it back, and moving along again. He was coming towards us. As he got nearer, we could see that apart from a satchel he was nude.

Which was fine. There are no signs, but for the last 50 years local custom has designated the far end of the beach as a nudist beach. And quite properly that was where he was headed. But strictly speaking he ought to have kept his clothes on until he passed beyond some rusty old fishermen's winches. But who could blame him for marginally enlarging his freedom so early in the morning and with no one around to complain except me and the boy?

We'd been doing nothing in particular (not even fishing) for a day and a night. In the languid, oddly muffled atmosphere of this beach, speech quickly becomes superfluous. So when I commented to my boy, 'Look! A nudist!', it was the first words that had passed between us for a while.

The fisherman drew level and we watched him catch a fish (quite a large one) from our ringside seats. Now aware of his audience, instead of lobbing this one back, he turned round and held it up, offering it to us. I told my boy to fetch it, but he was reluctant to receive a live fish from a naked stranger, so I went. …

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