Down in Cornwall for a late summer holiday, the sun came out and sea was sparkling. There was no holding me back, and on the first evening I donned my swimming cossie and threw myself into the surf with gay abandon.
To be fair, it was pretty chilly, but after the first few moments when I wondered briefly whether my heart had actually stopped beating and if I had turned as blue as an uncooked lobster, I was in seventh heaven.
But as I looked around me, all I could see were people, young and old, in wetsuits. Some of them looked faintly shocked at the sight of an aging provocateur splashing about in the waves revealing her glorious white bits.
When did wetsuits become de rigeur, I wonder? For surfing types and intrepid divers who swim into the depths I confess it makes a lot of sense to suit up. But for people skipping waves in the shallows?
Most summer weekends of my childhood were spent on Highcliffe beach, which is just the wrong side of the Hampshire/Dorset border (I’m a Hampshire Hog, you understand). My brothers and I would gambol in the sea all day long, wearing unfashionable swimsuits – well everybody did in those days. I have a horrible memory of ruched nylon in a nasty flowery pattern – and did we wear crocheted swimsuits – surely not! (I survived but if you have ever wondered why I have no fashion sense, wonder no more).
Protection from the cold of the English Channel was unheard of. We stayed in the sea or mucked about in rockpools until the sun went down, apart from coming out for the ubiquitous sand-filled picnic lunch. Boiled eggs and sweaty cheese.
I don’t remember moaning about the temperature of the sea, even as a skinny 8 year-old. Then again, we never went abroad for our hols, so we didn’t have anything to compare it with. Perhaps if we’d gone to Tenerife or Benidorm we would have complained.
“Children these days don’t know they’re born”, sayeth I. Wetsuits, boots and gloves, and sometimes even a balaclava-type head warmer. It’s madness I tell you.We need our children to toughen up!
The cockles of my heart were briefly warmed on our last outing to the beach in Cornwall, when a tiny child tottered past as naked as the day he was born. That’s how you do it! I thought. Then I noticed his parents, both suited up in the funkiest surfy gear, and the cockles went cold. I fear that as soon as they find a wetsuit small enough, the naked child will be swathed in neoprene from head to toe, never to come into contact with bracing English sea water again.
As for me, I will continue to brave the brine with my goosepimples. There’s nothing like it.
(Next year, Greece. Nobody wears wetsuits there).