Tuesday, 17 August 2010

An old man's strange idea of heaven

Two issues are currently dominating the silly season columns of the national press: the decline of topless sunbathing and the fate of the British pork scratching.

As it happens, I am deeply concerned about both, since after many years of reflection I have concluded that heaven for me would be sitting in a deckchair on a beach, drinking a glass of cool (but not cold) English ale, eating a big bag of pork scratchings and watching a group of underdressed young ladies playing volleyball.

If they could be persuaded to sing a bit of baroque opera at the same time that would be absolute perfection, but I recognise that even paradise has its limits.

Where to find such a heaven on earth? Well, certainly not on Bamburgh beach last Wednesday, when the question was not whether it would be proper to shed the top half of a bikini, but whether to wear one overcoat or two while sheltering behind the windbreak. I had bought toddler Charlie his first bucket and spade in Seahouses, along with one of those little windmills I used to enjoy at his age. I sensed that his first visit to the seaside was not going to be a complete success when the top of his windmill promptly blew off.

So we adopted Plan B and went on a rain-lashed cruise around the Farne Islands, where Mrs Hann hoped to fulfil her lifetime’s ambition of seeing a puffin. If we’d gone last month she could have seen 35,000 of them, apparently. Now there were just two left, floating dozily on the sea and wondering where all their mates had gone. But at least they saved my day from being an unalloyed disaster.

True, Charlie also went “wow” at the grey seals. But then he said “wow” when he found an empty coat hanger in the bottom of our wardrobe this morning, so he may be quite easily impressed.

In short, at the end of four days trying to sell Northumberland as the ultimate holiday paradise, it is only my cunning ruse of allowing my passport to expire that is now keeping us from a beach where the sun might actually shine.

At least I thought the scenery on the Continent might have a point or two in its favour, but I read that the pendulum has swung back (as pendulums always tend to do) and topless sunbathing is increasingly considered outrĂ© and indecent. Poor little Charlie. By the time he’s old enough to appreciate that sort of thing, the beach babes will presumably all be shrouded in burkas.

Could it be coincidence that some in the health police are lobbying to mass medicate all milk with added Vitamin D, because we are no longer getting enough of it from sunshine? Which might, of course, be related to the health police’s previous warnings about the dangers of contracting skin cancer.

You can’t win, and I’ll tell you why. Because we’re all going to die of something, whether we follow their well-intentioned advice or not.

So what of those pork scratchings, you ask? Articles are being written elsewhere claiming that the health police are trying to ban them, but my usual extensive research has uncovered only a mild suggestion from the Food Standards Agency, in a pre-World Cup advice leaflet, that fans might like to consider nibbling unsalted peanuts rather than scratchings while watching the match in a pub.

But now someone has been daft enough to raise the subject, no doubt an anti-scratchings campaign will soon be hurtling down the slipway. Clearly the only sound advice about this and any other pleasure is to enjoy it while you can. Just as, with the benefit of hindsight, I now wish I had spent more time on beaches with my uninhibited female friends back in the dear old 1980s.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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