23 Jul 2021

Here Comes the Sun...?

British summers can be brief and disappointing, with the sun in short supply.  Hot, sticky days alternate with periods of lowering grey skies, stiff breezes and torrential rainfall.  Some of the more hardy amongst us continue to behave as if it was a balmy summer’s day, strolling around in shorts, taking bracing dips in the churning sea.  Our steadfast refusal to acknowledge the grim reality is a good example of the stiff upper lip; in the face of challenging circumstances, we doggedly carry on.

It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that a warm, sunny day is met with an almost hysterical lack of inhibition. All over British towns and cities people strip off: builders labour in short shorts, men strip to the waists and office workers litter the parks in states of undress. Everywhere you will see signs of over-exposure to the sun – red strap marks, burnt noses and peeling skin.

Beaches are packed with sun-worshippers, revelling in the unusual experience of enjoying the seaside without having to wrap up all-weather gear and cower behind a windbreak, armed with a warming flask of tea.

Keep your space

Wherever you choose to soak up the sun’s rays, respect other people’s space – especially as we come out of lockdown – and allow a generous buffer zone between beach or park encampments. Remember that not everyone will enjoy your exuberant antics, so keep music down and restrict beach games to empty, open spaces. If you’re indulging in a beach barbecue, make sure that you’re well away from fellow sunbathers – choking smoke and paraffin fumes is pervasive and will spoil everybody’s day out.

Tidy as you go

At the end of the day, ensure that you have picked up all your rubbish and take it away with you – if seaside bins are overflowing take it home, or deposit in an empty bin on the way home; never leave it to pile up next to a full bin, where it will be prey to sea breezes and seagulls.

Be prepared

Above all, take it steady and go armed with plentiful supplies of hats, water and sun cream (which you should generously share with all companions). Keep a watchful eye on friends and family and politely warn them if you think they’re beginning to burn, or tactfully offer to top up their sun protection.

It was not always like this: up until the 20th century the British liked their skin pale, and went to considerable lengths to achieve this. Sunburnt skin was stigmatised as a sign of outdoor work and lower social status. But now, in the days of mass tourism, a suntan is highly desirable and, for sun-deprived Britons, exposure to the sun is a great mood-enhancer.

In the words of Noel Coward, ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’. British summers are a notorious rollercoaster, and there is no doubt that months of sun-deprivation turn many people’s heads.


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