By Maggie George.
I DO LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE
I consider myself to be extremely fortunate living by the seaside. In my leisure time, once the holiday season is over and the crowds are gone, I enjoy nothing better than a stroll around the harbour watching the tide ebb and flow, the gulls swooping and diving over the water following the fishing boats for food rather than dive-bombing unsuspecting tourists carrying their wrappers of fish and chips or dishes of seafood.
Gone are the obese women in skimpy clothing revealing far too many rolls of sun-scorched skin and the men covered in mind-boggling displays of tattoos, clad sparingly in Dagenham-cleavage revealing jeans making way instead for the gentler Sunday strollers in their warm winter coats, swaddled in layers of woollen scarves and mittens, often with their look-alike designer dogs in tow.
Not that I’m a prude you understand, far from it. But it does seem that as a nation we seem intent on revealing more of our bodies in public than ever before and what better place to exhibit them than at the seaside.
From the earliest days when trips to the seaside became a fashionable pastime, when our great-grandmothers slipped into the waves from the privacy of bathing machines located on segregated beaches, dressed in almost as many layers of clothing as they wore out the water as in, we have steadily developed a culture which permits scantily clad females to parade about wearing dental-floss width bikinis and little else to preserve their modesty save for a thin layer of sun-cream.
Women on seaside holidays have long since been made to look faintly ridiculous by artists such as Donald McGill who over the years developed the popular brand of saucy seaside postcards, often depicting well-endowed ladies with their skinny men in risqué situations. But the fascination of a sly peek at naked or nearly-naked women didn’t start there. From the earliest times there has been a profit to be made from flashing an image of a cherubic nude lady in a provocative pose.
Nothing was better able to feed the fire of man’s desire for an illicit glimpse of bare flesh than photography. In 1839 Louis Daguerre invented an early form of photography with his daguerreotype and in 1846 the earliest known surviving pornographic daguerreotype picture was produced which is now housed at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana.
By the early 20th century seaside trippers were able to titillate their senses with a penny-in-the-slot in the end-of-pier attraction known as “What the Butler Saw” machines. These “penny arcade” machines were actually mutoscopes. Mutoscopes were simply an electronic “flip-book” with a large hood incorporating a screen through which the observer could view images which were, according to the Times in 1899 “vicious, demoralising” pictures of nude females in acts such as getting in and out of the bath or posing in provocative positions as artists’ models. Rye still has an example of one of these machines in its Heritage it is Centre museum.
By the 1960s naughty pictures were dressed up as “glamour photography” whereas pre-1960 it is known as vintage photography. Call it what you will it means the same; scantily clad ladies striking “come hither” poses.
I can’t help wondering why, in this enlightened day and age of sexual equality, we don’t have a niche market for “glamour” pictures of men too. After all, readers have been treated to a daily offering of breast and toast for their breakfasts since November 1970 when the first topless lass appeared in a national newspaper. Isn’t it about time the lady of the house was able to be titillated over her snap, crackle and pop by the sight of a centrefold spread of a six-pack toting man for a change?
Imagine a scenario whereby women could walk into a garage workshop and see a calendar of bronzed, totally body-waxed male hunks with hooded eyelids, baby-oiled limbs and moist, pouting lips sprawled in unlikely poses. It would be worth foregoing the half-price MOT deals elsewhere to stop there for a quick service wouldn’t it ladies? Or maybe not!
Whatever the age we live in, it seems that there will always be a market for nudity and as discussed earlier, the best possible place to excuse this as recreational is at the seaside.
At least now I don’t have to bother with sending postcards when I’m on holiday. I used to loathe the chore of sending epistles back to friends and family when I was away on my annual jaunts, only to find they frequently arrived at their destination some time after my holiday was a distant memory and I was back slaving over a hot typewriter.
Now, a quick email or better still a simple status update on a social networking site such as Facebook does the trick in a fraction of the time it used to take. Instead of perspiration dripping off the end of my nose while scribbling away at postcards I can enjoy reclining on a sun lounger watching those diehards who still insist on putting quill to paper in the old-fashioned way.
We’ve come a long way since the days of the bathing machines and take for granted nowadays that holidays are our right. Thankfully, digital cameras mean our holiday photographs are instant and can be emailed back home for others to see immediately rather than waiting for our return.
In the past, a trip to the chemist often resulted in appallingly bad photographs being developed, which were then inflicted on our nearest and dearest. Is there anything worse than having to sit through second-hand images of other peoples’ holiday memories, all in glorious Technicolor detail?
There is no doubt about it, much as I love living by the seaside, I still prefer it when the tourists have long since departed. The leather-clad bikers together with their throbbing machines have left and the Ska music (I use the word music loosely) blaring out from the beachfront pubs at ear-splitting volume has become a distant memory. The only sound to assault my eardrums now is the scream of the gulls and the only photographers around are the seriously dedicated ones who don’t mind shivering in the biting wind while the only thing turning blue is their finger on the shutter-release button.