At the risk of stating the obvious, there are many ways in which I’m just a little bit weird, and one of the subjects where I do tend to hold opinions that are probably at odds with most other people is that relating to beaches.
Let me explain: To most people, the thought of a beach is a pleasant thing, filled with images of long, lazy summer days, stretched out in the sun, perhaps reading a trashy novel before taking a dip in the sea. Or maybe you’re the sort that prefers a brisk walk along the sand on a blustery day, the wind spraying foam in your face as you throw stones for the dog to fetch from the advancing waves? Then again, you conjure up thoughts of family days out, playing beach cricket, building sandcastles and getting sticky-fingered from the melting ice-cream as it drips in the sun. Idyllic moments, for most, but each of those scenarios to me holds its own set of personal horrors!
Let’s take our summer’s day at the beach scenarios – there are few things that I find quite so unappealing. In fact, offer me a beach holiday – even a freebie – and unless you can also offer me a decent range of alternatives guaranteed to keep me well and truly off the beach, I’d probably say no thanks. The thought of wasting whole days, just lying on the sand, as the sun gently scorches me lobster pink, setting me up for who knows what skin-related horrors in later life, simply leaves me cold. I’ve yet to find a way to read a book on the beach that is comfortable, convenient and doesn’t result in blindness from the sun’s glare on the page; and sand is one of those things that I just find a nuisance – both for its intrusive, and its abrasive qualities, (there’s a reason they use sand to clean graffiti from buildings, you know!)
Throw in a ‘pleasant’ family day out, and you’ve just boosted my aversion a hundredfold. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had kids, but to me small persons and beaches just don’t mix – and if my own childhood experiences are anything to go by, the reason kids are such a pain at the beach is simply because they’d rather not be there in the first place.
Then there’s the sea: Nasty, dirty, foul-tasting and cold – why on earth would anyone want to subject themselves to that? As for what might be underfoot – if I don’t manage to step on a lego-shaped stone, broken bottle, weaver fish or something horribly slimy, then I’ve got off lightly. No, thank you.
The other scenario – the brisk walk on the shoreline – I find tolerable, for short excursions, but beaches are just too long, too cold, too windy and – let’s face it – terribly boring places to tramp around for long, so again – no thanks.
However, I do quite enjoy the beaches of SL; not so much the Giggles Beach, rammed with oddly-shaped people in thongs and not much else, kind of beaches, but the little gems that you can stumble across all over the Grid. Places of driftwood and wind-worn picket fences, wiry grass hummocks and muted colours. In some ways, many of the virtual beaches that you can find inworld seem to capture more of that essential quality of the coast that the real beaches we visit in RL, if you see what I mean? Perhaps it’s just my own flights of fancy, but what SL seems to do remarkably well, not just for beach scenes, but in so many other scenarios, is capture the very essence of a location – an idealised version that we’d all like to believe exists in RL, but probably only really exists in our minds. It’s an alternative reality – one that celebrates the essential qualities of the coast, emphasising those elements that make for the perfect imaginary beach: gulls wheeling and crying overhead, the soft crash of breakers on the shore, the muted, sun-bleached tones and sea-worn scenery. There will probably be a lighthouse out at sea in the distance, but what there won’t be will be screaming and crying children, the sickly smell of hot flesh, salt and sun-cream, wasps, and sand in your plastic mug of tea.
It’s the sort of beach scene that appeals even to me, and indeed – being one of those fortunate enough to own a coastal parcel, one of the first projects I undertook on my land was to build a small, and pretty much perfect, beach. It’s a place that I find myself drawn to when I need space and time to be alone and think, a place where even I can find myself whiling away the hours, staring out to sea, and not worrying about where the time went – something that, on a real beach, would be anathema.
But that’s one of the joys of SL: We don’t live in a perfect world, we can’t even hope to find anything remotely close to that perfect fantasy place in our head, and – although SL is far from perfect too – the one thing it does incredibly well is create the perfect world that doesn’t really exist.
The tide is high but I’m holding on
I’m gonna be your number one
Number one, number one
Blondie – The Tide Is High