“Get your shirt off” was the refrain, “get the sun on your back, it’ll do you good” and me and tens of thousands of children in the 1960s would do as our parents commanded and we’d run on the beach all day long in the sometimes heat of an August day – and we’d get burned to buggery.
“Its doing you good” is what our parents promised as they rubbed calamine lotion onto our sore backs and shoulders, “you’ll have a lovely tan when we get home”.
I absolve my father from any blame in this conspiracy of burnt skin and potential melanoma problems stored up for the future, for when he was in his early twenties his wartime army career was cut short by contracting tuberculosis in India, back home to Blighty he was shipped and off to an isolation hospital where for months on end they’d be wheeled outside, sun, rain or hail and told to enjoy the fresh air, and the sun (what little there was) – and so he became fixated with the healing properties of the sun.
“Get your shirt off and enjoy the benefit” he’d tell me as I played on the beach at Cayton Bay
“But dad, I’ll burn again” I’d plead
“It’ll do you good” he insisted
And rather than wait until I reluctantly remove it myself they’d grab me and rip the shirt from my back, “There, now run off and play and don’t come back without a tan” I’d be instructed, and so I would, I and all my contemporaries would run on the beach all day long with no sun factor creams at all for of course the phrase “sun factor” hadn’t been invented yet, everyone knew that the sun burned you in the 1960s but it was “good for you”, get burned, get a nice tan, show off to everyone when you got back home, thats how it worked.
Most of the time thats how it worked.
Some of the time the sun would burn people like me, people who don’t ever get a tan, people for whom the words “Ooh you’ve got a lovely tan where have you been ?” were never directed at, people like me who only ever heard “Oh my god your skins falling off now”.
And worse, “Ooooh that looks sore, is it sore, if I touch it is it sore ?”
“Yes its fooking sore, don’t touch, DON’T TOUCH _ OWWWWWWW!”
After just one of those long hot August days on the beach at Cayton Bay we’d return to the wagon train circle of deckchairs and windbreaks that our collective group of parents and other hanger-ons had formed, we kids had left the wagon train circle of deckchairs and windbreaks eight hour earlier that morning to run amok on the beach, in the sea, climbing cliffs and just doing what all the other six year olds on the beach was doing, in those pre “tie your kids to the deck chair” days we just roamed free in the sun without shirts or sun factor cream and we burned as crisp as little burned chicken wings on a barbeque and when we returned to the wagon train circle of deckchairs and wind breaks our mothers would fight with us to put our shirts back on.
“Come on put your shirt on, you’re all burned, look at you, you’re red raw”
“Don’t put my shirt on, it hurts”
“You have to put it on, you’ve gone and burned yourself again, look at you, you’re like a lobster”
“Its got sand in it, don’t put that shirt on my back”
“Let me rub that sand off your back first”
“DON’T TOUCH ME MUM – ARRRRGH!!!”
And later, back at the caravan the torture by Calamine would begin as the pinky-white chalky solution was rubbed onto sore shoulders and there was always some sand in there too so that your mother may as well have been sandpapering your back with an orbital sander in order to remove the burned skin.
Many is the night that I have lain awake face down on my caravan bunk sobbing in pain and wondering why it was that Ned just went brown in the sun whereas I always, without fail, just went fire-engine red and then all my skin fell off and the new skin went fire engine red the very next day and repeat until the holiday was finished, holidays for me were always the same process that a snake goes through when it sheds its skin, I constantly shed copious amounts of burned skin and our mother would get really annoyed every morning as she spent hours sweeping the caravan floor of my skin,
“You’ve been peeling your skin off again haven’t you, will you stop it…”
“I don’t peel it off mum, it just falls off”
“I’ve never known a kid like you for peeling, its bloody ridiculous, look at this floor…”
One year on holiday in the sand dunes of Perranporth where we kids would be left inside the dunes for hours on end while our parents went to the pub and got razzed as newts at lunchtime, it was so hot that I got sunstroke, our dad had to organise a search party for me later that afternoon and they found me aimlessly wandering the ten mile long Perranporth beach with a towel wrapped Lawrence of Arabia style around my head, parched lips mumbling something about mustering Faisal’s troops for the attack on Aqaba.
And I still burn in the sun, I still burn as easy as this (clicks his fingers), you may as well throw me into a huge boiling cauldron of oil as tell me to venture out in the sun for ten minutes, I’ve grown more new layers of skin than ten of you will ever grow in a lifetime, and those sun protection factor cream things ? I may as well use chip fat.