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Yes, we’re into August now but there are still quite a few weeks of summer left, beaching it well into September and for some, beyond that. The dreaded virus has been a nuisance in so many ways, hasn’t it? And as we’ve moved into beaching season, I’m sure it’s become a bit of a headache trying to enjoy our summery weather, fingering the sand out of our toes, joining family and friends at the seaside, all whilst endeavouring to stick to the rules. Hopefully by now, Covid-19 has drifted out to sea never to return, things have settled down and we can all take a dip, sit on the sand for a chat and be free of infection.

As I thought about all the dos and don’ts handed down to us at the beginning of the season on how many allowed on the beach at one time for just 30 minutes and not to group together and so on, reminiscences of the happy, halcyon days of beach going in the 50s and 60s came flooding back:

The beaches were in the same place of course and still there today also, The Calpe and Mediterranean rowing clubs and the Yacht Club, but we also had the Montagu Sea Bathing Pavilion (now an office building next to the entrance to Montagu Gardens, where the facade of the building has been kept) and the MOD had their private swimming venues too.

Everything imaginable was carted down to the beach.

‘El Montiqu’ was a very popular place to go to in Queensway which was within walking distance if you lived in town as I did. Four ‘old currency’ pennies (4d) would get you in and if you turned up early you would be given a key attached to a chunky piece of wood (in case you dropped it in the sea) for your cubicle. There was a ladies side and a men’s side and an area for mixed bathing and chatting in the centre of the building. Sunning terraces were separate also. As the season got into full swing all of our sandy (and one or two more stony) shores became overwhelmed with bodies seeking the sun’s rays and a well-deserved fresh dip in the sea.

There were those who, apart from spending summer in their respective rowing and yacht clubs, would go to beaches and hotel pools in Getares (just past Algeciras), Palmones and up the east coast in Spain. Estepona and Marbella were just fishing villages in the 50s and 60s and travelling up to the Costa del Sol today has become very popular also.But closer to home, what clearly comes to mind is the passionate way in which lovers of summertime and spending the day (the whole day and every day) at the beach took to the exercise – yes exercise – of preparing, planning and mobilising to their favourite sand spot or plot at their chosen beach. For some, even today, the trend of old remains, like rising at 7am to get food ready (much of it probably prepared the night before) and setting off ASAP, getting there nice and early and staying till the sun has well and truly gone to bye-byes.

Everything imaginable was carted down to the beach and for many in those days – there not being as many car owners as we have today – catching a bus was a logistical undertaking, whilst others would haul everything down on foot. Items would include everything – almost including the kitchen sink! Beach tents, tables, comfortable beach chairs and umbrellas, rubber rings, the odd lilo, board games, wine, beers, soft drinks, gallons of water, cooler bags, water melons to be buried in the sand washed by the cool (or warm) Mediterranean Sea, and did I forget to mention food? Morrison’s would be put to shame!

“It would look ridiculously embarrassing… but nobody cared!”

Extras might include binoculars, fishing tackle, and a radio. It was a military operation indeed, which would (and still does for some families) run right through the season and continue past the new school term in September – especially if the weather was good. Today, many (and especially the younger element of our community) will order takeaways from the delivery services we now enjoy, even spending National Day on the beach where the event may have to be celebrated this year individually or in small groups due to Covid-19 in order to cut down on the thousands which normally congregate at Casemates.

But there were other marked differences spending the day at the beach in the 50s and 60s. Swimwear looked so different then. Most ladies wore swimsuits or two-piece bathing costumes, and skinny dippy bikinis were nowhere to be seen, slowly appearing sometime later in the 60s. Many men wore tight fitting Jantzen swimming trunks. The less privileged could be seen wearing an old pair of shorts or even a modified piece of exclusive swimwear, namely, a bespoke pullover worn upside down sewn together where your head would come through with the wearer’s legs pushed through the arm ‘holes’ and pulled up to your waist. When returning from the sea your pullover-cum-swimsuit would weigh down heavily with a couple of kilos of sand in between your legs looking ridiculously embarrassing… but nobody cared!

Multi-coloured lilos and other beach toys were rare. You may have seen a couple of boring olive green lilos here and there and perhaps the odd large aircraft undercarriage inner tube or car tyres used as rubber rings spotted lying on the sand. Ice cream vendors on their tricycle carts, the cake man and his baskets selling japonesas and milhojas who would do the rounds at teatime, as did the Calentita guy, and the man with his hot water cauldron full of boiling water where thirsty beachgoers would line up with their saucepans, kettles or thermos flasks ready to fill up for an old penny or two and enjoy their must-have afternoon tea… Teatime is a must for us on the Rock, isn’t it?!

 

“Extras might include binoculars, fishing tackle, and a radio.”

So what is, or will be, the ‘new normal’ on our beaches now? Or will there be a need for changes to include different practices which we will have to become accustomed to? Will it ever be as carefree and unrestricting as in the past? Maybe not, but summer has truly arrived, here to be enjoyed by all and if there are changes to abide by, the beach can surely still be a fun place to be as it was in the 50s, 60s and every decade leading up to the present.

No doubt every patch of sand somehow, with increased numbers attending, needs to be taken up sensibly but swimming and splashing in the abundant, open sea will require fewer restrictions – the Med is generous. So enjoy the sun and sea and have fun, but please… no ugly, olive green lilos!

Photos by Luis Photo Studio, www.luisphotosgibraltar.com

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