Thursday, 19 May 2016

Beach ballet: why we travel

Honestly, it was like a ballet. I was sitting amid the clutch of palm trees that nowadays has grass growing between them, and reading the Stefan Zweig autobiography that’s been on my bookshelves for over 5 years and I’ve only just got round to reading. The slight coincidence is that I brought it on my Andalusian holiday with me because I’m reading the draft of my novel, which is partly set in Torremolinos, though much of it is sat in Vienna. The spark for Part 2 of my novel was seeing a lightly clad lad playing ball near these very palm trees over five years ago.

Zweig's biography is much about Vienna, admittedly 100 years later than the Schubertian part of my novel and 100 years earlier than my protagonists’ activities there. No matter, it’s enlightening in many ways. 

Slowly invading my peripheral hearing, a few German words. As I looked around, a group of 15 year old boys were changing into their swimming costumes. They were wrapping towels around their waists, removing their underwear and slipping on their budgie smugglers, far more colourful than all the budgies in the world united. They dropped their towels and some of them pulled board shorts over them. 

Then they moved from the wings to centre stage. This was onto the beach, directly in front of me, with two palm trees marking the proscenium arch slightly beyond which they performed. There were 12 of them, and since there was not an ounce of fat on their bodies between them,  and they were so comfortable with each other in their kicking a ball around in completely free-form fun, I can only assume that they are a sports team. But they were quiet, gently playful, no rough-n-tumble, no teasing, no rough-housing, yet neither did they display any particular overt intimacy. Naive, simple mateship, swarm like behaviour with no-one emerging as a leader. They gambolled on the beach, kicked the ball into the quite cold water, dove into the wavelets to retrieve it. This went on for about an hour. 

There were no adults in charge, not even any clock demanding that they pack up, yet at an unstated point, like migrating creatures,  they started heading off stage towards the open showers where they had left the clothes, washed the sand off themselves, and out of their swimming costumes, pulled down the backs to rinse out their cracks. They were laughing and joshing with each other the whole time, but in quite a respectful, private school way. No towel flicking, no attempts to pull each other’s togs off, no loud voices, no swearing, no teasing, just a lovely respectful camaraderie. 

I’ve never seen anything like it my life. And I didn’t make much progress with Herr Zweig’s biography thanks to this most exquisite, fascinating distraction.