Sunday Herald Article October 2002
     
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A MIDGE TO FAR

The idea of Scottish naturism may raise a titter, but Tom Shields finds a quiet retreat where home-baking is a more common talking point than sex. Mind you, the insects and the hot barbecues can cause trouble


 

IDIDN'T quite now what to expect from my encounters with members of Scotland's nudist community. There you go right away with the word member, a synonym (nudge, nudge) for penis. Language tends to the double-entendre when naked bodies are involved.

What I did not anticipate in my meetings with naturists, as they prefer to be called, was how often home baking would rear its head. An Ayrshire family -- maw, paw and the bairn naturists -- kindly agreed to talk to me about their chosen pursuit. Mary, the mother, explained that she had been somewhat apprehensive about the first time she was to get her kit off. 'There was a woman in her seventies in the group. She sat there calmly knitting. Then she opened a Tupperware box of her home baking and asked if I would like a scone. She was so natural. It put me at ease.

'I realised naturists were just normal people. When I was a girl, I thought nudists were weird and I never imagined it would be me baring all.' Mary and her husband Dave first sampled the joys of disporting themselves in the scud on the beaches of Ibiza and decided to attempt to replicate the liberating experience in Scotland. It was not quite the same. There were beaches in Ayrshire, some where going naked was officially sanctioned, others where it was tolerated.

There was the problem of 'dune crawlers'. These are people who frequented the beaches and pruriently connected naturism with sex. Not all of these dune crawlers were tabloid journalists and photographers but some were. So it is not surprising that Scotland's naturists seek secluded and private locations. The Scottish Outdoor Club is based on an island on Loch Lomond. They occasionally get buzzed by military helicopters on training missions, with the pilots coming back at much lower altitudes for a closer look. The naturists on the loch can often see the cruise boats passing close to their island retreat and hear the skipper's commentary informing tourists: 'We are now passing the nudie island. If you're lucky you might see them swinging naked from the trees.' It is not for nothing that Scotland's naturists are weary of being perceived and depicted as nutty nudists.

The naturists' Loch Lomond island retreat is a small piece of paradise, especially on a sunny day. It was glorious weather when I visited and, in the brief time I had my clothes off, I can confirm that it is indeed very pleasant to let the air get about your bits.

But most of the time I was fully clothed, seated on a veranda being served tea and freshly made pancakes with jam and cream by Jean, a lady of a certain age from Lanarkshire. What did I tell you about naturism and home-baking? So what are the advantages of naturism? Mary, the pragmatic Ayrshire lady, points out: 'There is an awful lot less washing to do. Skin is a wonderful waterproof material and it is so easy to dry.'

Mary's student daughter Sharon, brought up from childhood to appreciate the benefits of being unencumbered by clothes, says: 'It's great not having to worry about wearing designer labels.' Sharon recalls idyllic summers on the Loch Lomond island as a child: 'You didn't have to worry about ripping your clothes. You could get as dirty as you wanted and it could be sorted with a quick shower.'

Sharon describes the whole business of choosing to go naked as being liberating. This is echoed by Brian, a member of the Loch Lomond club, whose big interest is sailing. 'There is nothing better,' he says, 'than being on your yacht in an isolated location in the West Highlands and you are able to get your clothes off. Actually, I'm lying. It's better in the Greek islands where the sun is much hotter and there is great relief to be had from hanging on to the end of the boat as it cuts through the water. It is the ultimate skinny-dip.'

On a more mundane level, increasing numbers of naturists are enjoying a naked swim during closed sessions in baths all over Scotland. The Western Baths in Glasgow and the pool in Haddington are pioneers in this respect. Our Ayrshire man Dave says: 'There is nothing more constricting than going for a swim wearing a cold, sticky pair of swimming trunks.' Healthy outdoor sport is a leitmotif of the naturist code. Volleyball featured largely in early movies which purported to illustrate the nudist lifestyle but which were actually designed merely to cater for a porn market seriously deprived of quality tits and bums.

The naturists' preferred sport is mini-ten, a cut-down version of tennis. Instead of the highly strung racquet, a bat which looks like a wooden glove is used. It is a basic tennis game and, as far as I know, there is no umpire to say to the naked players: 'New balls, please.' (I told you the naturist linguistic landscape was fraught with the possibility of bad puns.)

Other advantages of being part of a naturist community? All of the people I spoke to said the salient feature of their involvement was the feeling of calm and security they experienced. Dave says: 'It is almost as if when people take off their clothes to reveal themselves, they leave behind aggression and conflict. People are more courteous, more considerate, more natural, which is perhaps why we call ourselves naturists.

'Our club is like a big extended family. I remember when there were 36 children there and they were running about naked. They were in the company of adults with no clothes on. Yet these children were safer and more secure than kids appear to be these days in their own streets, even their own homes.' The life of the Scottish naturist should, therefore, be uncomplicated and fruitful. But there are disadvantages. Take, for example, the meteorological and 'moral' climates which pertain in our country.

Weatherwise, it has to be said well done to the Sunnybroom naturists of Aberdeen who divest themselves in weather where even the fish wear fur coats. And to the Highland Sun club who hie themselves to remote northern locations for a spot of nakedness.

It is, of course, the midges and the clegs who present the major problem to the Scottish naturist. With the beasts biting, there is a terrible incentive on a hot and muggy night for the naturist to head off and put on some clothes. Weatherwise, it is often the case that a Loch Lomond naturist is not walking around in bare skin but in oil skins. Dave says: 'Some people are hardier than others and will be naked while others are wearing woolly jumpers. There is no militant rule about having to go about naked all the time.'

There appear to be very few rules at the naturist club. The main one appears to be 'Nae bare bums oan seats'. Dave points out: 'This is for hygiene reasons. When you go visiting someone else's place or go to the communal hut, it is good manners to take your towel to sit on. Another convention is that club members may spend all day in the nude but will dress for evening social activities.'

There are some local difficulties about being in the buff which deserve to be chronicled. Like the barbecue, which is very much a part of the outdoor life. Brian says: 'The coals can get awful hot and you don't want your wee sausage burnt. Then there is the splashback effect.' So aprons are de rigueur whenever there is a barbie at the naturist club.

Dave featured in a photograph in British Naturism magazine, organ (there, I've done it again) of the movement. He was one of three barbecue chefs wearing only the aforementioned protective gear. They were pictured from behind and the snap bore the heading 'Arseholes in aprons'. I had hoped one of the naturist barbecue chefs might have an apron with the figure of a fully-clothed person, which would be the antithesis of the naked lady, a favourite device of your ordinary 'textile' cook.

Textile is the word which naturists use to describe those not of their persuasion. Brian talks of being 'in uniform' or wearing his one-button suit. The patter can be quite lively. You might even say the crack is good among the nudists. A major downside of being a naturist in Scotland is the attitude of many of the textiles. It is prejudice mixed with prurience. 'In most European countries, there is a relaxed approach to public nakedness. In Scotland, the old Presbyterian values conspire to create an atmosphere of disapproval if not outright hostility,' said a Scottish Outdoor Club member. He had experienced this at first hand, from his own brother. 'He is a classic Holy Willie, a banker with a W, a pillar of Newton Mearns society who was quite scathing when I told him of my hobby. The truth is he would be the first to take a peek over the fence at some naked flesh. Of course, he rushed off to tell our mother what I was up to, hoping she would join in the condemnation.

'She was fantastic about it. She was worried about what the midges might do to me or that I might catch a cold. Otherwise, she didn't see it as a problem and even joined me and my wife on visits to the Loch Lomond club.'

Some naturists are very open about their pursuit and are prepared to put up with the occasional snigger from neighbours and workmates. But most choose to keep the information to themselves. Dave, Mary and Sharon prefer the latter. Mary says: 'When Sharon was still at school, we did worry she might tell all when she had to write in her news book about what she did at the weekend. I envisaged her giving full detail, accompanied by full-frontal drawings in her jotter. But she was quite clever, mentioning the visits to Loch Lomond, the barbecues and the various activities but without saying it was all done without clothes.'

Sharon realised that her own broad-minded attitudes to whether or not people wear clothes might not be reflected by her giggling teenage fellow pupils. She kept her membership of the naturist club to herself. 'The one thing that used to worry me was going into the showers after PE at school. Obviously not because of going naked but because I usually had a really good tan with no white bits, no strap marks.'

Sharon, like most members of a naturist family, went through a period of teenage anxiety when she wasn't too keen on taking her clothes off in public. 'At that age you can be embarrassed enough about yourself without letting everyone see your body. You worry about being too fat or too thin or whether your bum is too big.

'For a few years, I would wear a T-shirt and shorts while others were naked. But I got over that phase and when I can get the time, I really enjoy getting away to the tranquillity of Loch Lomond, and getting my clothes off.' Sharon is one of the few young members at the Loch Lomond club.

Most people tend to do their nude bathing abroad these days where the weather is better and the attitudes more relaxed. Brian says: 'My wife and I are just back from a holiday in Lanzarote at a naturist complex. We could go about in uniform all day, walking for kilometres without worrying about straying into textile territory. It wasn't just that the facilities were first class, the great thing was the laid-back atmosphere.'

For some textiles, nudism is inexorably linked with sex. This frame of mind has no doubt been inculcated over years of Scottish repression aided and abetted by a kind of Carry on Sniggering mentality. Dave says: 'The last thing naturism is about is sex. We do get some people who join under the impression that it's all orgies and frolicking in the bushes. They tend to leave quickly, when they realise how mundane and ordinary it is.

'There is nothing very sexy about nudity, especially some of the sights and shapes and sizes you see. Nature in the raw is not exactly titillating.'

The Scottish Outdoor Club is always looking for new recruits for its Loch Lomond retreat. They have a quota for single male members. The application and interview process is informal. 'We are a happy extended family and it is usually quite obvious from the outset whether people will fit in,' says Dave. What he means is that, unless you try to join for the aforementioned dodgy reasons, it is unlikely you will be black-balled. If you know what I mean.

Much information on naturism can be gleaned from the internet, from born-again Christian evangelical nudity in America to naked bungee jumping in New Zealand. Details and contact numbers for naturism in Scotland can be found at http://www.british-naturism.org.uk./

Information on the Loch Lomond club is on http://www.scotnaturist.freeservers.com/

A midge too far