When I arrived in Sydney it was raining. Throughout the 23-hour flight from London, where it was also raining, I had fantasised about walking off the plane into a wall of heat and heading for the beach. Just my bloody luck, I reflected, as I stood in the airport carpark and stared sulkily at the grey sky. ‘Where’s the sun?’ I asked the friends who picked me up at the airport. They were not sympathetic. ‘It’s what we need, good droppa rain. Cool things down a bit. Stop the bushfires.’ My disappointment seemed selfish and petulant.
But I wasn’t disappointed for long. Within a couple of days the sun had come out, and the great Pacific Ocean beckoned. I rolled my swimming trunks into a towel and headed for Coogee Beach in shorts and a T-shirt. ‘Where’s your hat, mate?’ asked Stewart, my Australian host. ‘Got ya sunblock?’ I mumbled that I’d be fine. He called after me, ‘You’d be better off wearing long sleeves. Bloody fool.’
Australians refer to sunbathing as ‘sunbaking’, and responsible Australians — of whom there are unnervingly large numbers — take as dim a view of it as they do of smoking. Both cause cancer, and there are government health warnings to prove it. No doubt some busybody will soon invent a new hazard: passive sunbaking.
I was annoyed by the nanny approach. After all, one of the reasons I’d travelled 12,000 miles was to lie in the sun. It’s something I enjoy; it seems an innocent pleasure; and, perhaps more to the point, it helps clear up my psoriasis. At any rate I wanted to feel the hot sun on my face and the sand between my toes, and to think of the freezing rain lashing at the windows of my Wiltshire cottage.