London’s South Bank is hoppin’. Always hoppin’, but this June, the city feels more seaside thanks to sand along the Embankment. Unlike Paris that brings in sand to summer-up the banks of the Seine, London’s twice daily 18-foot tides prevent the city from sanding the shore.
London’s fallback has been to make its beach on the Embankment above the reach of the high tides. And what a sweet beach it is! Signs set the tone: “Surf’s up… tan lines… sand castles… sandy sandwiches… wish you were here!”
Dozens of each huts, created in partnership with Southend-on-Sea, line the Southbank promenade. Each whimsical seaside-colored hut was designed by a different artist. One is set up as a library – awash with sea-themed books. Another hut houses a sound installation.
The blue beach hut above is one of many that Tim Hunkin has designed for the Southwold Pier in Suffolk. Not content to create just hut installations, he also builds homemade, coin-operated, low-tech arcade machines and simulator rides. Hunkin has whetted my appetite for seeing more of his work with the “Test Your Nerve” cartoon that has a customer putting his hand into a box with the slavering dog. I like his humor.
Beach hut specifications vary from place to place, but typically, beach huts measure 8 by 12 by 7’9″. Passed down from one generation to the next, they are very hard to come by and very much sought after. Some seaside towns award them by lottery; other towns have a long waiting list. Most beach huts are for day use only. They are mostly good for storing beach buckets, pails, umbrellas and such.
Also, going back to the inherited beach hut… with so many people always moving, always following the money, the generational beach hut allows families to weekend with friends in neighboring huts. These long-standing friendships give on-the-go families a sense of stability.
The English beach hut goes back to the 19th century bathing machine when women were more modest than they are today. A woman would enter a wheeled bathing hut, change into her bathing costume, and the hut would be drawn into the water. Once in the water, the seaward side of the hut would open, and the woman could immerse herself in the sea without revealing her costume or her flesh. Racy stuff – that flesh.
The sand is great. Perhaps it is not as nice as the “beach” in Paris, but the children love it.