A Week With The Garlic Whale (and other beach memories)

John King

Recent holiday memories – Summer time and the living is easy, unless you are looking for a place on the beach to unfurl your towel and soak up the sun.

It’s been a long year and we all deserve our place in the sun. Of course, if you want sun, you head south and everyone heads south – hundreds of thousands of people from all over Europe, pouring into that small corner of South Eastern France – the Côte d’Azur. That part of Mediterranean coastline stretching from the outskirts of Toulon up to the Italian border.

Day One

On the beach, and I am Lucky enough to find a few square feet to unfurl my towel, lie on the sand and enjoy a nap. I am rudely awakened by the guttural elastic sounds of Dutch people. I wake I have been besieged by a large tribe of them. When the French go to the beach, they tend to be fairly minimalist. When the Dutch hit the beach, they bring tons of beach essentials – parasols, cool boxes, numerous inflatable’s. They are like a small army on the march. To help their logistical operation, many Dutch carry their beach kit in trolleys. Surrounded by Dutch. I really should move, but I was here first and in true Rupert Brooke style – there is a corner of a foreign beach that is forever England.


Day Two

Time to unleash my flesh on an unsuspecting world. However, over this past year, my middle age spread has spread yet again. I am now what could be termed as flabby. This is the Côte d’Azur where every male is some kind of tanned and sculpted Adonis. I’m scared to take off my T-shirt. On a stroll along the beach though I observe very few « Chippendales » but plenty of flabby blokes grilling red like sides of beef roasting in the sun. It seems at St Tropez that fat is fashionable. Time to rip off the T-shirt and get grilling.


Day Three

Once again besieged by a Dutch tribe, airbeds, parasols and their own garden furniture. I move down the beach next to a hoard of Brits. They spend the afternoon drink vast quantities of chilled rosé wine in the hot glaring, blazing sun. It is over 30°c. I suppose this is a case of « mad dogs and Englishmen ».

Day Four

We are camped next to a group of French youngsters, who spend the afternoon « groping » each other.


Day Five

Strolling along the beach. Close to the water’s edge mums and dads are building sandcastles for disinterested children and, when mum gets bored, dad carries on. I too would like to build a sandcastle, but my daughter has passed the age of raising towers and now merely raises her eyebrows in nonchalant disdain when I suggest some construction activity. All males possess a sandcastle gene, which is activated during the first throes of holiday fatherhood – but as our kids grow out the sandcastle phase, we never lose it. Guess I’ll just have to wait to be a grandfather and build castles with my grandchildren.


Day Six

The garlic whale is back. I call her the garlic whale. A rather large French woman who stinks of garlic. She floats around on an airbed, and as I splash around, however much I try to avoid her, she always seems to catch me up and then float around me, wafting her garlicky whiff. Today is particularly bad, as I am surrounded by her entire family. No matter where I swim to, they are always there.


Day Seven

As we prepare to leave, the beach is people with new arrivals. White like aspirin and covered in layers of factor 50 sun cream. There is a very military-looking French gent, distributing metal spades to his four children. They all line up, and at the command « shoulder spades », they all march down to the beach. Mum follows up behind carrying a cool box and a parasol. I don’t want to o home. I want to buy a real metal spade and stay here all day building a sandcastle.