This blog might be a little long. It's about today and what happened when a naturist (for it was me) emboldened by recent changes to the police-naturism relationship went for a walk around Exmoor. I need to write this down whilst still fresh and words don't get jumbled. I'm sat with a VERY well earned pint back at my B&B after hiking for the last 6 hours. It's going to be very honest. There are things I will quote that I regret saying, but I think it's important to be real and not too righteous. Writing in a way that is clearly bias helps no one and muddies what 'truth' is and thats not a tenet I live by. I'm a realist. I'm a naturist. Life is good but the world is not perfect and neither am I.
So a little scene setting. I've been on hikes around Exmoor in the past. Lots. I love this place. Unlike previous hikes today had some difference with everything that had gone before. I'm staying ON Exmoor for a start in a B&B. First time for that. I'd earned some 'me' time from my brilliant family so decided to stay for a couple of days in a place I love. Then there's the naturist bit. I hike clothesfree and love to do so. This isn't a blog why I love it so much though, so I summarise by saying that I love naturism but until today have only been clothesfree in situations where I have purposely NOT walked straight past someone who is clothed (i.e. a 'textile') without at least trying to cover myself. Now as it happens this very rarely needs to be a conscious decision. Exmoor is so open that I see people coming from a mile off and hence put shorts on in plenty of time. In umpteen walks on Exmoor (mostly during the week...in term time...in the middle of the day, so at its absolute emptiest) I have never walked straight past someone else naked. We're either going in different directions, or I've seen them coming or I've been consciously coy about striving for some ideal 100% nude hike. There's plenty of room for sure.
Today though was slightly different. The new guidance between British Naturism and the police in England and Wales has been published and it now gives naturists greater confidence that the police will not react to passive minding-my-own-business naturism. This gave me greater confidence, encouragement and faith. I also within the last day or two confirmed that the police that cover Exmoor - Devon and Cornwall force, and Avon and Somerset force, have received the guidance and was now in the hands of call handlers and first responders. This was important, as we shall see.
Therefore, I set out this morning with a new mindset; that I would turn a new page and progress to the next level of the real computer game 'clothesfree life in the UK'. I was going to walk straight past people. This is what happened...
Until today I had covered myself but hiking clothesfree CAN result in situations where I am taken by surprise and have to just walk on to the end that I remember a 'reaction' by the person seeing me. Until today I can remember exactly 3. The best was no reaction. The worst were some giggles (previously blogged. see my Exmoor blog from a long time ago now). Today the number of reactions I got was about a dozen! I want to remember them via this blog. So first I'll report the good ones. And then I'll write about 'Victor'.
First the good ones. The first reactions were via me walking down a road and having cars drive past. It's Exmoor so rare but I was more confident today and I just let some cars drive past me. No reactions except for a lady driver smiling. Fine. Next reactions were via walking down to Badgworthy river and staying undressed in an area I know well and know that textiles 'might' be walking. The first reactions were nothing. I walked past a couple picnicking. No reaction. Remember I'd usually have shorts on here as it's not the high moor. Then I see 4 horses and ladies riding. Never walked passed something like this before!! Smiles...2 hellos...awesome! Now we're talking. This is me taking a brave leap of faith! Later on in the day I meet a couple as I climb back toward the moor. Smiles. Dog greeting. Guy says to me, "Getting a little hot?" (It's 22C and sunny all day by the way). I say "Don't worry, I'm still wearing two layers: sun tan lotion and insect repellant!" Laughs all around. I pet the dog and walk on. Brilliant brilliant reaction. Awesome. Then some hikers on the moor. No reactions except one guy dressed to the nines in hiking gear with sticks! He says, "Lovely day" Smile. I felt like saying back "Aren't you hot in all that?" but I decided not to push my luck! All in all the reactions described here were from approximately 15 textiles. Wonderful. Top respect, courtesy and tolerance shown. Everyone having a lovely day. Now for Victor...
I don't know his name but I'm calling him Victor, short for 'Victorian'. After this story was at an end I decided I wanted to write it down. It might put some naturists off from doing what I did today. For that I will say this - We need to be realistic. The world is not perfect. Naturism is a minority 'thing' in the UK whether we like it or not. Folks out there won't like it. Folks out there don't like gay people, ethnic minorities, young people, old people, women, men. You understand I'm sure. People sometimes don't like things that they can not identify with. I hope at least this gives naturism thicker skin and a way of preparing themselves.
More scene setting. I stop for lunch at a place on the Badgworthy river called the 'Pool'. I've stopped there many many times because it's amazing. I watched a mother duck teach 6 ducklings how to deal with babbling little rapids between calm pools. I watched a daddy chaffinch teaching a young son how to catch flies. It's incredible and very grounding. I love being there in a very naturist style way...that connection with what is real. But enough of the philosophy (although I might be returning to it!).
I'm naked and I jump in for a skinnydip. It's awesome. It's freezing, but it's awesome. The sights, smell, sounds. I could get poetic. Then I get out and I dry myself in the sun. The scene is idealic. I'm by the river and there's a path right behind me but I can't see folks walking up and down the path and they can't see me unless they walk right up to the bank. I reach for my book now my hands are dry from the swim, and I glance up and see the following: A man (Victor) aged between 70 and 75 with white hair and a beard, a woman (presumably a partner) slightly younger, and a big German Shepherd dog on a short lead acting docile. About a second later I hear Victor say...
"Put some bloody clothes on!"
Now remember at this point he doesn't know anything about me and naturism. I'm just a hiker who's just had a skinnydip on a hot day and has just climbed out. I say, (because I genuinely wasn't sure I'd heard correctly),
"You want me to dress?"
I then pick up my shorts and put them on. As I pull then up (to go with the hat and sunglasses I'm wearing but at that point barefoot) a thought goes through my head - <Here we go>. It could have ended right there but something in his voice tells me he's not done. He's angry. Thinking back later I think it was a mixture of finding me naked AND ALSO finding me in a spot he wanted to stop and sit at too. I was inconvient to him. So rather than stop there, he continued and massively escalated the situation with...
"I don't want no perverts here!"
This is "Threat number 1" (There's more to come...) i.e. name calling. Now I've been called names and have a thick skin. I also know that we can both comfortably coexist without this. I also had a very swift crisis of conscious at this point! There are two fighting emotions. One is 'ignore and end via passiveness. Let him rant.' and the other is 'Defend yourself. You are doing nothing wrong and you are allowed to constructively respond'. In the end the latter kinda won. This is where I want to be brutally honest. It might show a part of me that people will disagree with and maybe dislike, but I want to be very clear - As naturists I think we should defend ourselves in the face of prejudice, and secondly passiveness sends the wrong signal to someone in the wrong who will be emboldened if I just wish him away and cower. So I said,
"I was just swimming in the river. There's plenty of space for everyone" Quote.
At this point the escalation from Victor went stratospheric! He said,
"It's bloddy illegal"
"As naturist for many years I know that it's not",
and then, and this is GODS HONEST truth, he said,
"Maybe they (inferring the police) can get rid of the bloody p**** as well"
where the p-word is a blatent HOMOPHOBIC remark!!
At first I just say, "Wow!"
I just sit stunned, but my primeval defence is kicking in and I can't think straight because of what I've just heard so I say,
"That's SO rude. Would you like to have a go at black people whilst you're here? You seem to be a very little man who wants me to simply do as you tell me. I'm not a child!"
I probably should be handling this better but for people who don't know me I need to say....sorry...I shouldn't have taken things further but I was SO SO SO angry at his remark especially given that sexuality was NOT EVEN PART OF THE SITUATION! I'm married...to a lovely woman...with a child.
So then he says (still standing above me on the bank with woman and dog. I'm still sat on the riverbank),
"It's bloody illegal and I ain't listening to no ignorant twat"
So that's two ticks on the name calling list and one on the homophobic bigot list.
Now at this point I say something I regret. I do. It's unlike me but I was very angry and shaken. In none of what happened today did I swear or call him names. I SWEAR thats true, but I did say,
"Thank god you're going to die before I do"
Ouch. I'm full of regret. But this is a warts and all blog. It's a REAL blog. We're both now very angry and he retreats back from the bank and takes out his phone, because it's now time for "Threat Number 2" - he calls the police. The call to the police I think is real and not pretend. Remember I'm still in shorts. He tells the call handler about my appearance (with a lovely discription of my hat!), where we are, and what I am doing. I hear him say that I am sat with shorts on now. As the conversation goes on I sit calmly and collect myself. I'm strangely ok. I still have the faith. Here it will be tested. This is something that waiting, reading and experiencing social, open naturism for 9 years now has prepared myself for. I'm ready.
I take my book out and calmly find my page. I look up. They've GONE.
Two threats down and I'm feeling better because I've got a sneaking suspicion that the call handler said EXACTLY WHAT NATURISTS WANT TO HEAR....that there's nothing wrong. I hope and imagine. Because I don't know what happened in that conversation but I SO want to have a transcript!
But....amazingly...this story doesn't end there. Because after 15 minutes I decided to walk on. There are a limited number of directions. I pick the one I was going to go anyway and i've still got my shorts on and now also my rusksack and shoes. I walk for 10 minutes down the river to a spot I need to cross at a ford to walk up the valleyside. I reach the ford....and there they are...sitting by the river. I see the dog first and it barks. I walk towards the river slightly and then I make 'thing I regret error 2'...I turned and said, "I'm sorry for shouting back there". Jeez I'm SUCH a snowflake! I want everyone to be at peace and smile at each other and I'm so naive that I thought I could leave the situation better than I left it. Damn. He was still angry. SO angry that he said as he stood,
"I don't want no bloody apology off you!",
and he visibly started expelling spittle he's that angry. So I said,
"Please don't spit at me"
BIG mistake because here comes 'Threat number 3" - he spits all over me on purpose. I'm still calm but now he's got a German Shepherd on a lead and says to it "Watch 'im Watch 'im" and the dog's barking and Victor says,
"I'll have him bite ye"
Threat number 4! We look at each other and in that instant I know he won't. He's a very angry intolerant bigot, but he's still got one or two marbles upstairs. So I say,
"We both know you won't let him, because then you'd be arrested."
He doesn't let the dog go. I called his bluff and was right. I'm still rediculously calm despite having made a couple of naive errors of judgement. But wait! There's still time for 'Threat number FIVE'. That's right. As I walk towards the ford and take my shoes off to wade across, Victor takes a CAMERA out of his bag and says,
"Turn around. What you afraid of huh?"
I say (my last words to him),
"I feel so sorry for you" and I walk on...
Whilst he's taking a picture of hat rucksack and shorts, I struggle to cross the ford and then have to get around a few cattle that were watering by the river. I get past the cows and walk a little bit before stopping to put my shoes back on.
It goes quiet. I walk on. It's OVER. And the woman...never...made...a...sound...
And that's it. I walk around the moor (stripping off again), back around the route I know well and back to the B&B. It took me about 90 minutes from the end of 'meeting' Victor until I was back and in that time I did a LOT of thinking.
How do I feel now? Educated is the best word. Remember all this took was a man skinnydipping on a hot day at a well know wild swimming spot. It's recommended in books! I also feel sad. Sad for a side of humanity that I have NEVER EVER witnessed up close and personal and directed solely at me. My whole hike today was actually GOOD. It was great for so many reasons and interacted nude with people in a way I have never done before, but I also encountered something new and bad - clear, unashamed, blatant, discrimination and bigotry. I'm a naturist and a minority. The average Jo Bloggs in the street knows little of naturism past a biased stereotype, an incorrect assumption about the state of the law and news reels of the World Naked Bike Ride. I've never been subject to prejudice directly like that, because naturism aside I AM Jo Bloggs. I'm an anglo-saxon white straight male with a job, mortgage, wife and kid. I do know of intolerance, of course I do. I've read and heard personal tales from ethnic minorities (such as my friend at work who is Chinese and has received MANY negative insulting remarks in Devon where he and his lovely family live), homosexuals (many many examples from friends and online), and religious minorities (so many examples that I need not say any more), yet I have never been in a position to FEEL that hatred eminating from someone who does not KNOW me but has judged me and made his mind up within a micro second of chancing upon me, on a river bank, in the blissful, largely empty, moor that sits astride the source of the Ex.
I feel sad and educated but something else....a fire glowing even brighter underneath me. I will NOT give in to these people. I made two big mistakes today, but I have learnt massively from them and I'm sorry for them. I have learnt about what is real when it comes to people in the UK. The vast, huge majority are absolutely amazing and I will never lose sight of that. I will remember gladly my chat with the couple whom I joked with. We were all happy, tolerant and respectful and enjoying the real world, the BEST of the real world together in a brilliant moment. Who cared how we were dressed (the guy had on only shorts by the way).
How will I go on? Eagerly. I know what to expect and I know how I can react calmly to no less than FIVE different threats from this individual. I feel so sorry for him yet in a weird and perverse way I'm actually (bizarrely) thankful. I feel I like I can now see naturism set in a new light where it sits alongside all things misunderstood, where folks get angry simply because it scares them. I also see more clearly that some folks...a tiny minority of folks...genuinely want everyone to do what they want, live like them, obey them, and not talk back. The 'you can do anything I want' politik. Victor's anger was inflamed to such a huge amount not because I went for a skinnydip (although he obviously disapproved), not because I took their spot by the river (although I suspect that didnt help me!), but because he hated me for holding a different opinion, a different lifestyle, to him, and that I then held my ground!
May things have been worse for me? Well if the woman had supported him then maybe I would have felt more insecure. I can handle a 70-y-o angry man. The dog? Shit. Well. I was in some calm place where I was sticking up for myself after being rattled and not thinking through all the possibilities! I certainly messed up donning an ill fitting snowflake hat and 'reaching out for peace'! I learned.
This blog is warts and all. This is real naturism at the forefront of what I would like to look to as a positive future. I wondered about writing all this down at all. Maybe I should keep it to myself else it might put people off. Before today I had in the back of my head a figure of 1 in 100 when it came to people being aggresively negative to nudity in day to day life. At the end of my first day as a full-on naturist in semi-public (on Exmoor at least), the number is about 1 in 17. Hmmm. But the police have my back (in writing at least) and so do the vast majority of Brits I reckon.
Poor Victor. You can't go back a century I'm afraid. Change happens. I know this isn't what you want. I know you want to get angry and bitter and argue and repress and stop new things happening but you just CAN'T my friend.
And I still love this rock in the Atlantic and everyone on it. Snowflake? Fine. Better than the alternative.