The beach hut: a small wooden miniature shed-like structure set along a promenade beside the beach, usually in a row of nearly identical siblings. The beach hut is an iconic symbol of the British seaside that might only be surpassed by a newspaper cone stuffed with battered fish and chips or a brightly coloured stick of rock. You may be one of the unlucky few who has never set eyes on these strange little structures that are rarely seen outside a classic British seaside town. If so, fear not, I will help you to visualise.
The beach hut is generally around 12 feet deep and 8 feet wide. They are often stuffed with deck chairs, sun-loungers, wind-breaks, towels, buckets and spades. But they can also include little portable stoves, kettles, mugs – in fact anything that you might need for spending a day at the beach. The slightly bizarre idea of the beach hut is that come that wonderfully hot, sunny day you pop down to your own little hut, open up the doors, haul out all your chairs and beach wares then sit yourself down on the promenade and bask in the sunshine.
Now, appreciating the sunshine I can understand. What I fail to appreciate is why you would ever want to sit on a baking hot promenade (usually being nothing more attractive than a tarmac or concrete space of flat area before you get anywhere close to the actual beach – think of a road, remove the white lines and there you have it) displaying yourself for all to see? If you want to sunbathe use the beach (that is what it is being protected for) or a park but don’t display yourself and your odd collection of beach-ready possessions along the promenade where the rest of us would like to walk.
I digress. The local news announced today that a proud beach hut owner had gone on holiday leaving his friend behind with one simple request: to repaint his hut. Many local authorities have strict policies on what colours can be used to paint the huts to ensure they all look the same and are in keeping with the local area. Brighton & Hove City Council is no exception. The terms and conditions are very strict requiring the entire exterior, except the doors, to be painted in specified uniform colours.
I guess the owner didn’t quite make these guidelines clear to his friend. He returned to find his hut transformed into a psychedelic nightmare reminiscent of the backdrop to the Yellow Submarine. And a formal request to repaint it waiting for him.
The hut has created a Marmite effect: half the City love it and the other half hate it. How amazing that something as simple as a crazily painted hut divided a whole City into those who crave creative freedom, and see the beauty of the artwork, and those who believe rules are there not to be broken and that conformity is the answer to all society’s problems.
Neither side seems able to understand the point of view of the other. But the story of the little hut shows a truth that all policies and decisions are unstable compromises that our society seems to have accepted in all walks of life, not just when viewing an overly decorative hut. From one day to the next the balance rises and falls in favour of rules or freedom on a seemingly random basis. Where we all have our own opinions we can never reach a position where everyone is happy with the rules all the time. Sometimes we don’t have enough freedom and sometimes we have too much.
And my view? I love Marmite and I rather like the radical stand against conformity that the accidental drama has created.
For more information, see the BBC News article featuring the above photograph: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/9124779.Hove_beach_hut_causes_seafront_storm/