London and Brighton WNBR rides, 2019

The 2019 London WNBR ride went off as usual, run in a carnival atmosphere, very well organised and great fun. Despite the cool weather, the turnout was as large as ever making the point of the demonstration very effectively, i.e. to protest against the global dependency on oil, to curb car culture, obtain real rights for cyclists, demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on city streets and to celebrate body freedom. The protest started at seven points, the routes converging at Trafalgar Square and in total covering somewhere around 50 miles of London streets. Many of central London’s roads were blocked by the nude riders, they at last being visible to drivers who routinely fail to spot them when dressed. As ever, large crowds cheered us on with dissention only coming from a truly tiny minority.

There was an interesting event at one of the start points, Regent’s Park. A small group of children on bikes were playing chicken with the cars and pulling wheelies on both sides of the road to show off, but when they came across the riders who were beginning to strip off, they could not contain their giggles and started to make fun of people in a very obnoxious manner. A notable and repeated comment being “why are you showing your small willy?” with emphasis on small. Children are too young to make adequate judgements, that is normal for children and explains why they were so cavalier with their own safety and were so rude in London traffic but it also explains why they seemed so worried and embarrassed about body image, an attitude probably learned from their absent parents. When asked where their parents were, they could not have cared less, to them their parents seemed irrelevant. As some of the female riders started to strip off the children’s attention was drawn to them giving the previous victims of their abuse some respite. The most interesting feature of the episode was that the children joined in the ride, no doubt to ogle the women but later on their behaviour and attitude changed dramatically, they almost seemed part of the protest.

I live in hope that the experience has taught them a valuable lesson in life, that nudity on its own is quite innocent and that adults can legitimately go nude in a public protest without obnoxious behaviour from onlookers. It is very doubtful indeed if these same children would have taken any notice at all of dressed riders making the same protest. Drivers make that mistake which is why so many knock cyclists off their bikes and is why so many riders have “Can you see me now” as body paint and banners.

When the ride proceeded down Whitehall there were two loud political protests not related to the ride, both attracted a large number of police but they took no notice of perhaps 1,300 nude people riding by peacefully. That is as it should be, nudity in public is not and never has been, illegal.

The next day a similar number of people braved even colder conditions in the Brighton WNBR, a ride joined by Rebellion Extinction who are making similar protests against oil. The police in Brighton take an approach now dropped by the Metropolitan police in London, that of providing an escort. Dozens of officers escorted us very efficiently around the town to the same joyful and receptive response from the crowd.

The points of the rides were well made, the effort seems to be paying off in the overall protest against limited government action regarding climate change. Recent movements in that front suggest the message is slowly sinking into the minds of the Westminster set.

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George Galloway’s prudery

The London and Brighton World Naked Bike Rides for 2018 went off brilliantly as usual. They are such an expression of joy and affirmation of life and receive an overwhelmingly positive response from the public.

This was in marked contrast to the EDL march in London that was happening at the same time. Some of the EDL supporters were heard mouthing obscenities, hate and general nastiness aimed at the peaceful nude people riding to celebrate life, to campaign for better bike facilities and have less use of cars on the roads.

As naturists have often pointed out, it is not illegal to be nude in public in the UK. At long last the police have issued guidance to officers that lays out that law, it explains exactly how to treat naturists or nude people going about their normal business, gardening, walking in the countryside, cycling etc.  In the face of that, it is remarkable how the ignorant and misinformed react. George Galloway was tweeting about the Mayor of London “suspending the law of indecent exposure”. Such ignorance is not surprising from the doyen of the lunatic fringe of politics but some listen to him.  They shouldn’t as his simple plea to prudery has two major flaws, one is that the Mayor has no powers to suspend law and secondly, the law of indecent exposure exists only in his imagination. He of course would claim to be a leader in inclusive politics, to protect the rights of minorities to go about their lives in a peaceful respected manner yet he does not understand that going nude is no different in principle to wearing a hijab or a turban. The man who shook the hand of Saddam Hussein and had later to apologise ought to man up and apologise for his outrageous hate speech against innocent nude people. I doubt he will, his prudery is far too ingrained. Sad really.

Links:- Public Nudity Advice and Decision-making Aid from the College of Policing.

Crown Prosecution Service:- Nudity in Public, guidance on handling cases of naturism.

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Should naturists be more assertive?

Some key questions:-

  • What is the general view of social nudity across the nation?
  • What is the view of officialdom?
  • Is our understanding of those views correct?
  • Do we need a complete shift in our attitudes?

Some would say that officialdom seems to be moving towards a more prudish view although the evidence is not convincing. Others would say the general public’s view seems far more liberal, there is more unpixelated nudity on the TV, the WNBR gets police protection and cases of public nudity prosecuted in the courts generally show a victory for what we would see as common sense. Without an extensive and authoritative study of these issues the answers will remain the subject of debate but whatever they are, I am certain that we have some thinking of our own to do regarding attitudes, in particular we need to re-think our habit of maintaining our traditional secrecy.

I am fully aware of the risks, I worked for a long time in education and kept my lifestyle secret but I now regret that as a result of the realisation brought about by a number of experiences. I also regret it because secrecy breeds suspicion which increases the desire for secrecy, a never ending cycle. We need to break that cycle; it is in our power to do so and needs no change in society. I have become convinced that many of our problems stem mainly from us.

Should naturists be more assertive? Oh yes.

My recent experiences have resulted from just such a more assertive attitude, one that springs from the recognition that my world view, my beliefs and my values are as important as those of other people, that as a naturist I should not be always assuming the worst and that I should stand up and proclaim to the world what I have believed since childhood. I have risked upsetting other people in pursuit of this right to self-expression. In the same manner as the I Am A Man campaign that followed Martin Luther King and campaigns proclaiming LGBT rights, I assert that our right to beliefs and existence is not predicated on the beliefs and values of others, they do not define our lives, we do. We have the right to dress as we please even if that right is denied by prudes, such denial does not eliminate the right, it merely exposes their prudery.

But the results of this assertive behaviour has quite honestly astonished me, it is now quite clear that prudery is far less common than I had supposed. I had started with a view common in naturist circles, that “they” will or might be upset when confronted not only by nude people but even by the very idea of people engaging in non-sexual social nudity. I was wrong, generally people do not think like that. Yes, prudes do exist and often make a lot of noise telling us how to behave, but there are far fewer of them than we fear.

A few examples will show what I mean. Having come out as a naturist after a spur-of-the-moment decision on return from my first WNBR in London in 2010, I had found my neighbours on the left very supportive and encouraging. A neighbour on the other side “caught” me in my back garden when I had expected to be fully private, she was also very supportive. Just last week, her husband, knowing I was nude whilst painting a part of the house he could not see, popped over the fence to ask for a tool rather than knocking on the door, he had taken the clear decision that meeting a nude Howard was not a problem.

Screening and its implied secrecy is not the answer, far better to be open and to discover that people are not nearly as prudish as we fear, now I can chat over the fence fully nude to neighbours on both sides without a problem. Did I change their attitude or were they accepting of nudity beforehand? I very much doubt I had any effect on their attitude, the problem is with us being too fearful, not them. They did not change, I did.

Recently my sister-in-law Angela stayed here for a while on holiday from Australia. She knew about my lifestyle yet I had always remained dressed when she stayed here for fear of upsetting her. I need not have bothered, a set of unexpected circumstances led to me being nude when she came home after a day out with my wife and she seemed very relaxed about the whole situation. She said to me, “if it’s affirmation you need, you have it” and gave me a loving hug. On relating this to her daughter-in-law in Australia, Kathy answered “Thank you Howard for sharing this with me. I think it is tremendous that you are asserting yourself and are increasingly able to be open and acknowledge and share this part of you. And I’m glad you are Increasingly finding acceptance and sometimes find it where you weren’t expecting it. But of course no-one should have to assert, explain or justify themselves or be grateful for tolerance or acceptance, when they are simply choosing how they want to live without harm to anyone. So I hope you didn’t feel I need an explanation. I admire you tremendously for claiming what it is you want and need, too few of us know what that is and fewer still have the courage to challenge norms. I look forward to hearing about your successes along the way.”

Is this the expected prudish reaction that so many naturists fear? No, quite the opposite. It is also similar to the response I have had from other people. People do not express the need to join in but then that is normal, if I tell people I like photography I do not expect or witness them rushing off to buy the kit, they express interest and life goes on. The same with naturism, interest and respect not condemnation or being shunned. The much feared bad reaction is far rarer than I had ever imagined.

As a result of these experiences I have taken every opportunity to talk about naturism to as many people I can and have yet to experience a bad reaction. The very worst from a good friend was when she said “I don’t like to be nude”, but that was that, we still got on as good friends, my coming out had no effect on our lives.

My case it that much of “our” problem comes from us not society or officialdom, so what do we fear?

  • Being ostracised? That has happened to a few people but has not stopped them following a naturist lifestyle.
  • Losing our jobs? That has happened in only one case that I have heard of.
  • Attracting unwanted attention? Not that I have heard of.
  • Is the problem with the general view of social nudity across the nation? Not in my experience or by taking the evidence of what we see in the media, in fact I would suggest it is quite the opposite. The wonderful reaction from the onlookers on the large WNBR rides show this most clearly, any nay-sayers are a tiny proportion, the rest cheer us on.
  • The view of officialdom? Possibly, but naturist speaking to family, friends and neighbours about social nudity will not risk any official reaction. I am not suggesting that anyone breaks the law but then it is not illegal to be nude in public in the UK as we see when we get police protection during the WNBR rides. Some police use public order legislation to harass naturists but the quicker we get out and show that society is not under threat of a breakdown in public order and that the courts usually throw out such silly prosecutions anyway, the quicker the police will regard reports of nude people as being as harmless as they actually are and do nothing. In the UK, the courts see this, the police need to catch up.

Do we need a complete shift in our attitudes? Oh yes, less fear, less shyness, more openness, better sharing of the delights of simply feeling the air on one’s skin, the freedom from clothing, the acceptance of all sorts of body shapes and sizes. In fact the whole reason we live this utterly harmless lifestyle.

I am suggesting that we are most of the problem and that we can do something about it. Get out there and be an ambassador for naturism. Life can get a whole lot better without ever trying to change society. Let’s change ourselves. Kathy’s reply says it all, “But of course no-one should have to assert, explain or justify themselves or be grateful for tolerance or acceptance”.

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Nude or clothes optional?

Naturists argue about whether nudity should be compulsory at naturist events or resorts but such an argument cuts right across the main problem that naturists face in society.

The very fact that naturists have to form groups and associations to fight organised prudery is a direct result of others using legal or social pressure to make people conform to their wishes. Without these people, nudity would go unnoticed in many places and the need to have nude only resorts and events would never have materialised. There are no associations that pursue jeans only resorts or events because no organised opposition has ever been faced by those who chose to wear jeans. Jeans are frowned upon in some settings but nowhere is strong or even legal action taken against those who wear them. The central issue therefore is about one group of people trying to force their will on others. In a society that embraces inclusion and that celebrates diversity and equality it makes no sense at all to introduce rules that impose the will and opinion of one group on others. It is the imposition that is most objectionable not the differences in opinion.

If diversity is valued and the scourge of prejudice is to be eliminated then a sense of freedom should be encouraged but that freedom will result in non-conformity, it will lead automatically to a range of behaviours and modes of dress. Provided that such behaviour or modes of dress do not incite hate or violence then no sanction at all should be applied to force people to conform, despite such behaviour or modes of dress not being to the taste of all. Freedom means that if one person dislikes the mode of dress of another then no action of any kind should be taken, not even a display of disapproval. Dislike or even offence is irrelevant in a free world.

If I tell people that I make furniture for fun, I never expect them to put the same time, effort and money into doing the same. People are often interested, even impressed by the results but not once has anyone taken up the challenge of doing the same thing nor even said they would like to; they are happy to leave me to follow my interests whilst they follow theirs. The same is noted if I tell them I try hard to take high quality photographs and all that implies in time, effort and money, the same again when I tell them I write software for small computers, etc. etc. This strikes me as entirely normal behaviour because when they tell me of their interests, I do not instantly set out to emulate them either. Freedom of expression is preserved.

The world is a diverse place made up of people following their own desires and interests and as long as each does not overly affect anyone else, people should continue with those interests without interference. It is only when a group take it upon themselves to impose their will on others that trouble starts. The history of humanity is replete with examples, wars and mass misery have come about as a direct result of such behaviour, usually in the name of religion but it also arises from other belief systems that value conformity.

Enforced conformity is the enemy of a free, diverse and inclusive society. Naturists are at pains to explain the benefits of a nude lifestyle and how they find such a way of life is beneficial. One of the reasons cited will be the sense of freedom felt when without clothes. To then try to force nudity on others is completely at odds with such a sense of freedom.

At some naturist resorts it is common to see people dress in the evening, that is their choice. Those who stay nude are doing so because that is their choice. One group should not seek to control the other, the goal is tolerance so even if just one person in the entire resort remains nude, as long as their choice is respected, what on earth is the problem?

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Statler and Waldorf syndrome

In Britain, the Statler and Waldorf syndrome is very common in many organisations. Attempts to get around it are fruitless. In British Naturism, BN, this syndrome is all too obvious. We are told that BN is a volunteer run organisation and that there are no shortages of ideas but a shortage of volunteers to put them into action.

It is true that BN is a volunteer run organisation so the shortage of volunteers needs to be explained. Is it that in Britain there is a shortage of people with ideas, drive, ability and commitment? Of course not, that would be nonsense. Is it that naturists lack these valuable characteristics? No, that would also be nonsense. So why is there a critical shortage of volunteers?

In a co-operative volunteer run organisation, when someone makes a suggestion others will consider it and make their contributions. It maybe that the idea would not work but others will see the flaws and suggest ways to make it work. Discussion takes place in an atmosphere of collaboration linked with a desire to see improvements, a desire to make ideas work. Suggestions are seen as valuable.

In an organisation infected by the Statler and Waldorf syndrome all suggestions for improvement and change are met with a range of seemingly plausible reasons for why they could not ever work. Suggestions are seen as impertinent, an insult to The Management because they imply they have not been doing well.

The acolytes of S&W are not capable of what Edward de Bono called Lateral Thinking, taking an idea that may have real problems and modifying it to make it work,  “thinking out of the box”. Instead, the S&W approach is to rely on the past and current state of the organisation and to resist any attempt at change. Volunteers are encouraged but are only allowed if they adopt this view, that the status quo is the Good and Proper Approach and upstarts, new volunteers, are to be fended off at all costs unless and until they See the Light.

The acolytes of S&W are quite content with their attitude but moan about how hard they work for the infected organisation and how much they regret the lack of support but if they just stopped for a moment and reflected on what motivates volunteers, what makes people volunteer in the first place and what will keep them working for the common aim, they would see why there a critical shortage of volunteers. The trouble is, that request for a moments pause to reflect is a suggestion; sufferers from Statler and Waldorf syndrome are immune from suggestions.


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The Old Guard in organised naturism

During the Navy Review for Queen Victoria at Spithead, on 26th June 1897, a ship turned up without an invitation, it was there to show the Old Guard in the Admiralty that they should have listened to its designer all along. The perpetrator was Charles Parsons who had designed the first steam turbine in 1884 and had tried to get the Admiralty interested but had failed. He built a boat named Turbinia and powered it using his new engine then took it unannounced to the Spithead Review. Not surprisingly the navy picket boats sent to stop him were far too slow. The old codgers in the Admiralty were then caught in a fix, so public was the display of superiority that they could no longer fend off the future with their customary No. They had come from the same old codger tradition who resisted the change from sail to steam, from coal to oil fired ships and could not believe that an aeroplane made of string and canvas could sink a battleship, until one sunk the unsinkable Ostfriesland in 1921. It was not just the Admiralty that was headed by codgers, when Frank Whittle approached the Air Ministry with his jet engine he was given a range of reasons why it will never be of use, “why man, we have the Merlin engine!”, so he formed Power Jets Ltd and proved them wrong.

Sadly British history is littered with such examples, the Old Guard produced all kinds of arguments to keep sending children up chimneys, to stop women having the vote, to maintain the slave trade, etc. etc., a long and very sorry list, Hansard is replete with it. It often takes national emergencies to force the codgers to change or move aside. My mother joined the army early in the 2nd World War and found exactly that, the army was busy shipping out the codgers and replacing them with newly promoted officers of vision, those with an ability that encompassed more than being able to say No to new ideas.

British organised naturism, BN or British Naturism is in the same fix but no relevant emergency is on the horizon so nothing is likely to change any time soon. The Old Guard have the organisation firmly in its grasp but power is wielded in a subtle way, their customary No comes after a stream of seemingly plausible reasons for why ideas are not possible. This stream accompanies a lack of fluidity of thought, no attempt is made to modify ideas to make them work, no attempt to see new ideas sparked off by other ideas that have failed for genuine reasons; naturally not all ideas can work and some cannot work in the form first suggested. Much the same applied to the codgers in the Admiralty and the Air Ministry, their refusals were all were characterised by a limited knowledge of developments in the world outside of their old boys clubs.

Should anyone dare to suggest a change it is seen as a threat and they close ranks to fend it off. A recent example was a vote for British Naturism to leave the INF, the International Naturist Federation, an organisation that has degenerated into an expenses paid drinking and squabbling club for a few officials. The Old Guard voted by a large majority to stay within the INF, all sorts of specious and unsupportable reasons were cited in support of this vote. Such is the grip of the Old Guard that the drinking and squabbling will continue whilst the INF’s role in promoting naturism will remain completely forgotten. Most oddly, the Old Guard are happy with this state of affairs, they live in hope that “something will happen” to return the INF to its glory days ignoring the fact that the INF has never done anything tangible or had a useful international effect. Glory days indeed. The Old Guard are happy at having fought off the beastly upstarts.

When suggestions that BN should host a publicly visible photo gallery on its website, the answer was No. Should they have a national nude protest in a similar manner to the WNBR, the World Naked Bike Ride? No. Should they make and host their own promotional videos on their website? Maybe…..well, No. Should they have a cohesive group representing British Naturism complete with banners and promotional literature on the WNBR? No. Should they have a group representing British Naturism complete with banners and promotional literature on London Pride? No. Should naturist clubs be encouraged to allow single males or clothed family and friends to join and hence align themselves with wider inclusion in society? No. etc. etc. The few hopefuls who remain within BN still discuss such ideas but really it a waste of time, so is complaining about the Old Guard.

In any organisation , once members of the Old Guard form a certain critical proportion of that organisation, its future is either static or trends downhill towards a knot of the faithful, one that will be ignored by the rest of the world. The Old Guard are happy with that, it is their stated aim, to maintain their old ways, to cogitate on the world from behind their privet hedges and rail against those nasty people who want something different. To be ignored by society is seen as ideal, a quiet life, one not to be disturbed.

It is not all bad of course, the Great British Skinny Dip got off to its uncertain start and the legal team within BN have successfully worked to show the police and courts that nudity of itself is not illegal in England and thence to have daft prosecutions fail in court. Various optimistic people within BN are beavering away to challenge the Old Guard and get things moving but the underlying desperate clinging to tradition remains at the very core. Little changes. At least that makes the minutes of meetings easier, run off last year’s with the date changed and get off to the bar.

What is beyond the comprehension of the Old Guard is that should anyone wish to practice the same form of naturism that was common in the 1950s there is nothing to stop them anymore than there is anything to stop someone steaming along in their coal fired boat or writing to The Times with a quill pen about beastly upstarts; they will remain entirely free to pursue their own ideal lifestyle without the slightest interference. The important issue is this, should they be allowed to prevent developments they do not wish to take part in themselves? To do so is selfish, a dog-in-the-manger attitude, I’m Alright Jack, everyone else must lump it.

It was a shock to many naturists when the WNBR become widespread, the naked protest rides showed a joyful acceptance of public nudity that was beyond their wildest dreams, yet what did organised naturism do to capitalise on that? Nothing except rejoice at the inaction. Voices from the Old Guard told us that the WNBR “was not naturism” so did not merit their consideration, ignoring the obvious that the public at large care nothing at all about one of their favourite behind the privet discussions, the precise definition of naturism, a definition that eludes them to this day.

Society has moved on however, there are reckoned to be 4 million people in the UK who have taken part in at least some form of social nudity, mainly on holiday, on the WNBR rides or at home. Virtually none would label themselves naturist; only a few thousand join BN. Did this change in society come about as a result of organised naturism? Of course not. Did organised naturism take any advantage of it?

Not yet.




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Hugh Hefner. Gone for good?

The sharply polarised views published about Hugh Hefner following his death are quite illuminating. It seems journalists are keen to ensure that proponents they choose to interview on both sides are women. When a woman defends Hefner and his business empire, any opponent can be made to look old fashioned and prudish and the supporter made to look modern, emancipated, even sophisticated. Why not get a man in a discussion with a woman? Does that lend less weight to their arguments or does it appeal to base prejudice that a man thinks this and a woman thinks that? This is nothing less than blatant misogyny.

There is still a strong glass ceiling for most women and that is evident in a number of ways, not just pay. Hefner sold women as products not as human beings, he did this on the back of strong US prudery; this prudery ensures that normal human bodies remain hidden. They remain hidden except when a nude image panders to the fantasies of inadequate men and can turn a profit from those sad people. Profit trumps humanity especially in the USA where prudery is very strong..

If the world would listen to common sense and remove the prudery, stop being frightened of showing what people look like day to day, stop listening to the source of that prudery, religion and be more open, more accepting, then we would have a world where the sight of a nude human being is normal, everyday. The inadequate men would fell less inadequate and the prurient given less to be prurient about.

Naturists like me are greatly puzzled by the fear that some apparently feel about nudity. What are people frightened of? It does not hurt, causes no harm and every human alive has a nude body. If you try it, it is actually liberating. Be frightened of people with guns & bombs but not of being simply human. If we could overcome that fear it would destroy the business model of the Fat Stock Show that Hefner made so much money from and help to break one aspect of the glass ceiling.

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