Published On: Sun, May 20th, 2018

Pool versus beach: the agony of choice

Chris Morvanby Chris Morvan

It always amazes me that in places where there are beautiful beaches and clean, refreshing sea, anyone should choose instead to use a pool full of chlorinated water, and yet the world is full of them. There are resorts right on the coast, where holidaymakers spend their time baking on ‘beach beds’ (the clue is in the name) and plunging into sandless water, lolling around in what is essentially very diluted bleach.

Perhaps they subscribe to the same beliefs as my brother-in-law, a pale Scots landlubber who, even though he married my island-girl sister, decries the idea of spending days on the beach.

“I’m an engineer,” he told me once. “To me, sand is for building things.” And considering the temperature of the sea where he comes from, which must be about the same as a Norwegian fjord, you can’t blame him for being wary.

After I had spent a couple of years in the Caribbean I took my wife to the old country and boldly announced my intention to go for a swim on a beach near where I grew up. She never tires of telling the story of how I spent about five seconds in the water before racing back up to the warmth of my towel, shivering and uttering foul condemnations of British conditions. It’s all a question of what you’re used to.

I’m not sure when sea swimming became fashionable around here, but I imagine it was shortly after Adam and Eve first broke a sweat while misbehaving under an apple tree in Philipsburg. It didn’t start in the UK until the 18th century, but then the sea is icy over there most of the time.

As society was going through a prudish era, there was also a lot of nonsense about segregated bathing, so the men couldn’t see the women clad only in yards of fabric. They used ‘bathing machines’, which were basically changing rooms on wheels where people would get in on the beach side, get changed and pop out again on the sea side to have their freezing exercise before reversing the process and reappearing on land as if nothing had happened except a minor hair disaster.

The styles of swimming costumes in recent years would have given the modern-day girls’ ancestors screaming fits, although thankfully men’s styles have moved away from the budgie-smuggler look to loose shorts. So the ladies have to content themselves with admiring the rippling six-packs of the hunks, or even the more prevalent beer-barrel bellies.

If beaches hadn’t existed we would have had to invent them, because nothing else offers such a healthy, fun (and usually free) environment with scope for everything from lazing around to low-impact exercise. Or as my brother-in-law might put it, everything from getting burnt to drowning.

Even beach lovers have different ideas of what constitutes ideal. You find idyllic bays with yachts anchored just a few yards offshore. And if that weren’t intrusive enough for those of us on the sand, there might be frustrated motorcyclists buzzing around the water on jetskis.

The trend in St Maarten seems to be for making beaches a mere aquatic extension of the land, with restaurants, bars and other conveniences on hand. My local part of Simpson Bay, which was once a sleepy fishing village, was recently fenced off so you can’t get to it without walking through a restaurant.

Those of us who like adjectives such as unspoilt and peaceful are at least 50 years too late.

Why is a day on the beach so relaxing? Scientific studies have shown that a blue environment puts people in a better mood even than a green one. But why is the sea blue? Because it reflects the sky, and on what we regard as a nice day, the sky is blue.

After all, the colour of the sea is very important – important enough for the world’s swimming pools to all go for that look. And the effect is achieved by the blue tiles above the waterline, while the walls under the water are white. No one, it seems, not even a crazed young designer who delights in ‘challenging preconceptions’, has persuaded the world that it would be nice to swim in water that looks red, green or brown. Which is why we like white sand if possible, because it helps the colour scheme. And St Maarten is blessed with plenty of that. Green trees good, white sand good, blue sea good. And grey anything bad: sky, sea, hair, even food.

So a nice pool does tick a lot of boxes, and it doesn’t involve getting sand everywhere. And in many cases you don’t even have to cross the road to get to one, because it’s right there. Plus it’s tsunami-proof into the bargain.

Ah, sometimes it pays not to overanalyze these things, doesn’t it?