Monday, May 30, 2011

How Do You Like Your Bear Grylled?

Risk is a funny thing. People will take risks in one way and yet cringe from taking them in others. It is popular for people engaged in so-called risky activities to compare it with some mundane task like crossing the road and pointing out how statistically safer arm wrestling an octopus is. This is probably true but plenty of people do cross the street, dodging whizzing cars, thundering trucks and crazed cyclists as they do so. It is unlikely that many of these people think of themselves as risk takers. Despite this I, for one, would pay to see Bear Grylls dropped in the middle of New York City and simply told to walk an exact straight line to another point. Assuming he survived he'd be in a nursing home for the rest of his days.

To a great extent the measure of risk depends on what you're used to. Familiarity may not necessarily breed contempt but it does breed a certain measure of acceptance. The risk you know doesn't quite have the same jar to the sensibilities as the risk you don't meet everyday. Russian roulette, for example, is statistically a low risk hobby. There is only a 16.6% chance of something bad happening to you. Bear Grylls is almost certainly at more risk on his jaunt across New York City. However placing a revolver to your temple and pulling the trigger is so far outside most people's normal experience that the risk factor is inflated in their minds. Just off topic for a moment, doesn't Bear Grylls sound like a dodgy barbecue restaurant? Eating at Bear Grylls is possibly another risky activity.

During the course of a spectacularly peaceful, risk averse and largely uneventful life I have managed to go sky diving, bungee jumping, white water rafting and on one occasion I chased a sloth bear across the countryside. None of these struck me as particularly dangerous at the time (although the sloth bear incident does in retrospect) yet I go queasy at the thought of approaching the edge of a building or cliff. Even a well fenced lookout makes me feel uncomfortable yet I have abseiled into sinkholes to go caving (the trick here is sinkholes are dark so you can't see anything even if you do inadvertently open your eyes). This stuff didn't strike me as particularly dangerous but if I had been killed as a result of it people would have nodded wisely and written it off as the result of a dangerous lifestyle. If I had been killed by a car while crossing the road people would look on it as an unexpected tragedy. At least I hope they would.

On the Other Hand You Can't Bury Someone in an iPad

I want an iPad. Why do I want an iPad? I don't know. What would I do with it? I don't know that either. How does it work? I really don't know that. All I do know is that an iPad is sleek and elegant looking and I really, really want one. Yes folks, I am that shallow. In no more than thirty seconds of staring at a friend's new purchase an iPad has gone from a pointless self indulgence to, well, to a pointless self indulgence that I really really want. I would use it for um... Ok, I would probably use it for a flat surface to put my coffee down on. Some people would say that isn't a particularly good use for an iPad but those people are missing the point.

The point is that an iPad isn't meant to be useful. Oh I grant you people will find uses for it. They may even reach the point where they can't imagine life without it. I have already reached that point and I don't even own one yet. I'm sure an iPad can do all sorts of really useful things. I could probably even find a use for it myself if I owned one for long enough (stable table, door jamb, pet discipliner the list is endless) but this is largely irrelevant. An iPad isn't for using, its for owning. Essentially it is a little decoration to jazz up an otherwise drab and meaningless existence.

It could be argued that this is an appalling waste of resources, that millions are spent on such luxuries while children in the third world starve. All true of course but if that argument had been followed throughout history there would be precious little history. What do we know about ancient civilisations? What is it that catches our breath and inspires us to learn more about them? Their monuments. Even in the crumbling, well past use by date condition they are in today it is the pyramids, the temples, the statues and the art of past civilisations that grabs our attention. Each of these is now and was at the time a pointless waste of resources created for no better reason than the aggrandisement of a particular individual, religion or government system. Not a single starving third world denizen benefited from the painting of the Sistine Chapel or the building of the Taj Mahal (except in so far as some of them may have been employed on the latter) yet I doubt if many people would agree to the demolition of either in return for a well targeted aid programme.

There seems to be a vast difference between the Taj Mahal and an iPad but there isn't really. Each of them serves a purpose that was being taken care of quite efficiently by already existing alternatives. Each of them is a pointless self indulgence that has no value to anyone except the owner and the world would have got along quite well without the creation of either. I very much doubt that anyone would agree to their destruction now that they're here; and if they did the world would be poorer for it.

In actual fact there are two ways an iPad can be considered superior to the Taj Mahal. While I agree that those starving third worlders are unlikely to ever get themselves a Taj Mahal it is at least within the realm of possibility that they might one day own an iPad. Self indulgence is a lot more democratic these days. The other good thing about an iPad is that you don't have to be dead to make use of it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Birthday Greetings #23

Happy birthday to Peter Cushing OBE, English actor. Yes I am just doing this entry because I felt kind of mean about making fun of him in the last blog entry and then discovered it was his birthday.

Peter Cushing was born in Surrey in 1913 and lived for a remarkably long period of time. He would be best known for his appearance in all sorts of horror movies (frequently opposite old friend Christopher Lee) if it weren't for the fact that towards the end of his career, like Alec Guinness, he wound up in Star Wars. Unlike Alec Guinness he took the role seriously but (also unlike Guinness) neglected to negotiate 2% of the gross as part of his fee.

Cushing was charmingly direct about his choices of roles. "Nobody wants to see me as Hamlet. They'd call it a horror movie, but millions of people want to see me as Frankenstein so that's the one I do." He did step outside that rule slightly on a couple of occasions in the 1960s when he appeared in a pair of Doctor Who movies largely because he was tired of people being scared of him when they met him. He also appeared as Sherlock Holmes on several occasions.

He was married to fellow actress Helen Beck from 1943 until her death in 1971. In more than one interview after that time he stated that he was simply waiting for death so they could be reunited. He was awarded an OBE in 1989 and spent the last years of his life in Whitstable where, among other things, he was president of The Vegetarian Society. Perhaps all those Frankenstein movies had an affect after all.

I love the old Hammer horror movies; Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are two of my favourite actors. Christopher Lee is still with us but Peter Cushing has gone to join his wife.

Out to Lurch - Frankenstein.

I was reading something yesterday and I came across the phrase "the Golden Age of Science Fiction". It isn't the first time I've the term but it was the first time I had heard the term while scratching for a blog entry. The Golden Age of Science Fiction lasted from the late 1930s until the 1950s. During this time there was a positive explosion of science fiction (the fact that during the middle of it there was a positive explosion of explosions might have had something to do with it). Such giants as Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and a bunch of others I have forgotten bestrode the science fiction world like colossi (colossusses?).

The golden age was followed (in an obvious attempt to dispel any suspicions one might have possessed about the imagination of science fiction fans) by the Silver Age of Science Fiction. Currently we are in the Cruddy Amalgam Age of Science Fiction. What's next I don't know but may I be the first to suggest the Oh My God Literacy Has Deteriorated to the Point Whereby the Most Effective Means of Communication is to Smear Ones Own Faeces on a Cave Wall Age of Science Fiction.

The science fiction title I remember most doesn't actually come from the golden age but a decade and a half later. It's Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. In so far as I remember it the story was pretty good (it won a bunch of awards so, you know, it must be good). The title is the thing that gets me though. It sounds like something that Hammer Productions would have made in their prime, probably starring Peter Cushing.

Peter Cushing spent what seems like forever alternately stitching bits of corpse together and ramming pieces of wood into Christopher Lee. Things didn't get any better for Christopher Lee either. While Cushing was gloriously blown up on the Death Star in the best of the Star Wars franchise Christopher Lee had to endure appearing in two of the worst (although that light sabre duel between him and Yoda was awesome).

Before he ascended the giddy heights of Grand Moff Tarkinism, however, Peter Cushing had to go through about eight hundred movies with titles like The Dangling Genitalia of Frankenstein. They all blur together in my mind after a while which is not surprising when you consider that they basically all had the same plot; a brilliant but loony scientist sews pieces of corpse together in an attempt to create new life with distressing consequences for the local villagers. One would have thought that after a while he might have taken the hint or at least that cremation might have become a little more popular as a funeral option in his district. Peter Cushing would have looked pretty silly up to his elbows in ash while Igor shakes his head and thumbs the help wanted ads in the Carlstadt Gazette.

Another question is, since pretty much every movie ended with the put upon peasantry storming the castle where the good doctor was engaged in reverse vivisection and ripping him limb from limb, how on earth did he survive? I think old Victor couldn't see the wood for the hastily stitched together trees. If he had any sense at all he would simply have injected a little of his own blood into the thing on the slab, then it would have been damn near indestructible.

Although usually dubbed as a horror story Frankenstein is really one of the earliest attempts at science fiction. Mary Shelley published it in 1818. Towards the end of that century she would be joined by writers like Jules Verne, HG Wells and Lord Dunsany. Its a pity the Golden Age of Science Fiction wasn't around then really.

Hooray, the Universe is Saved!

The universe is apparently ripping itself apart at the seams. According to the latest research dark energy is pulling (or possibly pushing) the universe in all directions at once. Scientists speculate (speculating is like theorising but with less evidence) that one day even atoms themselves will be yanked apart like miniature versions of the explosion of the Death Star on Star Wars. Come to think of it I haven't seen the back of my head recently so the process could already be underway.

Since the universe, by definition, comprises everything I'm not entirely sure what its expanding into but it's doing it just the same. We can expect a day when the Earth quite literally comes apart under our feet. Although this will probably be of less concern to us than the fact that our feet are coming apart under our ankles.

Being a perennial short termist I have to admit that I'm less concerned about the universe coming apart at the seams and more concerned with the fact that one of my suits seems to be preempting it. That damned dark energy gets everywhere apparently; even into my wardrobe. My tshirts on the other hand are resisting the dark energy with a demonstration of grim determination last seen when the Soviets defended Stalingrad. I've had some of these tshirts for twenty years and they were second hand then.

As you can see from the preceding paragraph buying new clothes is rarely on my to do list. In fact the newest things in my wardrobe are my suits one of which has already begun to succumb to the siren call of dark energy. The sturdiness of my clothes seems to be in inverse proportion to their suitability for the office. Guess which ones cost me the most? Transience costs and the more transient a thing is, the more it costs. This is why a bucketful of dirt costs considerably less than a bucketful of beluga caviar, except in certain parts of Sydney. In Sydney a bucketful of dirt would be described as "a tremendous development opportunity, close to all amenities".

The vagaries of the Sydney property market notwithstanding it is pretty clear that shabby and worthless will long outlast all our attempts at elegance and beauty. This is why the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been gone for millennia while the world's most tasteless tombstones still poke their heads up out of the Egyptian sand. What this means is that when our particular part of the universe does start to disintegrate we should be able to lash it together with second hand tshirts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I've Recently Bought a New Pair of Bootlaces

I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces. Yes, I know, the topics for this blog are getting increasingly pathetic as the days go by. Nevertheless I shall persevere. As I was saying, I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces. Notice, incidentally, how skillfully I padded out the length of this entry by simply repeating my first sentence. In drawing your attention to my cleverness, however, I find that I've forgotten what I was talking about. Oh yes, I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces.

Such a trivial purchase has nevertheless pleased me immensely. Another thing that pleases me immensely is that I am finally getting into the swing of this blog entry. Let's face it, tempting though it seems I can hardly write a blog entry that simply consists of me writing "I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces" over and over again. A swift recap of the first paragraph reveals that that is exactly what I have done so far and I feel a little guilty about it to be honest but now I have set my foot upon the highway and am ready to go further. Although frankly if one set a foot on a highway in my neighbourhood there is every chance it would be run over before you got the opportunity to go anywhere, but I digress.

Such digressions are a hallmark of what I shall call (for want of both a better word and a sense of humility) my writing style. I find it very difficult to stay on message even when the message is as simple as I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces. In my more delusional moments (they usually happen when I'm awake) I like to represent these digressions as the product of an active mind and a fertile imagination. In truth they are merely evidence that I'm too lazy to hold a train of thought much beyond the first two carriages. It would appear that City Rail provides only the second worst train service in the state.

Anyway as I believe I was saying a paragraph and a half ago I'm starting to get into this blog entry. We've already established that I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces. Furthermore we know that I am rather pleased with this fact. Now I know this isn't much but I think we can all agree that it is something. You know the sort of vague general agreement such as when people broadly agree that snakes and jackals are much the same thing (they both breathe air, drink water and appeared in The Jungle Book).

I loved The Jungle Book when I was a child although I can't imagine what child services would say about Indian adoption practices. Actually, I can imagine it. I think the conversation would go something like this;
"So Mr & Mrs Akela is it? You seem to have a stable home life and I understand that Mr Akela is quite socially prominent in his community. Very good, however we are concerned about your intention to home school young Mowgli and place his education in the hands of a bear and a panther. We're not sure if this takes sufficient account of Mowgli's cultural background and, oh yes, it says here; you're wolves!"

I guess they did things in their own unique style back in the day but if it happened today things would take a very different turn. Mr & Mrs Akela would have left in tears to investigate buying a child from Cambodia (or possibly Angelina Jolie) while Baloo and Bagheera would have had to undertake human cultural sensitivity training in order to keep their teaching licences. Mowgli himself would have been bounced from orphanage to foster home and back again, learnt to steal, developed a serious drug habit and died in a street brawl just before his fifteenth birthday. Oh yes and Shere Khan would have his own version of The Apprentice. Incidentally I do know it wasn't Akela who adopted Mowgli, I just can't remember who did.

Anyway to get back on track, I've recently bought a new pair of bootlaces.

They're red.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Need a Payrise to Become Poor

Well the budget has been handed down to almost universal disdain and apparently we're all doomed. Most particularly doomed are families earning a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year or more. From the response to the budget and various media reports one of the measures announced was the brutal savaging of those helpless, desperate souls just clinging to the breadline on a hundred and fifty grand per annum.

What is the government planning to do to this new underclass? Are they going to increase their tax rate? Confiscate their second car? Send teams around to kidnap their infant children and raise them as janissaries? (note to the government; not as silly as it sounds. Its about the only way you're going to have a voting base at all in fifteen years time). No, the government has simply stopped indexing the family tax benefit to CPI for those households earning a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year or more. Why families earning a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year and up receive government benefits in the first place is something I'm a little less sure about.

For the record I don't thing a family income of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year makes the recipients obscenely wealthy. I don't envisage them smearing beluga caviar over their naked bodies or masturbating with gold bricks (at least I didn't until now. I must do something about my imagery). I am even prepared to admit that some of them will be in genuine financial difficulties for reasons that aren't their own stupid fault but seriously if these people are dependent on government handouts to survive then I think we can confidently state that the country is doomed.

The inherent unlikeliness of a hundred and fifty thousand a year being the new poverty line hasn't silenced the outrage of people who wish to emphasise the government's savage cruelty to that most vulnerable of society's downtrodden; the professional middle class. Strangely while railing against government cuts here they are also lambasting it for profligacy. Here they are on somewhat firmer ground. The one niggling problem I have with the governments attempt to rake back a few, surely ill spent, welfare dollars is my doubt that the government will do anything sensible (or even halfway sane) with the money thus saved.

One of the spending initiatives in the budget was an allocation of over three hundred million dollars to provide and install set top boxes for pensioners televisions to allow them to be converted to digital when the analog signal is cut off sometime between now and 2013. I am all in favour of pensioners receiving the free converters. If the elderly didn't have television we'd have to visit them more often. However the budgeting effectively allocates about four hundred dollars per pensioner. You can buy a set top box for about thirty dollars and probably pay another fifty to get it properly installed and tuned (unless you get one of the neighbourhood kids to do it for nothing). So why four hundred dollars a box? For that money I have a friend who will come around and paint a mural on your wall. Admittedly you can't change the channel but you will reduce your electricity bill.

One thing nobody objected to in the budget was the provision to make the unemployed do more work for the dole and measures to get teenage single mothers back into education or the workforce once their child turns one. Considering the outrage that has been raised over the family tax benefit freeze one might have thought that this would upset some people but apparently you have to be earning a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year to be considered truly poor nowadays.

I Think Therefore iPhone

I have folded a t-shirt, emptied an ashtray and wrapped slices of something pink that were putatively carved from a dead animal in glad wrap and put them in the freezer. Domestic chores completed for the day it is time to turn my attention to my blog. The most exciting news in my life at the moment (and a sad indictment of my life in general) is that after months of resistance I have acquired an iPhone. I have had it for two weeks now and already I can barely remember life without it. How on earth did I survive without having google maps at my fingertips? Now if anybody needs directions to the British High Commission in Windhoek I can direct them with confidence (its on Robert Mugabe Avenue a couple of blocks down from the TransNamib train station). There seems to be no end of exciting things my iPhone can do except actually make phone calls. The phone calling function seemed a little dysfunctional. As it happened a friend told me there was a problem and I would have to get it replaced. Now I have a new iPhone and it works fine.

I should point out at this moment that I didn't actually buy an iPhone. Dear god no. My employers saw fit to give me one. It should also be noted that they were less interested in my ability to make phone calls than in my ability to receive emails at 1 o'clock in the morning. This glittering technological marvel (no doubt knocked together by half starved, suicidal Chinese but, whatever) was presented to me as an unsubtle attempt to extend my working hours into infinity. I'm quite ridiculously pleased with it, or at least I would be if I could figure out how to get the songs from my ipod onto it.

The iPhone is quite simply the sexiest and most exciting labour causing device on the planet. Do you remember all the excitement that occurred some years ago when electronic devices were really starting to take off. Everybody was envisaging being able to work from home, in their pyjamas having coffee whenever they wanted and a quick word with the wife and kids during the quiet moments. Well it was all true, the only thing they didn't tell you was that you would be doing all of this after putting in your usual ten hours in the office. So how has the human race reacted to this massive increase in work? Absolute delight. We love our iPhone, blackberries, ipads and god knows what else. A handful of crappy apps and some cheesy ring tones and apparently we're prepared to put ourselves in chains for the rest of our lives. Social interaction now consists of sitting around with friends and completely ignoring them while you text somebody else who isn't in the room.

If the Egyptian Pharaohs had had the sense to string tinkly bells on their overseers whips the pyramids would have been built in half the time. I would go so far as to say that if you built an iron maiden with internet connectivity and access to facebook then people would be queueing to get into it. This leads me to two important conclusions; firstly, people (including me) are really really stupid. Secondly, there is nothing more important than triviality. In the past on this blog I have written unflattering things about such pointless idiocies as bottled water, Kim Kardashian and the Hadron Supercollider but I was wrong, so wrong. If somebody came to me today with the salvation of mankind I would send him away and tell him not to come back until I could download my favourite songs and video clips to it. More bells, more whistles, more tinsel, more silly little games and humorous sound effects please. Once you've got all that, ditch the salvation of mankind crap, I need that space to store the Downfall videos I've taken off youtube.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Obviously Unsuccessful Attempt to Improve My Mind

Currently the foyer of my building is playing host to an exhibition of sculptures. A friend informed me that this is called art so I wandered around during my lunch break to improve my mind, or at least kill some time. Some of it was quite good, some of it was quite bad and I'm pretty sure that one of the pieces was actually a pinata stolen from a child's birthday party. So far I have almost tripped over that one three times.

There they all were, products of some artists skill (or at least enthusiasm), standing on plinths, resting in niches (or possibly the other way round) or, like the pinata, popping up where you least expect them. I sure that pinata roams at night. Naturally the sculptures I like don't lurk nearby with a siren song, just that damned pinata. I'm really afraid its going to follow me home and then I'll start feeding it because I can't bear the idea of it being kicked out into the cold winter night.

I rather like the idea of a sculpture exhibition in our foyer, I'm just not entirely sure why it's there. Is Sydney critically short of gallery space? I mean, I know we're not Melbourne but come on. Surely there are a couple of derelict buildings sitting around somewhere. We could have an artist do them up and his refusal to do so would be an artistic statement in itself. A statement of what I'm not sure but that's what we pay art critics for. Until the happy day when sculptors can proudly display their works in a rotting deathtrap filled with falling plaster and load bearing members suddenly failing to meet a crucial part of their definition I guess they are stuck with displaying in our foyer.

Its a more fitting venue than perhaps they realise. When our building was first completed it won an architectural award. I really hope it was bestowed before anybody discovered the roof leaked. Perhaps the same architect could be hired to convert those abandoned buildings. In the meantime the sculptures lurk around our foyer like a tiger in long grass waiting for the moment to pounce. There is one advantage to displaying in my building; the occupants are various government departments and high end professional firms. This means the foyer has a constant stream of high net worth individuals (plus me) trotting backwards and forwards, and all these sculptures are for sale. I for one, if I'm not careful, am in danger of becoming the proud owner of a broken pinata.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Homeless Shelter

I had the privilege of visiting a homeless shelter this evening. For a short period of time I was able to witness one of the attempts to assist society's victims. What I saw affected me deeply and I hope I can put down in words the impressions I took away with me. For the record all names have been changed.

The building that housed the shelter wasn't particularly impressive. It was one of those modern, designed by numbers (and possibly by a robot) buildings that leave an impression of irredeemable blandness. Still this is right in the middle of the city and rents are probably quite steep enough. I walked in through the main doors and found myself immediately in the common room where the chairs and tables mirrored the soullessness of the building. A couple of long tables dominated the room but there were plenty of smaller ones for those who wanted an impression of intimacy.

A woman sat alone at one of the smaller tables, she might have been any age between fifty and eighty. I tried to speak with her but she flinched at the sound of my voice and I decided it would be better to leave her with her private thoughts.
"She doesn't speak," confided "Kerry" one of the workers here. "In all the time I've been here she hasn't said a word". Kerry, like most of her colleagues is young, female and relentlessly cheerful. The cheerfulness is an act mostly she admits, "They see so much sadness, we try and remain happy around them". She doesn't need to say how hard that is sometimes, I can see the marks of strain around her eyes.

A large television dominates one wall and a number of the occupants sit at the long table silently watching the screen as if trying to reconnect with a world they used to know. "Steve" sits in the prime position, in the middle of a bench facing the television with the food counter just behind him. "It's going to be a cold night," he says, "I'm lucky I got here early". Steve might be in his middle forties and was once a physically powerful man, even now I doubt if any of his fellows would challenge him for his place.

I was surprised that they sell food here, I suppose I expected a soup line or something but "Jim" the manager told me that principally what they offer is a shelter. The seats, television, newspapers and various magazines all come free but they have to charge for food.
"It doesn't cost much," explains Jim, "but then it isn't exactly great cuisine either". I had to agree with him. I had a meal (for which I paid) and the kindest thing one can say is that you get what you pay for. Simple, solid food that will never win a restaurant review.

It started to rain outside and soon more people were drifting in. Jim tells me that a lot of people who normally wouldn't go near a shelter are driven in by the rain. It's going to get a lot busier tonight. I was in the way and decided to leave them to their work. Outside I could see people like me; dressed in suits hurrying home to dry houses and decent food. Most of them barely glanced at the shelter and the few who approached it rapidly recognised their mistake and backed away. There was a collection tin on the counter and I put a few coins in before thanking the staff for their patience and taking my leave.

As I left I felt saddened and a little humbled and it didn't occur to me to ask the most important question until I was on the train home. Where do all these people go when McDonalds closes?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sand, Surf and Killer Whales

Most people seem to like the beach. Even countries not particularly well endowed with such accessories produce whole crops of people prepared to travel the globe for the opportunity to lie on the sand. Who doesn't like the beach? Colobus monkeys (the sand gets in their fur), US Marines (too many pillboxes) and me.

Aesthetically I like the beach just fine. Nothing sets off a coastline quite so well as a strip of yellow white sand separating the green land from the blue ocean. Not only does it stop the land from getting soggy but it prevents the planet from making a fashion faux pas as well. I enjoy looking at the beach on television, in pictures and even from a comfortable chair in a cafe or bar a few metres away from the genuine article.

I love the salt laden air, the constantly moving but reassuringly permanent ocean and the gleaming beauty of that gleaming, enticing strip of sand. What I don't like is actually being on the beach itself. A beach is sand and sand is stone. For every hour of fun frolicking on the beach you have to spend another two hours scraping powdered rock out of every orifice in your body; possibly longer depending on how enthusiastic the frolicking was.

I don't know why humans have this urge to disport themselves on damp, crumbled stone. It's not like we couldn't find more comfortable places to sprawl. Yet the beach keeps pulling us back. This leads me to suspect that certain modern theories of evolution are quite wrong. We're not descended from apes, we're actually descended from seals. That would certainly explain our beach fetish. We head for the sand because some tiny race memory tells us that if we don't we're going to get eaten by killer whales. A seal based heritage would also help explain walrus moustaches (sorry) and our predilection for seafood.

The other issue is people. Thanks to our seal heritage people love the beach. That means on any good day for the beach you will find it packed with enough people to make the population of Bangladesh comment on how crowded the place seems. If you do discover an uncrowded beach it is probably just downstream from a chemical weapons plant or possibly you have just been shipwrecked. If the latter then you will probably be spending so much time worrying about dying of thirst or starvation that you won't be able to truly appreciate how lucky you are to find an unspoiled beach. Although no doubt some beach goers would consider the price worth paying.

The only other option is to go on a day that isn't really suited for the beach. Enjoy squatting shivering on your towel as an icy wind lashes the rain straight off the ocean into your face. I'll be across the road in the dry having a nice cup of coffee.