Getting naked in public places

What is the correct social protocol when surrounded by naked strangers?  Perhaps not an immediately pressing concern on the nation’s agenda, yet this is a dilemma familiar to anyone who regularly uses public changing rooms, and one littered with social landmines.  In our notoriously reserved British society how are we to reconcile this occasional foray into physical liberation with our collective conservatism?  I asked the girl at the reception desk of my local leisure centre this very question, and received no satisfactory response.I like to go swimming as regularly as motivation allows. Years ago I would, in common with many of my peers, dance a peculiar routine when getting undressed, involving the careful alignment of my towel and underwear to ensure that nudity was kept at an absolute minimum.  As time wore on I grew weary of this schtick, and realised how absurd it was to hide something I had nothing to be ashamed of, in a room full of people who evidently were not ashamed in the slightest.

These days, I am largely comfortable with my regular brief spell of public nudism; the adolescent years of insecurity and self-loathing are mostly behind me.  More problematic is how to behave with a room full of naked men.  Instinct tells you: “eyes ahead, soldier”. No eye contact, no acknowledgment whatsoever, not a word to be spoken.  This is a sacred place of humble silence, where all must observe the unspoken etiquette.

But evidently something happens once you turn 60, like some sort of naturist Manchurian Candidate.  The elderly have no shame in their naked form, parading around the showers like it’s some hellish retirement orgy, gleefully towelling their silvery pubic hair until not a single droplet remains.  I recently found myself in the changing room with a very friendly Caribbean pensioner who engaged me deep in conversation about his wife’s cooking whilst he enthusiastically lavished his balls with talcum powder.  I didn’t hang around to ask for his wife’s jerk chicken recipe.

It’s a strange paradox that when you’re young, healthy and nubile, you’re generally more self-conscious about your body.  Yet once your skin loses all elasticity and you morph into a leathery zombie sultana, you’re too old and wise to worry what anyone will think of your nether regions.  Our elders have much to teach us about life’s priorities.

One of the great milestones of the transition to adult life is desensitising yourself to the sight of another human being’s genitalia.  At the end of the day, they’re just willies and boobs, right?  Our dangly appendages are wholly ubiquitous, fairly unremarkable (if a little unsavoury looking), and – outside of any sexual context – reassuringly harmless.  But I would say this to the elderly Caribbean gentleman at Kentish Town Swimming Pool, if he’s reading: please keep your powdered bollocks out of my close proximity in the future.  Much obliged.

Because there haven’t been enough lists lately: My top 10 films of 2010

10. Lebanon

This one never really got a look-in outside the arthouse world, partly because it’s mostly in Hebrew, and partly because – like Buried – it spends its entire screentime trapped inside an enclosed space, in this case, a tank. The word ‘claustrophobic’ doesn’t do it justice.

9. Another Year

Nestled amongst the whizz-bang releases of Hollywood was the latest from Brit legend Mike Leigh, doing what he really does do best – make an honest film about ordinary people in which not a great deal of drama or conflict takes place, but you leave the cinema feeling like you have seem something true and real.

8. A Prophet

A taut French thriller in the greatest tradition, A Prophet is terrifically well put-together drama, portraying prison thugs with confidence, ease, and often excruciating detail.  A gripping and convincing portrait of a complex criminal underworld.

7. Four Lions

Chris Morris is simultaneously loved by fans of British comedy and reviled by the tabloids, who once heralded him “Britain’s most hated man”.  Never one to shirk controversy, his first film is a comedy about suicide bombing, which balances masterfully between sweet, charming humour and brutal, disturbing satire.

6. Kick-Ass

A flop which should have been a hit, Kick-Ass was never going to win the love of the mainstream with a thirteen-year-old girl violently murdering criminals she calls “cunts”.  But this detail overshadows what is easily the best non-Canadian comicbook movie of the year.  The sequel will be a treat.

5. Exit Through The Gift Shop

Banksy’s debut film never got a wide release, but it’s worth a look. It manages to be a fascinating mini-history of street art, and a devastating portrait of a bizarre, eccentric Frenchman who fancies himself as the next Andy Warhol.  Just don’t ask if it’s fake or not.

5. Toy Story 3

The world waits for when Pixar will make a bad film, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Toy Story 3 is the eleventh critical and commercial success in a row (out of eleven), and this was their biggest one yet, with over a billion at the box office.  It’s also one of their best, and a fitting end to an extraordinary trilogy.

4. The Social Network

A one-two punch success in David Fincher’s directing and Aaron Sorkin’s writing, this was a perfect formula, and it delivered.  Even though it documented recent, well known history, it still managed to be surprising, fascinating and gripping.

3. Buried

Never quite achieving the mainstream success it could have had, perhaps because the studio didn’t know how the hell to market it – a guy is stuck in a box for an hour and a half? And that’s thrilling, is it?  – but Buried managed to be more thrilling than most ‘thrillers’ released this year, thanks to its perfect combo of a great script, a great director, and a great leading man in the form of Ryan Reynolds, who gives the performance of his life.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

When the teaser trailer for Edgar Wright’s third film hit the interwebs, a black hole of hype threatened to envelop the comic adaptation.  And, like Kick-Ass before it, the hype did not translate into a box-office success.  This is unfortunate and hopefully will not preclude the cult status this film deserves, for this is a dazzling, inventive, barmy wild ride of a movie, a lesson in caffeine-fuelled pace and energy, and an impressive showcase for Wright’s directorial box of tricks. Like most films on this list, best seen on a big screen, too.

1. Inception

It hardly need to be explained to you why Christopher Nolan’s epic, intelligent blockbuster has made it to the top of this list.  You need only look at the myriad of other top 10 lists who have prominently featured it to get a sense of the extraordinary impact it has left on cinema in 2010.  In fact, you needn’t look any further than this very website, which has championed the film from the start, and quite accurately named it Nolan’s “magnum opus” in our review.  So there is no need to explain why Inception is the film of 2010 – either you know this for yourself, or you’ve yet to see it.

A version of this article originally appeared on

%d bloggers like this: