It was the question I dreaded every Monday morning, as all the other kids in my class recounted the highs and lows of their spectacularly conventional family lives.
‘So Julian, what did you do with your family this weekend?’
Nearly 40 years later I can still recall that prickly heat rising in my chest, as I embarked on yet another fictitious account of the previous 48 hours’ misadventures.
‘Oh, not much,’ I’d mumble, as I racked my brain for the most inconspicuously mundane answer possible.
‘Just shopping in town on Saturday and then we went to my grandparents for Sunday lunch,’ I offered flatly, hoping my anodyne anecdote would spark no further investigation.
As stories of trips to the park, cinema excursions and multi-generational get-togethers were recounted by my peers, I half listened and half replayed the actual events of the previous two days, which most definitely didn’t involve weekly shops or Yorkshire puddings with pensioners.
We’d usually roll up at around noon on Saturday, tent in the trailer of our Ford Granada, unpack our kit, erect the tent, then all take our clothes off
Since the age of about five or six the vast majority of my weekends – in the summer at least – were spent in the secluded grounds of a wooded holiday park called, ‘Speilplatz,’ (German for ‘playground’) four hundred yards north of the M25 near St Albans in suburban Hertfordshire, just outside London.
If it wasn’t raining we’d usually roll up at around noon on Saturday, tent in the trailer of our Ford Granada, unpack our kit, erect the tent, then all take our clothes off.
Speilplatz was West Herts’ premiere nudist resort, and as such clothes, except for the occasional uniformed postman, who I noticed always used to take an age to deliver his load, were strictly forbidden.
As a five or six year old innocent I knew no different.
I’d long been aware that my parents were partial to wandering round the house naked and would often sunbathe in the garden in their slightly ill-fitting birthday suits so when we first started visiting Brickett Wood’s foremost naturism sanctuary, I’d happily jettison my Y-fronts and head straight for the pool to splash around with the offspring of other underwear-wary parents.
I’d excitedly play badminton as my pre-pubescent genitals dangled beneath my pert unsullied backside as the unregulated grown-ups – no sex offender checks in Jimmy Saville’s heyday – soaked up the Seventies sun and the flesh – adult or otherwise – on display.
“We just loved being at one with nature and feeling the air on our skin,” was just one of the delusional, bullshit explanations I received decades later when I wondered why my parents had allowed us to be exposed to such an environment.
But if it was bad for me it was even worse for my sister, two years my senior
“You loved it,” they’d argue. “You never complained,” they’d add.
As I approached puberty the embarrassment grew, as did my parents’ apparent ignorance of their children’s awkwardness every time we approached the foreboding black metal gates of this ostensibly bucolic hideaway.
But if it was bad for me it was even worse for my sister, two years my senior.
I’ll never forget the Saturday morning when we arrived and – clearly ultra self-conscious about the changing nature of her uncomfortably adolescent body – she refused to get out of the car and adhere to the kit-off rule.
Surely, suddenly aware of the massive embarrassment and understandable uneasiness their daughter was suffering, my parents would pack up the car, head for the exit and say soothingly, ‘It’s OK darling, if you don’t want to come anymore you don’t have to.”
Except that they didn’t.
They got out, unpacked the car, erected the tent, paraded their genitalia and ignored our feelings yet again as they peacocked around in this slightly tacky, low-rent suburban campsite masquerading as some kind of utopian lifestyle retreat. My sister wisely stayed in the car.
‘Please, please, please don’t tell this class of 14-year-old boys I like to get my kit off at weekends’
The nadir of my family nudism years came later when I experienced a terrifying sight that still haunts me today; my ageing O-level history teacher standing at the opposite end of the swimming pool in all her naked, doughy glory.
I still don’t know for sure if she clocked me, slack jawed, watching her prepare to belly-flop her misshapen mass into the deep end but my grades certainly took an unexpected spike after that moment and I never did work out if her subsequent classroom smiles meant she found my juvenile humour amusing or if she was facially expressing, ‘please, please, please don’t tell these 14-year-old boys I like to get my kit off at weekends.’
She needn’t have worried. I’d rather have admitted I was a member of the Young Conservatives than expose myself as a reluctant exhibitionist.
There were plenty of other moments my sister and I would rather forget, including the summer my sister foolishly invited a friend on holiday to Spain without considering the logistics of temporarily co-habiting with a couple of pot-bellied naturists in small Andalucian apartment.
Age is clearly no barrier to his desire to wander down to breakfast with his dressing gown open wider than a nosey neighbour’s curtains
The image of my father offering my sister’s best friend a barbecued banger as his own chipolata swung south of his apron is still imprinted on my psyche.
University for my sister and me, and divorce for our parents, finally put an end to the embarrassment.
But it still rears its ugly, fleshy head from time to time.
When we visit my father, age is clearly no barrier to his desire to wander down to breakfast with his dressing gown open wider than a nosey neighbour’s curtains.
And he still has that slightly queasy habit of displaying semi-pornographic photographs of his wife (firstly my mum, now his second wife) to anyone trapped in his company.
But fortunately for my sister and me – and our partners and children – we can now just get back in our cars, fully clothed, and leave him to it.
All names have been changed.