In these days of global warming, there are many ways one can protest against car culture and the world’s dependency on oil. You could start using public transport; turn your chip fat into diesel; or failing that, take all your clothes off, decorate yourself in body paint, and cycle through Brighton on a Saturday morning. That was the route taken by around two hundred environmentally aware nudists on June 9th, who stripped down to their sunglasses as part of the fourth annual World Naked Bike Ride.
And I’m pleased to say I was there. As a spectator, not a participant, I hasten to add. The sight of me naked would be enough to make anyone go green, but sadly not in the environmental sense. I’d volunteered to cover (or possibly uncover) the event for The Kemptown Rag in what I like to call an exposé of nudity, so with my clothes firmly on, I made my way down to the official starting point at The Level.
This was the second time the event had been held in Brighton, but the first in which full nudity was permitted, a fact which became abundantly clear the moment I arrived. Everywhere you looked there was bare flesh on display, but despite the (fully clothed) police presence, there was nothing confrontational or offensive about the gathering, and everyone seemed relaxed in their nakedness. I did see one person with the horn, but fortunately it was nothing more shocking than a woman with a wind instrument. In fact the most offensive thing on view was the man protesting about pollution with a cigarette in his mouth.
So I spent an enjoyable half hour clearing a path through the private parts and meeting some of the city's cleanest and greenest residents. Some had painted catchy slogans on their backs, such as "Bikes Not Bombs" (after all, you can’t go to work on a bomb), "One Less Car", and the particularly good "It's Oil Over", while others were merely content to strip down to their helmets. Cycle helmets, that is. Interestingly, whilst I didn't see any totally nude women, you couldn't walk more than three feet in any direction without bumping into a bloke in his birthday suit. I don't know what that says about the differences between the sexes. Maybe men just care more about the environment.
I have to say, it's not easy taking photos of naked people without looking like some kind of voyeur, so as I mingled amongst the unclothed, I made sure I had a pad and pen with me, making it clear that I was a member of her majesty's gutter press, and not just there to photograph penises. Someone else had gone one stage further, wearing a fluorescent jacket with the words 'LEGAL OBSERVER' on the back. I presume that's the newspaper he was from.
Having been rallied by event organiser Duncan Blinkhorn (never was a nudist more aptly named), the cyclists did a quick circuit of The Level, before being waved off on their traffic-stopping tour of the city. As they filed past me I had a close encounter with a naked chap on a five-foot high unicycle (it's hard to ignore a man whose genitals are at eye-level), tried to comfort a crying baby who was wearing more than her parents, and met a naked pregnant lady on a rickshaw. It certainly took my mind off the oil crisis.
My plan had been to catch up with the protesters as they neared Kemp Town, towards the end of their route, but sadly I miscalculated the time it would take them to reach our neck of the woods, and having wandered aimlessly around London Road for too long, I was back here ninety minutes later wondering how everyone had been and gone so fast. That's the trouble with naked people - they're more aerodynamic than you think.