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Summer's here and, alas, so are the topless blokes

By Frances Burscough

So June is finally here, summer is just around the corner and if the predictions are to be correct the good weather will continue as it's going to be a scorcher. Happy Days!

There's just one drawback though. One phenomenon that heralds a Belfast summertime more than any other. Let's see if you can guess what it is...

And no, it's not the hypnotic buzzing hither and thither of bees in a glade, nor the sight of Panama-hatted elderly gentlemen in their pristine whites clacking bowls on a manicured green, nor the spectacle of twittering swallows scything through the sky.

Neither is it the sight of excited kids clutching colourful plastic buckets and spades and fishing nets on a bamboo cane, running bare-footed towards the beach as their parents follow with folded deckchairs and cooler bags stuffed with a picnic. It's not even the sight and sound of an ice cream van trundling down dusty streets playing an out-of-tune version of the Italian aria 'Just one Cornetto', also known as O Sole Mio, whilst children appear with their mum's last pound coin. And nor is it the evidence of a distant barbecue, a few houses down, wafting smoke signals as well as the sound and smell of sizzling sausages.

No, it's none of these.

The moment the summer sun makes its glorious appearance in an all-too-scarce azure sky, and as hedges everywhere burst into vibrant colour with the bounteous blooms of roses, they suddenly appear as if from nowhere.

Topless blokes.

'Taps aff!'

It's an annual public demonstration that only occurs in Northern Ireland and nowhere else.

Whether it is something about our wee country or just our men in general, nobody knows, but with one slightest hint of the sun fellas from Belfast temporarily take leave of their senses, cast caution to the wind - and common sense too - tear off their tops and head for the streets. It's a phenomenal alright, but a not particularly pretty one in most cases.

Bare-chested and alabaster-skinned, dressed in no more than a pair of shorts and flip-flops, with just a baseball cap or a visor for protection, they assemble to worship the sun without so much as a squirt of Ambre Solaire.

Whether it's the result of bravado or ignorance is difficult to tell, but what happens next goes against all commonly-accepted laws of animal instinct.

For instead of protecting themselves from the elements, they then show an unfathomable disregard for common sense, personal safety, social convention or aesthetics by proceeding to completely fry in the sun until their exposed patches are a deep shade of vermillion or cerise that clash conspicuously with their white underparts.

Meanwhile, their women folk have the situation firmly and sensibly in hand. Sun- savvy girls have had it drummed into them from an early age how to prepare for the heat. From fair-skinned to swarthy, every one of us knows exactly how our own complexions will respond to the solar rays and will be prepared accordingly. Personally, I'm a "high factor" girl and wouldn't knowingly go out into glaring sunshine without a sunscreen of around 20+. I learnt from past experience growing up in the Seventies that there's nothing remotely attractive or glamorous about raw, blistered shoulders or a bright red nose.

But, like mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun, ours do exactly that but take their tops off too at the same time and to hell with the consequences.

Later on they will moan, they will groan, they will be sore for days but as soon as the sun comes out again, they will start the whole process once more.

So I'd like to issue this appeal to all of you itching to shrug off your T-shirts and head out the door. Please, please, put it away boys!

Or if you really must, wear sunscreen and keep it in your own backyard!

Belfast Telegraph

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