If you ever find yourself living beside a naturist it’s advisable not to tell anyone. Shortly after I was married I came to Belfast to work for the BBC. We lived in an attic flat on a busy road between Ballyhackamore and Stormont.
There was little to see from the front window other than traffic and nursing homes, however the back window looked onto an enclosed communal garden with an apple tree and a shared clothesline. It was tranquil and private — but not as private as the neighbour on the ground floor might have liked.
She was in her 50s and very chatty. Having spent much of her life in south east Asia she had returned to Belfast to paint. She was a very good artist and would often sit in the garden sipping wine and smoking. Most of the time she didn’t wear any clothes.
Each evening I’d pull up in the car and she’d be there offering a drink and another story of foreign adventure. I tried not to look while I was chatting to her. She scolded me for that. She insisted I look at her as I’d look at anyone else who was sitting having a smoke.
I tried, but I was a country boy, and in Burren most people I knew were fully clothed when they were on the Woodbines. It wasn’t easy. I told some friends about her and they all made excuses to call round but they wouldn’t go into the garden. They peeped from the top window. As I say, country boys!
I spoke about this wonderful neighbour during the week on U105 and I explained how she once asked me to roll out carpet over her wooden floor. I needed help so I asked my young brother-in-law, who was a university student at the time, to lend a hand.
We went down to the flat. She was washing the dishes naked. He almost fainted.
But it is amazing how quickly you can adapt to your environment. The Axminster was fitted and we all sat down for tea and scones. She insisted on giving us some money and by the time she was rummaging in her handbag we had completely forgotten she was starkers. After I told the story on the radio I received an email. It was from a listener called Samantha. She explained how my old fashioned attitude needs to be challenged. She pointed out how spending time nude in public is now being accepted as normal and there are many examples on TV of nudity being seen as a way to take pride in who we are.
Naked Attraction on Channel 4 and E4’s Naked, Alone And Trying To Get Home were cited as two examples of groundbreaking television.
Samantha was hoping she might pitch an idea aimed at a more local audience.
According to her, Ulster Lives Naked would be a chat show featuring people from here who are at ease with clothes being optional.
As I’m not a commissioning editor there was no point in pursuing the idea, but if it does appear on UTV or BBCNI I might have missed my chance to talk again about both the warm fronts and the cold fronts.
I’m confident people from here aren’t ready for public nudity. I’m not sure if we’ve ever had a Northern Ireland contestant on Naked Attraction. It wouldn’t be easy coming back into the office if you’d been rejected. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be easy returning to the office even if you’d won.
As well as Samantha contacting the radio programme, Suzanne from Hamburg, who has lived here for the last 20 years, also called the show. She explained how she used a steam room in a posh Co Down spa and was shocked to see people wearing swimwear. She described how embarrassed she was when she realised she was the only naked person there.
“What sort of people are you?” she said.
“Shy,” was my reply.
Frank presents U105 Phone In Monday-Friday from 9am-noon