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Ode to Suntanning

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Were you ever incredibly good at something - something that is no longer highly regarded? Even downright frowned on? For me it was sunbathing. So this weekend my friends, when the sun came out, it was bittersweet.

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Me this weekend... on the beach in my mind. Photoshop: The High Schooler

I came from the tiny surf town of Ohope Beach in the Bay of Plenty, NZ. "The most sunshine hours in New Zealand" was our town's mantra and we sold cans of sunshine to tourists. I opened one once; it was empty and the inside was painted gold. Genius. I should have been the town mascot; no one took better advantage of those sun hours than me. No. One.

The commitment I applied to tanning was incomparable - I did the slow cook from first light to dusk slathered with Johnson's Baby Oil (face and hair included.)

Other sunbathers dropped off by lunch time or early afternoon. Some toddled inside to watch TV, others to do their homework, others to play sports, the rest to simply pursue their lives out of the sun. Amateurs. I would remain at my station, my possie (position) only altering slightly as the sun moved in the sky.

Reading was out - the sun had to reach each side of your nose and cheeks. Chatting was possible with minimum expression. You see, for us deep tanners, sunbathing was an activity in itself.

And it was the most satisfying activity in the world; the more time I put in, the more accolades I received. "Crickey!" even passers-by would remark, "your legs are so nice and brown".

At High School we had a uniform where nothing except your calves showed, so I learned early on to concentrate on my legs. Other less serious sunbathers would fall for the obvious mistake of browning only their back. Weak, people! Take the easy way out, people! Yes...clearly they had lapsed into reading whilst sunbathing. And a costly error - the back was seldom seen during an ordinary day at our school.

"Heck!" random people would say: "Look how even you tan is!" My legs were the brownest but generally I could pride myself on a sweeping unanimous golden brown.

Fast forward to the Nineties and Naughties. How could I have known real tans would come to be seen as cancer-ridden masks and deep sunbathers as the epitome of ugliness? My long-term laying out would produce sun spots and untold wrinkles. My knowledge of exact positioning in the sun would become as redundant as mixed tapes.

How, how, how could I have got it so wrong? Mind you, I also always thought Captain and Tennille were bloody brilliant and would forever feature in the Top Ten...