Let me take you back to when I was just 9 years old. My best friend Colin and I had the whole summer holiday from junior school in front of us, and neither family was going away, so we spent the whole six weeks together. We both were ‘only children’ and this helped to ‘match us up’ I think. Also, we both enjoyed cycling and swimming, and both sets of parents knew we could be trusted to look after ourselves. The weather that summer was fantastic, and we quickly headed off on our bikes for days out.
Our favourite route out of Oxford was along the canal towpath to the north, which also ran parallel to the railway line to Banbury. The River Cherwell ran close too, and we found ourselves a special secluded spot where we could swim in its mainly clean water, beyond the reach of its punts and tourists, watch trains and boats, and just ‘chill’. The first day, we lay in the grass letting our ‘swimmers’ dry on us, enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin. Both of us tanned well without burning, and we made a pact to try to get the best tans in the whole school. The rest of that first day, we spent it planning to spend the entire holiday there and make it ‘our’ place. Which, pretty much, it was. Sometimes other boys from school joined us for a while, but none seemed to have the ‘glue’ that pulled Colin and me back to the place day after day.
With our sun tans in mind (no-one was worrying us about cancer, and we were clearly topping our vitamin D very successfully), we took to cycling shirtless and even barefoot. On about the fourth day, Colin pulled of his shorts and pants and then unrolled his towel to discover – no swim trunks. ‘Oh heck,’ he grumbled, and was reaching for his underwear again.
‘Why bother?’ I asked. ‘I will if you will!’ And so we enjoyed our first nude swim, entirely unobserved, and indeed several hours of nude sunbathing, play-wrestling and picnicking in our little private glade, surrounded by almost impenetrable undergrowth (we thought).
There was never anything sexual between us: Colin is as ‘straight’ as they come, and right now he is married (to a gymnast, surprise) with two small children. But neither of us had inhibitions and I can recall getting each other’s feet pushed on our faces and, once, Colin’s bare butt sitting on my face whilst he tried unsuccessfully to tie up my feet and legs in some kind of knot. Really good friends at 9yo just do stuff like that.
We were only ‘busted’ twice. The first time we were dozing after our lunch, fortunately face down, when I heard a woman’s voice, very close to me, say ‘Now don’t go too close to those boys…’ I thought, ‘If I don’t look up she’ll never know who I am’. So both of us willed the ground to swallow us up as the woman, with two small children in tow, wandered on down the river.
The second time, we were just towelling ourselves off when four boys aged around 13-14 crashed through the undergrowth. One, a ‘leader’ type, was also shirtless. ‘Ugh, bloody kids here!’ He looked at our folded shorts and underwear, and one of his buddies moved to punt them into the water whilst his two mates grabbed us from behind. ‘No, wait. Let’s make ‘em look after our stuff…’ said leader-boy.
They also undressed, glowering at us. The three wore Speedos, leader boy did not. They had a pissing game – see who can reach the furthest. Leader boy got piss on his legs and feet. ‘Right, you…’ He pushed me over and placed his pissy foot on my chest before wiping it across my face. ‘You’re on watch. Any trouble, anything missing…’ He didn’t need to say any more.
With all four in the water, Colin and I assessed the situation. I went to the water edge to wash off the piss. One of the others called ‘You coming in?’ and I thought ‘Why not?’ They pretty much kept to themselves, Colin joined me again, although we felt obliged to keep checking on their ‘stuff’. Eventually, the four of them came out, dried themselves, gathered up their clothes and left almost without a word. We never saw them again.
As the hols wore on, and our tans darkened, we made sure that we did most of our sunbathing naked to leave no tell-tale lines. Once or twice, clouds and light rain came, and I discovered the great feeling of warm rain on bare skin. We even took to cycling shirtless in the rain, to the horror of some onlookers in the city. But we also needed another diversion, and that came when Colin saw some programme covering gymnastics on the television, got a book out of the library, and brought it to our little den the next day…