Are we territorial creatures? Or ‘Hey, you, get offa my beach towel!’


The festive season has many meanings depending on faith, family and personal preference but one thing it does require is learning how to adapt to the swelling crowds of holidaymakers who would normally be at work,university or school. It can be the source of instant camaraderie and a jovial feeling when you start to appreciate that we are all after the same thing-a good time. Then again, the increased proximity and demand for sharing your space with strangers, can be cause for feeling the need to carve out and defend a space for yourself.


Recently, I felt this territorial need  when holidaying with my family on a beautiful beach near Perth. As the temperature climbed, the crowds descended for the classic Christmas lunch on the beach. After the grand-kids opened their presents at 5.30,we had gone down early for a swim, intending on returning for brunch. Bringing their Christmas booty, a large family moved towards us, the father insolently planted his towel at my feet so that I was forced to cede my spot to him.


The beach towel is like a flag which people use to claim their territory on the threshold between earth and sea. Its usually a bright, multicoloured fabric, some actually designed with the national flag.They can be well used by regular swimmers or brand new bearing labels as so many were on that Christmas day. We felt gazumped and decided to leave before being physically overtaken.
The saga of the beach towel, which turned into an outdoor tablecloth for picnics, continued and I found myself behaving , and being seen so, as a territorial invader by others.  I looked to grab the shady spots while the temperature climbed and people sought relief by the beach, savouring the sea breeze. Their discomfort at being so close was conveyed through the stare and refusal to smile, but that was not enough to put me off. While my family enjoyed the sea I decided to stretch out and read. Waking on their return,I found a bottom perched perilously close to my head and sat upright to face the back of a girl in a group of young overseas tourists,deeply engaged in personal conversation.
“Am I in your way at all?” I testily asked
No, not at all” She replied cheerfully
My attempts at using sarcasm to change behaviour had failed miserably.  I decided to give in and accept the reality of shared space and really was it so bad? How easily I had developed behaviours which I had initially deplored, as a surge of territoriality had manifested. This instinct to claim land for our own personal comfort and use,whether for an hour by placement of beach towel or indefinitely by national flag, has been the cause of immeasurable grief in human history. Surely its now time to develop and value new ways of accommodating the infinite varieties of life and living?

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