The committee meeting of the Association of Scottish Nudists had been called by the Chairman and Secretary in order to address what the Secretary described as “one of the greatest crises in the Association’s history”. The Chairman thought this was something of an exaggeration, particularly in the light of the recent challenge to the committee’s authority co-ordinated – fermented, the Chairman said – by the Glasgow membership, but he agreed with the Secretary that these would need to be addressed just as soon as the committee members could meet.
So it was that on a Wednesday evening all six members of the committee gathered in the Association’s headquarters in Moray Place, that fine example of classical Georgian architecture perched on the cliffs above the Water of Leith. The Association was fortunate in owning such handsome premises, particularly since the elegant double flat it occupied was on the side of Moray Place that overlooked Lord Moray’s Pleasure Gardens and, in the distance, across the cold blue waters of the Firth of Forth, the hills of Fife. It was a prospect to quicken the aesthetic pulse, especially in summer, when the canopies of the trees below were dark green and the sky above them was of that particular blue associated with clear, northern light.
For the committee, though, there was little time to admire the view or engage in small talk; everybody present knew of the reason for the calling of the meeting and understood what was at stake. So rather than engage in chat over the tea and biscuits served by the Social Secretary, the committee members turned immediately to the sole item of the agenda: the World Naturist Federation’s conference.
The Chairman set the scene. “As you know,” he said, “we put in a bid over eighteen months ago to hold the World Federation’s annual conference here in Edinburgh. The competition for that event is always considerable. We heard on good authority that there were bids from three other places – from Cairo, from Reykjavik, and from Stuttgart.”
“And these were serious bids,” interjected the Secretary.
“Yes,” said the Chairman. “The three bidders all put a lot of effort into their pitches. However, two of them were at a significant disadvantage: Cairo was too hot, Reykjavik was too cold, and Stuttgart …”
“Would have been just right,” said one of the members. “Rather like the porridge in the story of Goldilocks and the three bares (sic).”
The Chairman frowned; what was this about bears? “No, Stuttgart would have been too expensive, as it happened. And so Edinburgh was preferred.”
“I must admit I was a bit surprised,” said the Chairman. “The Association has a history of going for sunny places, although Cairo would have been far too sunny, I’m afraid. A large number of our members were really worried about sunburn – and quite rightly so, in my view.”
“And arrests,” said one of the members. “They stipulated that delegates would have to be completely covered – or face arrest. Frankly, I can’t see the point of a naturist convention if you’re going to arrest people who aren’t entirely clothed.”
“I must admit I had my doubts,” said the Chairman. “But it all remained hypothetical, anyway. Their application was not favoured by the Federation – whereas we were.”
“In spite of our weather?”
The Chairman nodded. “They asked for Scottish sunshine statistics and I was fortunately able to send them the figures from the island of Coll, which, as you know, gets more sun than anywhere else in Scotland. I felt quite justified in this in that they didn’t ask me for Edinburgh figures, they just said Scottish figures. So I gave them Coll’s.”
“Well, it paid off,” said the Secretary. “But then …” He gave the Chairman a sad look.
“And then,” said the Chairman, “Things started to get difficult. As you know, we had approached the Dynamic Earth people to hold the plenary sessions there, and they were perfectly agreeable to that. They said that they thought that it was highly appropriate to hold a naturist conference in a centre devoted to the natural sciences. I should have put two and two together, but, I’m sorry, I didn’t.”
One of the members groaned. “They misread,” she said. “They thought we were talking about naturalists?”
“I’m afraid so,” said the Chairman. “It’s a common mistake. And when they discovered it, they said they would have to withdraw their agreement. They said that they couldn’t take us as they had too many windows and members of the public who use their steps to sit and eat their lunch would be unprepared for what they might see.”
“But what about curtains?” asked one of the members.
“They have none,” said the Chairman. “They’re all glass.”
Another member had a suggestion to make. “What about the International Conference Centre?”
“We approached them,” said the Chairman. “They were very helpful – they always are. But then they said that during the summer their air-conditioning was set to a particular level and could not be changed. It would have been too cold for us – or so they said.”
“Nobody wants us,” complained one of the members. “These days you can’t discriminate against people on all sorts of grounds, but then, when it comes to us, oh yes, you can discriminate like mad.”
“I can understand how you feel,” said the Chairman. “It’s a matter of human rights and we need to be more assertive. But that’s a broader question – for the moment we are more concerned with our immediate problems – one of which is that even if we get a new venue for the plenary sessions, our major social event has run into trouble.”
“You mean our Scottish country dancing event?” asked one of the members.
“Yes,” said the Chairman. “That was going to be our principal entertainment – our showpiece, so to speak. We had booked the Ross Pavilion for an evening of Scottish Country Dancing. We were going to invite all the foreign delegates to join in. It was all set up.”
“And?” asked a member.
“We had made arrangements for screens. We had paid a deposit on screens that would be deployed all the way round the Ross Pavilion and its seating so that people in Princes Street Gardens couldn’t complain. Nobody would have seen us – or so we thought.”
The meeting steeled itself for the worst. It had been an evening of uniformly bad news, and nothing would have surprised the members by this stage.
“The Edinburgh civic authorities had a complaint from the people up in Ramsay Garden. In fact, it was a petition that a lot of them signed. They said that they looked down directly on to the Ross Pavilion and they would see our dancing. They said they would be shocked, and they were entitled not to shocked. And do you know what? The City Council agreed.”
“We’re sunk,” said one of the members.
“What can we do?” asked another.
“Nothing,” said the Chairman.
“People have got it in for us,” said the Secretary. “Sometimes, you know, I feel defeated – utterly defeated.”