Ginger crunch time

16:00, Oct 09 2011
Craig Cliff
Craig Cliff: A Viking complexion means summer must be taken seriously.

Craig Cliff finds being a Viking in a Kiwi summer has its share of perils.

We've already wound forward the clocks. Any day now we'll be untarping the barbecue and remembering the time it snowed on the very same deck. But the warmer weather and longer days mean a new headache for pasty white folks like me.

A dermatologist once said I had a "Viking complexion", which is hands-down the most badass way of describing my freckly skin and ginger facial hair - there's a reason I'm always clean-shaven.

But Vikings weren't made for New Zealand summers. My skin burns in seconds rather than minutes without some sort of protection.

I have a hate/tolerate relationship with sunscreen. Even the scentless stuff smells like the air from inside a beach ball. And it's either Polyfilla- thick or so thin you have to reapply it every half an hour.

Meanwhile, my melanin- rich friends are looking at me like, "Didn't you just put that stuff on?" Or worse: "Oh, sunscreen. I guess I should put some on." Oh, to be able to spend an hour on the beach without worrying about salami arms.


In talking to people about sunscreen, it seems like every group of friends has only one or two burners.

It's probably for the best. If we all hung out together there wouldn't be enough room under the shade umbrella and we'd all be looking wistfully at the idle cricket bat lying on the sand.

I know sunscreen's one of the good guys, out to stop those evil UV rays, but it's hard to hold a grudge against invisible electromagnetic radiation. Much easier to focus on the SPF-infinity slime that takes forever to apply and makes me look paler than I already am, especially when flash photography is involved.

My outdoor wedding next month presents a dilemma: wear sunscreen and look like the ghost of weddings past in photos, or sacrifice a day's sunburn and whatever lasting damage this might cause to look reasonably life-like in our wedding snaps.

The worst thing about sunscreen is its fallibility in the hands of human beings. Despite religious application and reapplication, the next day there always seems to be somewhere I missed: a red crescent on the side of my neck, or white, finger-sized stripes against a red background on the back of my legs.

I know I have to be careful. When I was 24 I had a malignant melanoma removed from my lower back.

The specialist who made the second incision to remove more skin from the offending section told me if I had put off being checked for another year, I probably would have died. Scare tactics, I rationalised at the time. I was a 24-year-old Viking!

How dare skin cancer try to cut my life short?

I've since come around to the fact that my brush with the dreaded "C" was a warning, and try my best to cover up.

So forgive me and my fellow burners if summer isn't all Frisbee and Frujus.

Spending a day in the sun can be a scary thing. This is something worth remembering, even if you can hold a tan.

Craig Cliff is a writer and a lightning-fast burner. He writes a fortnightly column.

The Dominion Post