Sunday February 19
Today I feel like a ghost. Slipping through the places where we used to sit and dream. The future seemed so far away then. Nothing much mattered for those two weeks on the Island. It feels like everything matters now.
The beach is different. I already knew it was because I’ve seen it since we came here together. But I’ve never been so out of season. Its emptiness surprised me I suppose. There were people walking past, but none of them stopped to play cricket or build sandcastles. It doesn’t have to be hot for that.
We were here whatever the weather. Mum and Dad loved the beach, hated packed day-trip places and didn’t have much money. So every day after breakfast they’d gather everyone together and we’d make the descent down the steep hill on Hope Road to our beach huts. Believe it or not, this was easier when we were babies. As I grew up and started needing a full face of make up before I could leave my room, their patience was tested and tempers were frayed. So I suppose things did matter then. I have just chosen to forget.
True to form, we always had the same beach huts too – numbers 20 and 21 were ours. On the first day, we’d pack them full with crockery, water carriers, brollies, windbreaks, lilos, buckets and spades, towels, a stove and deckchairs. We stocked up in case a storm blew in or it was so hot we frazzled. We were ready for anything.
I loved the beach huts. They were like our mini houses for the fortnight – and wow, were people house proud?! I often heard the adults complaining about the amount of sand building up on the wooden floors and we were made to clean our feet before entering. They were beach huts.
Me and my grandad wrote a poem together in our beach hut once. I entered it into a competition and won a book about a Christian monkey (the competition was run by a religious group on the beach. I loved the songs and games). I remember carrying that book back to where everyone sat, brimming with pride, passing it around but keeping a close eye on it at all times.
I also started a little charity enterprise one year and it became a tradition. For one or two days in the first week, I would collect pebbles from the sea edge and sit painting them with felt tips. Just me at first. Then the other kids joined in until there was a little production line. In the second week, we’d lay out a towel, display our painted stones and passers-by would stop and give us 10p for them. Sometimes they’d give us money but not take a stone. We could never understand that. At the end of the day, Grandad and Grandma arranged for a representative from lifeboat charity RNLI to come and collect the money – usually about four pounds. He always shook my hand and gave me a little receipt. I saved those receipts for years.
There were about six families that went down the beach as well as lots of older couples. All in all there was probably about 30 of us. We played loads of games, all went in the sea together, one year we even had a beach Olympics organised by our friend’s dad. We tired ourselves out on that sand. We were never bored. We wandered around the rock pools for ages, read, swam, painted, pored over the shelves of the beach shop choosing what we’d spend our pound on at the end of the week (a cuddly ET was my personal favourite purchase).
It was all the generations together too, on the beach. We all played boules together, ate watermelon on the sand, meandered off for a game of crazy golf. It was all of us. One big party. For two weeks.
I’m in the pub now and there’s a family next to me. The children are shouting, kicking the seats and proclaiming that they don’t want food. Their mum is struggling to keep them under control and looks stressed. The beach is less than 10 minutes away. The sun is out. The kids are full of energy and the meal they’re about to play with will cost their mum about £40. I want to ask them if they’ll come and run in the sand with me. But I probably won’t. And actually they’d probably tell me that they’re exactly where they want to be and I should mind my own business. So I will.
Shame though. The sea is calling us.
Find out more about my Making Tracks project – Finding Nana