The beach is one of my favourite places to be – it’s the sounds of a breaking wave followed by pebbles tumbling back under the next one, or the distant roar of bigger surf carrying over a long flat sandy beach; it’s the sun on my face and the soft, warm sand between my toes; it’s the distant intensity of the horizon that stretches each way into my peripheral vision; it’s the way the sounds of children playing and people talking seem close, yet distant at the same time, but somehow they don’t intrude as the sun shines red through my closed eyelids.
Whilst reflecting on what makes the beach such a special place for me, the thought occurred that the best of the beach is not what it is, but what it isn’t … Picture this :
The sand is criss-crossed by ropes that form an orderly grid. Some of the plots have ‘Reserved’ signs in them – these are for the season ticket holders. Visitors are queuing back into the dunes waiting for the next ‘day-plot’ to become available, each one clutching a credit card ready to pay (family discounts are available). An official patrolsthe sand checking that all the surfboards have current licences. Another is at the shore with a bull-horn calling in all bathers with a yellow wrist band – the half hour they paid for is up. Running, diving and ball games are strictly prohibited. Teams of migrant workers meander amongst the beach-plots attempting to wash the car that is parked within each one, hoping that the family sat by its side will feel pressured into paying. There is a compound reserved for sand castles. It’s safely sited in the dunes, away from the sea, where there is planning permission to build. For child safety reasons no parents are allowed within but the facility is staffed by qualified children’s workers. There is healthy charge for each two hour session which starts with a lecture on health and safety and the importance of engineering solid foundations. Billboards obscure views cross the bay as the beach sponsors take opportunity to promote their brand. But don’t worry – for the price of a drink or a meal you can watch live scenes of the bay on the big screens in the beach bar (average 45 minutes wait for a table – you are best to book in advance.) Rock-pooling is no longer allowed but various sea creatures mounted in Perspex are on sale in the gift shop as you leave.
Yes, what I love about the beach is that it’s free, without charge and only passingly subject to rules and regulations. Sometimes there are even lifeguards simply there to guard lives seemingly for the love of it.
But the reason that I love the beach the most is because it is full of happy childhood memories. Long before it all went wrong, before my parents’ divorce, I was the only-child who got all of mum’s attention and all of dad’s too, on our family beach holidays. I was taught how to rock-pool, skim stones, play cricket, throw a Frisbee, fly a kite, build sandcastles, swim and surf at the beach. As a parent I have taught my kids the same and it’s fun to see the younger beach urchins that gather to them as they teach the safe way to pick up a crab or how to catch a wave. Later, some of the short stories I went on to write have featured sea creatures, namely ‘The Crab‘ and ‘The Mackerel‘.
Today I still have the same plywood belly-board that I ‘customised’ as a 10 year old. There is a unique feeling I get when I have just surfed in and I am running back out through the waves to catch the next ride. It could be any time in the last forty years. Nothing has changed. I love that.
Lastly, whilst drafting the above, I remembered that I once wrote a song filled with beach imagery as I envisioned how I wanted to live life. You can listen to it here in ‘The Art of Growing Old’.