I’ve been taking some time off from work for the last few days. There were lots of plans in place most of which had to be postponed because I wasn’t feeling that great, I was particularly devastated to have to pass on my ticket for the diving at the Aquatic Centre, but the friend who went in my stead had a really good time.
But I did get one, unexpected, trip to the seaside, as I ended up going on a short road trip, driving a friend to Hastings yesterday afternoon. It was a lovely day and, as she wasn’t in a hurry, we meandered our way down – also known as going via the scenic route – talking the whole way, debating such world shattering issues as why road signs omit the ‘Royal’ from Royal Tunbridge Wells?
We drove through beautifully neat villages, their approaches heralded by hedgerows lined with convex mirrors and illuminated speed warnings. Every so often we’d pass signposts for farm shops offering local cheeses and produce, and the occasional ‘hatching duck eggs’ or ‘puppies’, for sale. But, everywhere seemed empty, as if only those driving through existed.
One of the things I really love about driving to the coast is sense of joy I feel when I know I’m close by the sea. I don’t know if its the change in the light, the ozone in the air, but I always know when the sea is around the next turn in the road. I’ve always assumed that this a hangover from the excited anticipation of sandcastles to build and rock pools to explore from childhood holidays and day trips to the coast and that this a something shared by those of us not lucky enough to grow up by the sea. Apparently not. As the azure sea came into view, sparkling in the sunlight, I yipped in excitement but my friend, born and bred in Balham, exclaimed ‘For God’s sake grow up, it only looks nice because the sun’s shining, its bloody bleak when it rains’ and slumped into her seat.
She’s right of course. As a child we used to go to Hayling Island a lot – sometimes we’d stay for the weekend, but we also lived close enough to be able to make the occasional day trip. I’m told its lovely, I wouldn’t know, as Hayling Island didn’t play nicely with my family. It would start off really well, we’d leave on a beautiful summer’s day – blazing sun, blue sky and a gentle breeze – but by the time we’d arrived the sun would’ve sulked away to be replaced by a gun metal grey sky, a gale force wind would be blowing in from the Solent and the rain would be staccatoing on the car roof. My only memories of Hayling Island all involve me singing ‘rain rain go away, come again another day’, while gazing longingly at the beach through a steamed-up window, trying to work out where the grey water ended and the grey sky began. Eventually even my determined Dad gave up on Hayling Island as a destination, and we tried other resorts with more luck, so I got to play on and swim from most of the other beaches on the south coast between Southsea and Weymouth.
My friend had cheered up by the time we got to her parents’ house and decided to stay overnight. Her lovely mother plied me with tea and cake before the long, potentially lonely trek back to London, but really I was delighted as this meant that, rather than getting caught in the rush hour traffic, I could go to the beach. I headed to the sea front hoping to find somewhere to park, but sadly the traffic was too heavy and the parking too difficult so, after thirty minutes of moving slowly past seaside B&Bs each with the obligatory pastel paintwork and yucca, I headed inland driving through the high-hedged country roads and eventually arrived at Pevensey Bay around 5.30pm. This was the perfect time, as, with only the hardy families still in residence, I was able to park, turn off my phone and find a suitably empty patch of shingle on which to sit.
The beach at this time is lovely, families walked their dogs, runners jogged across the shingle and little brothers dared older sisters to go for a swim and skipped away before their sisters could exact their revenge. I paddled at the water’s edge and then sat and stared out to sea for a couple of hours without being too disturbed.
If heaven exists, it could just this.