3 British Beaches

Dawlish, Devon
A small child with a blonde plait down her back digs in the damp sand with a plastic spade. She wears a hand knitted jumper over her little bikini; she was almost blue with cold when they finally enticed her out of the sea, and her mother has insisted she keep the jumper on.

Her father towers above her, his genial bulk wobbling over the top of his navy bathing trunks. He always wears them on the beach; he only has the one pair; she is too young to think it odd.

Together, they are engrossed, building a sandcastle. First, they dig a rough moat, piling the excavated sand in a heap in the middle. When they are satisfied the scale is about right, they dig the moat deeper, until the castle is almost up to her waist. Then comes the shaping of the rough sand into a smooth-sided bailey, Norman style, steep enough to repel invaders. The moat is filled in at the front to form a drawbridge, the massive doorway picked out in fragments of shell and stone. Finally, the turrets go on. Sand pies from the smallest bucket. They fill it together then level it off, and once he has put it in place, he lets her squeeze the plastic away to leave a perfectly rounded tower.

A train emerges from the tunnel behind the beach. They stand and watch it, hand in hand. He crouches down and explains to her the wonders of Brunel’s engineering, but to her it is just a train. He knows that one day she will understand.

Barry Island, Glamorgan

They’ve been going out for almost a month; things happened more slowly, back then. Instead of going to the funfair, they decide to take his mother’s dog for a walk along the beach. It is a fat, white Jack Russell that they call the rat. It’s real name is Penny, and she wonders why she remembers that across all the intervening years.

Sweet fourteen and never been kissed. But not for much longer. They stop part way along the sweep of sand and let the dog off the lead. He wraps his arms around her and their lips meet. She shivers in glorious anticipation as Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ pounds from the dodgem cars behind them.

Not just lips, but tongues. She hadn’t expected this; too naive, too sheltered, and she doesn’t like it at all. It isn’t so much the sensation, or even the wet dribblyness, it is more the imagery of his firm pinkness invading her, and she wants to retch. But she doesn’t; she perseveres, she is meant to like this.

The kissing seems to go on forever. Her jaws feel stretched by it and his stubble scratches the soft skin around her mouth. She doesn’t know how to bring it to an end and he doesn’t seem to want to. The dog snuffles miserably around their feet.

Hengistbury Head, Dorset

Ok… Day 7, but really for the weekend. And the moment where you either buy in or decide I’m certifiable (there is no right answer!) Remember that beach from yesterday? I want you to describe it to me in detail – you can chose your medium; written words, images, tell me when we next meet – up to you.

As usual, Owen, there was no reply. And when it did come, at first I didn’t recognise it.

“I went to the coast on Saturday” you told me. “My brother and I took our bikes, persuaded my mum to come along too. We started at Hengistbury Head and cycled almost to Bournemouth, but then it got too busy so we turned back, so I went for a swim.”
“In the sea?” (It hadn’t been that warm a day)
“I had a rash vest on. But when I was just floating there, about 200 yards out, I did wonder whether it was sensible, because the rash vest was grey. I would have been practically invisible to someone on a jet ski, and there was no-one else in the water.”
“Not everyone’s as hardy as you” I grumble, and he grins.

So, Action Man, while I’m texting about thinking about beaches, you’re busy going to one. You buy in, but on your very own terms, and the thought of that makes me smile.

Later, you hug me and tell me how great it’s been to have those daily texts, how they’ve kept you going when things have been at their darkest. You do things your way, I do them mine. And somewhere in the middle, we meet as equals.

  1. oh and btw… its so funny but the first beach with the sandcastle….me and my daughter make it moorish style… hehe…i choked with laughter when ya said norman style…funny is that not???

    we make spires and domes and columns.. i even try explaining calligraphy to her but she just thinks im silly

  2. Oh dear… The Iliad and The Odessey went on for years…

    I guess sandcastles are a father and daughter thing – I can’t ever remember making one with anyone else! My father used to draw me castles too, and he made me one out of cardboard to put our toy soldiers on.

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