When I was about ten, my father fulfilled a personal dream by buying himself a small sailing boat, to keep moored at Portland Harbour, a few miles from where we used to live.
The idea of the boat filled me with excitement. I loved the idea of being able to go and travel somewhere on the water. The very thought filled my imagination with romantic notions. I danced around, begging to be taken along when he used to go.
It took me quite a long time to recognise that what I had in my mind’s eye, and what sailing in a dingy was actually like, were not quite as congruous as I might have hoped. I found that, actually, I was terrified of the sea; anything beyond the most polite ripple in a small harbour would have me clinging to the edge of the boat and whimpering in abject fear.
If my father were still alive today, I would feel it incumbent on myself to apologise for my insistence on going with him on those hard earned days off. I turned out to be allergic to sea water, which would quickly bring my face out in weeping sores, I whined in non-stop terror from the beginning of the jaunt to the moment when he would gratefully take me home and rid himself of me, no doubt planning strategies for sneaking off without my persistently clinging presence next time.
All these years later, my antipathy for sea water has never changed. I will, under duress, wade in it – no higher than my knees – and I will happily climb on rocks near it, but my favourite is to sit by it, reading a good book.
Seaside holidays are such a great way of spending family time. In the past, Jamie, Kevin and I have spent weeks at a time in some thoroughly inclement weather; Jamie and Kevin going rock climbing, body boarding, and, more recently, surfing, while I have cowered in horizontal rain, behind a series of well-hammered-in wind breaks, wearing a waterproof coat and reading a damp book.
This year we are camping down at Porthleven, in Cornwall, with two good friends Sarah and Phil. We go just along the coast to Poldhu, where Jamie has surf lessons, and when he comes back he behaves like a wet dog and gets sand and sea water everywhere. Sarah reads books and Phil…
Well, Phil (nearly 50) builds sand things. Tuesday a head(!), yesterday a boat, today a set of steps (yes really), tomorrow a…?
Lots of planning and discussion goes into these works of art; he limbers up first, wielding his plastic spade as he prepares physically and mentally for the coming creative outburst. And then there is a flurry of activity, as his plans become gradually less ambitious: commencing with Darth Vader, or perhaps a giraffe, or maybe a turtle, and gradually reducing to more achievable subjects, such as a cream sponge, an Eccles cake, a hole in the ground. Eventually, he sits back exhausted but happy; proud of his achievement, king of all he surveys.
And who are we to cast mirthful scorn. This small Cornish beach is a seething mass of humanity, jockeying for their little piece of British seaside. Each of us putting down beach towels, erecting barriers and marking territory, without a cross word being spoken by anyone. A more good natured, easy going bunch you’d struggle to find.
Here we are, in an age when so many families don’t even get to sit down together once a week to share a meal, but looking around on this beach, it is packed solid with families, sometimes with three generations all present, playing cricket, building sand castles, exploring rock pools, chatting and enjoying one another. There is not a computer game, an iPhone or a tablet among them.
We look on, and, at the moment, the sun shines.
Oh… And just out of interest… they sell hot chocolate in the kiosk.