25 April 2011


A small small English town, barely even a village, peaceful in the early morning sunshine. I got off the ferry and drove here, in the opposite direction to all the lorries bursting to offload their produce from the continent. I notice how I think of it as Mainland now, more central to the world than the country I grew up in. Ich bin auf der Insel. Friends excuse me, when I do something 'odd', like not wearing a jacket first thing in the fresh morning when I know I will be inside all day, watching the sunshine warm up the tarmac and concrete around the office, they say, 'Oh she is from the Island,' as if my peripheral position is in itself enough to explain strangeness.

The small English town has a long shingle and sand beach, spiked with dark wooden groynes to prevent the coast from taking a Sunday stroll down to the next village, and from there, maybe even across the Channel to the old enemy, France. This morning though, there are very few people around, it is early, for England, around 7am. I would already have been in the office back home, but here, a couple of joggers, and a couple of sprightly pensioners out for a morning walk are the only people I see. The road along the beach is also mostly undisturbed by cars.

I would not have driven here, even for the beauty of the beach, if I had not been here before as a destination, and if I had not had 10 hours before my next 'appointment'. The beach huts are a couple of miles up the promenade from the faded hotel and guest houses. A couple of miles away from where my great-aunt had lived, and the house where my mother was born. There is a photograph of me here in the swimming pool car park at the age of sixteen, all bleached curls, towering over my brother who at fourteen had yet to put on his growth spurt to reach his six-foot-plus adult height. The huts back on to the swimming pool.

Even so, the town is not really familiar to me, in those days it was a good six hours drive from the parental home, longer if we had the caravan on the back, and after sixteen I begged to be left at home, for what teenage girl wants to spend time cooped up in a caravan with parents and brothers? I remembered that as a young child, we had come here and I had slept in my great-aunts house. I remembered the garden, and the path that led behind a tiny sports club, with corrugated tin fences. It took less than three minutes to get to the beach from her house. She left it though, towards the end of her life, moved to sheltered accommodation around the corner together with her husband, they were in a familiar place even if the rooms were not.

She had cool paper tissue skin, and a particular scent or perfume, I don't know which one it was, perhaps the smell of her face powder, but together it gave her a subtle beauty, a distinctiveness that seemed all her. Quiet and almost elegant, not breathtaking but peaceful, something calming. Whether it was her age or just her I don't really know. The small town has the same qualities, neat but not ostentatious, pretty but not eye-catching. Seeing it in repose, quietude.

For Muriel
more pictures here (scroll down)
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