I like the seaside. Emptiness, wind, sea. Freshness. Beginnings, renewal, power.
Shells in my pocket. The little bundles of sand my feet bring home.
I love time on the beach, any beach. I’m not fussy.
Well, actually, I’m really fussy. I’ve just learned that there are many sorts of good beach and to enjoy all of them. Not all are lucky enough to be the ultimate in beaches.
Yesterday, we were there. The beach which is imprinted on my brain. The beach upon which all others are judged. There is a road to it. There are no facilities- no cafes, deckchairs or even a Portaloo. I don’t want those. They have their place, but not here. Those are for beaches that are busy. This beach is never busy.
The sun was out. We had just collected Girl1 from a fun hardworking week immersed in the Irish language- school, games, social life, staying in native speaking home in the Gaeltacht.
We took a trip to the seaside. The west. In February. You’d be correct in assuming we were well wrapped up.
The caravan was intact, if a little mouldy round the edges. One nearby was not so lucky. Winter storms had taken its roof. Had that happened us, I’d be distressed about the curtains and very important decorations, Spurs Fan would be annoyed about the satellite dish, and the girls would take the opportunity to encourage us to upgrade. They’ll slum it for another while.
We hadn’t made the journey in months, so we noticed the roadworks that were finally finished, the house that got sold, the trimmed hedges and the fresh paint. We cheered for our own identifiers- the bike shop, the donut & wine shop, little heather hill. It feels like home.
Not for the first time, we crossed the island under a cloud. The only dry spot between the east coast city and the Atlantic ocean was the beach. Havoc wreaked by the winter was there also, dunes and paths washed away, debris and rubbish washed high.
The girls were still teaching me about taking photographs on my phone- panoramas, filters, video and other oddities.
Then the beach worked its magic and they ran off to be children, exploring, discovering and laughing.
Stylish people of the whole wide world, I have a confession.
Somewhere this summer, possibly in Somerset, a switch flicked in my head.
I have long been a wearer of comfortable shoes. I don’t do proper heels and have a dodgy foot, so I find a brand of comfy shoes and stick with it. That’s not to say I don’t have lots of shoes that have been experiments, or that may get worn again eventually, once, but generally I’m not a shoe person.
Even so, I have always resisted the lure of brightly coloured plastic ‘shoes’. Why would I want to look like I have clown shoes on my feet? My legs are stumpy enough, those things would only emphasise that. How can I pretend to have long, lean legs if there are big bright blobs drawing attention to where they end?
During the heat of July, Girl2 struggled with her footwear. Everything cut or rubbed her bare feet. I found an unexpected solution in the ugly plastic things. No more moans, cuts or blisters. Her feet are the same size as mine; I discovered the comfort.
A little niggle started in the back of my mind. Caravan. Beaches. Walking. Where nobody could see me.
Yes, yes I did.
Feel free to scoff. I’m in Donegal and can’t hear you.
Ireland is possibly the only place in the world that I can expose skin on a beach and not be an object of ridicule, or of sheer amazement. Normally I’m on the beach with many layers, a hat, scarf and wellies.
This weekend was different. At no point did I wear sleeves. Not even in the late evening in our little ice box oven on the hill. I was adding sunscreen instead of sweatshirts.
In the daytime, I was not the only person with translucent blue white skin braving the sea in Donegal. Without a wetsuit.
It was extraordinary. A catamaran was moored off the beach. In Fintra; not Florida.
We spent two days absorbing the sights, sounds and smells. Holding on to the heat. Capturing all the views.
As for Sam, well, we happened across Ireland’s most famous sporting trophy, the Sam Maguire Cup as we drove to the beach. Donegal are the current champions, and all of the county clubs get the trophy at some point. For a small donation, passing strangers and Englishmen get to ooh and aaah and comment on its beauty and weight.