“I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky.”
And just think: back in 1902,
when John Masefield wrote those
words, all he needed was a tall ship
and a star to steer her by when he
hit the beach.
He was lucky!
Not for him the shoulder-dislocating giant tote stuffed with
poo bags, tennis balls and chucker,
a frisbee, chopped liver (literally),
and The Skunk Of Last Resort, a
squeaky toy only to be used in the
most dire emergency, to retrieve
the retriever with zero recall.
With apologies to the former
poet laureate, I have been spending
a lot of time down the “gull’s way”
of late, walking the dog.
He loves it, because there are
always marvellous, magical things
just waiting to be discovered. Such
as, whelk egg cases: spongy, white,
round, light as a feather—nature’s
Nerf balls. Or cuttlefish (they used
to clip them onto the sides of bud-gerigars’s cages) washed up from
the deep and delectably crunchy, if
you have really big teeth, Grandma. Or foam, whipped by the wild
waves, and flying up the beach like
DI Y bubble stuff.
Unlike Oliver, who fell in love
at first sight, it has taken me 20
years to appreciate the peculiar
beauty of the British seashore.
A friend, who is Brighton born
and bred and swims every summer, no matter how appalling the
weather, accused me, teasingly, of
being a snob when I refused to go
in, even during the 2003 heatwave
when it was hot enough to fry a
full English breakfast, including
black pudding, on the sidewalk.
Initially, I cited health concerns.
The Hepatitis B card trumps
Then, once the water quality
improved, I used the temperature
(which a walrus would consider
brisk) as an excuse.
But the truth is, I just didn’t
fancy it. After Bermuda’s soft pink
beaches, the shore here, with its
miles and piles of pebbles, looked
as alien as Tatooine. Only with
The surf—the colour of weak
tea—was foreign, too. Even the
noise it made was weird—like the
roar I once heard when wandering
up the King’s Road and Fernando
Torres scored (finally!) for Chelsea
at Stamford Bridge, a mile away.
Occasionally, in winter, it was
nice to shuffle along the esplanade
and admire the mother-of-pearl
sunsets. From a distance. But venture down to the waterline? Noooo.
Now, though, thanks to Oliver’s
pleading eyes and the arrival in
town of a madman who has been
planting poisoned sausages in the
parks, I’m there all the time.
I’m not swimming—I’m not
certifiable! But suddenly I realise
that perhaps my friend was right. I
have been a snob.
Oliver is right, too: you
never know what you will find.
Sometimes, the tide has pressed
pebbles the size of potatoes into
dunes so enormous you can’t even
see the sea till you’ve scaled the
last peak. They are weirdly comfy
these stones, believe it or not; if
you plunk yourself down on them,
they shape themselves round you,
so it feels like you’re in the world’s
biggest beanbag chair.
Occasionally, the beach is
completely flat, as though planed
by a giant hand; and there is
sand—OK, brown, but sand
nevertheless—in a great swathe at
the water’s edge.
One evening, I arrived to
discover that the sea was missing.
Gone. The spring tide, aided and
abetted by the eclipse, had whisked
it away, leaving a whole new country—Atlantis under the Pier—
exposed and ripe for exploration.
People had come from miles
around to marvel, and stroll along
the silvery sandbar at sunset.
A few were digging for lug-
worms, enormous things that live
deep below the sand (another
thing to worry about). Apart from
the fact that they were using flash-
lights and not gas lamps, it was a
scene Dickens would have found
By the time you read this, Oliver
and I will have been banned from
the beach. Just as in Bermuda, dogs
are not allowed during high season.
And already, I am worried.
Like a seaside Lorax, without the
luxurious mustachios. I speak for
Somebody has to, clearly,
because on a warm afternoon last
week, with the Atlantic as calm as
a millpond, I took Oliver down for
his usual constitutional and found
a father and his two small sons
standing in the shallows skipping
stones, while round their ankles
bobbed a load of rubbish. Their
Further down, near the groyne
(don’t snigger—it’s a stone wall designed to stop the beach washing
away) was a trail of broken glass
from a smashed beer bottle.
Atop another groyne (stop
it) two Nordic gods rested next
to their paddleboards—blond
hair in ponytails; wet suits rolled
down to their waists; smoking like
On the next stretch of beach,
someone had dragged two old
mattresses down to the shore. And
It was a profoundly depressing
scene. Oliver was bummed because
I refused to let him walk back the
way we’d come. I was sad because
I couldn’t understand how people
could be so stupid.
It made me appreciate home,
where people—most of them,
anyway—recognise that the beach
is a thing of beauty, but only a joy
forever if we treat it with respect.
That’s Life! A Letter from London | wri TTen By WInIFRED BLACkMoRE