I love the sea. In England you’re never very far from the sea, and I can’t imagine living somewhere that I couldn’t visit the sea easily. England has such a variety of different coastlines. Dry windswept sand dunes with spiky grass, where the sand is soft and powdery. Wide flat beaches that seem to go on for miles, with hard packed sand, where if you stand still for too long your heels sink in and form pools of clear water. There are long pebbly beaches with smooth stones that shift and slide with the waves. or others with steeply piled pebble slopes streaked with seaweed. Then there are sheer cliffs sliding down to a ribbon of rough sand strewn with chalky pebbles. Some rugged coastlines have no beach at all, but only a jumbled pile of rocks, where pools of water are left by the sea to be explored by children and adults alike, searching for crabs and tiny sea creatures.
When I was very young, we moved to Folkestone on the Kent coast, and some afternoons after school I would persuade my Mum to walk down to the beach, she pushing my sister in a huge unwieldy pram. I’d play in the damp sand under the arches, or paddle in the sea, and dry my feet on my socks. Then I’d have to walk home with damp socks and sand rubbing between my toes. I remember once carrying a heavy bucket of sand all the way home, in a vain attempt to recreate the beach in my back garden!
But the sea is not always kind. There were days when the sea would rage and roar, and hurl pebbles at the beach in fury. And my Dad would come home from work and tell how he had had to dodge the showers of pebbles flung across the coast road at Hythe a few miles along the coast. And there were the nights when a thick mist would rise from the sea and the fog horn would sound repeatedly throughout the night, like the mournful bellow of an animal in pain.
I loved living so close to the sea, in all its moods. But when I was seven or eight years old we had to move. Although I only lived in Folkestone for a few short years, going back to Kent always feels like going home.