The first time I said goodbye to the sea I would have been about twelve or thirteen, I can’t remember which year exactly. We had been on holiday to the same holiday camp since I was little more than a toddler and my sister still very much a baby. Think Hi-de-hi, and that will give you an idea of what holiday camps were like then. This holiday camp was in the little village of Hopton, by the sea in Norfolk, and although there was plenty to do on site, with entertainment to keep the children occupied while the parents were able to socialise with other adults and do things like play bowls, play tennis, enter the knobbly knees or the paper hat competitions, there was the flat sandy beach with the red cliffs behind and the North Sea in front, a chilly place even on a sunny day, but magic for us children. Every summer for a bout ten or twelve years we went to Hopton and it was just a part of my life and I felt such a strong bond with the sea. I swam in it fearlessly whatever the temperature, rain or sun, calm or wild we swam and sat on the beach and ate sandy sandwiches and made sandcastles.
It must have become quite boring for my parents, and also it was probably a very shabby, tatty and run down place, although we children didn’t see or know that. So one year it was the last holiday. I remember on the last morning I stood on the cliffs and looked at the sea feeling very miserable, and sort of lost. We would go to the seaside, we would go to other beaches, and in fact for a couple of years after that we went together Norfolk holiday camps, but it wasn’t Hopton, it wasn’t my red cliffs, my flat beach, my sea.
When I was older, we had moved to Weston-super-Mare, right by the sea, but it was a disappointing sea, a flat sea, a dull sea, With the second highest tidal range in the world, coming after the Bay in of Fundy in Canada, the sea went out a heck of a long way, and then slithered back in over mud flats at high tide. Except when there was an onshore wind it was as I said, dull and flat. I went away to do a degree and found friends and the next summer I went away with them, and the summer after that which was when we went to Menton in the south of France. I met the Mediterranean – how different from my North Sea. My North Sea was cold and grey and temperamental, my Mediterranean was blue and warm and more equable. We went there every summer for maybe eight years, spending all summer there, camping just up the valley and travelling around seeing different villages and places in the area, but spending most of our time in Menton, and much of that time lying on the beach. One summer was the last, and we drove along La Corniche and I said farewell, said goodbye because even if I came here again it wouldn’t be the same, not the same place, not the same sea. I can almost feel the pebbles pressing into my back now, almost feel the hot sun on my face, almost smell the Provençal air, almost hear the sea, my Mediterranean.
Life is ever changing and I lived for a long time in the north, but then we moved back to Weston-super-Mare, back to that different sea, mostly the Bristol Channel, fed by the Severn, the Wye and the Avon. Three years ago, a dream was fulfilled when we went to Tasmania, and there was not just a sea but an ocean. It was across this sea that my great-great grandparents travelled from England to settle on the island in the 1830’s. It was on this sea that my family made its fortune – a fortune that never came our way due to the fact that my great grandparents never married. It was on this sea that my great travelled to and fro, to Australia and back to Hobart, again and again on business. It was on this sea he followed his parents – they went back to England, he came to England for the first time. When we walked beside the sea, when we sat on the pebbly beaches and watched the waves and watched the gulls and birds so different from those at home, I felt a connection with that distant ancestor. When we stood on the south shores of Tasmania, looking out to sea, the next land mass, 3336 miles away, is Antarctica. When we left Tasmania, flying from Hobart Airport, I was sitting by the window and craned my neck as the plane twisted and turn and rose away from the small island, desperate to have a last glimpse of the heart shaped land in the pure blue sea.