As he walked along the beach, memories came to him of other beaches he had trodden.
The beaches of childhood. The mounting excitement as it was approached in the sunshine; passing the little shops, colourful buckets and spades strung in rows; racks of rude postcards — fat ladies with fat bums and enormous bosoms threatening weedy little men with bright red noses. We weren’t supposed to look at them, but we did, as we waited for mum to pay for the new bucket and spade, and for the peppermint rock with the name of the resort miraculously written deep in its middle. The smell of old seaweed that we mistakenly called Ozone. And then the sight of the sea itself, unbelievably green and glistening under the eternal sunshine of childhood. And the BEACH, the grey mud of Southend, or the pebbles of Brighton; and once, the magic of the Isle of Wight, which had Real sand you could make sand castles with.
There were other beaches; The wild coast of Cornwall, with its little coves, each with its own tiny beach. Some, a wonder of rock pools, and others a wild and savage place with caves and huge boulders of serpentine rock which muttered of smugglers and wreckers and the ghosts of drowned sailors.
There was another beach too, of genuine horror, and his mind skittered nervously as he tried to escape the image it evoked. It was a plain and commonplace beach. The sand was a nondescript colour, it extended to right and left, smooth except for a decrepit breakwater or two it was backed by small sand dunes. There were no holiday makers, but there was a corpse or two, looking oddly like discarded tailors dummies. The first one he saw was lacking an arm. He was a marine, he thought. In the steel grey sea a couple of drowned trucks showed their heads as the waves receded and flowed. Behind him was the boat, an Infantry Landing Ship Large that he had just left. The rest of the platoon began to leave the beach. He hurried to catch them up, encumbered as he was with his equipment and five signal satchels, a folding bicycle and a rifle. He didn’t linger.
Later, much later, there was Australia. First, the beach at St. Kilda. It lacked the glitter and exuberance of Southend, in place of the souvenir stalls there was a solitary ice cream kiosk, and in place of the Kursaal it bravely offered Lunar Park, but it was “The Seaside” with a beach of real sand, decorated with sun bathers and picnicking families, a gentle introduction to antipodean beaches. It gave no hint of the vastness of Australia, the unbelievable extent of the ninety mile beach.
He used to walk there, his companion and life partner urging him to continue to see
what lay round the next bend — beach and more beach — Her curiosity never satisfied. Those days are gone, but the beaches remain – mile upon mile.
He walked on the beach.
By H.St.V.Beechey 1995