by Mary Reed
It was a rite of summer. Sunny Sundays saw an exodus from the city, as the railway carried load after load of families away to the windy shore of the North Sea. It was time for a trip to the seaside!
Mum made meat-paste sandwiches, bread slices cut thick from yesterday’s loaf. There were apples, green and crisp, which she ate with a spoon, and biscuits and bags of crisps with their individual blue paper twists of salt, and a huge thermos of tea, well-sweetened and milky. Ordinary fare, to be sure, but the food of the gods after the long walk down to
the beach, the smell of the sea already in our nostrils.
And what delights awaited! Seaweed made a slippery carpet on limpet-encrusted rocks around dark pools of water trapped along the shore. Small, dark crabs lurked boulder-like in them, the occasional rippling fronds of a sea-urchin might be seen, raspberry-like sea creatures lurked in sinister clusterings. Were they really the bloodsucking mutant jellyfish with which we scared each other? Taking no chances, we paddled in pools scoured clean of marine life each time the tide turned.
Adults were less squeamish about jellyfish, more coy about clothing. Men rolled up their trouser legs to the daring height of mid-calf, slung their jackets over their arms, and paddled. We children got into scratchy woolen bathing-suits behind towels held up around us by tightly permed and corseted mothers and aunts. Later these female relatives would brave the briny themselves, holding petticoats above their knees, Kiss-Me-Quick hats perched at a jaunty angle on back-combed hair stiff with hairspray. The salty wind giving us all goose-pimples had come “all the way from Roosha”, so the adults said, downing another cup of hot, sweet tea and munching on sand-gritty sandwiches.
The brass band played gamely on, its sound rising and falling over the noise of crashing waves, mewling seagulls, and music from the fairgrounds, blending with hoarse shouts from sideshow men and the screams of teenagers splashing each other with sea-water. And over it all lay that distinctive seaside aroma, a tantalizing mixture of salt air, frying chips, drying seaweed, and an occasional dead fish temporarily overlooked by the swooping seagulls.
If we were lucky, we might be treated to those delights available only at the coast: paper cones of snail-like “whellecks”, winkled out from their shells with a free pin, or maybe candyfloss, sweet on the tongue for a short time and then gone as quickly. And after we’d eaten, we scavenged along the shore-line, booty popped into our little buckets –
a weathered piece of bleached and knotty driftwood, waxy yellow, brown, or white shells, sea-smoothed bits of glass.
And so the afternoon rolled by, as our city-pale skins burnt scarlet. We played until the setting sun’s liquid gold path made a bridge from horizon to shore. Then, because next day was Monday and that meant work and school, it was time to pack up the towels and the thermos, the shells and the driftwood. As stars twinkled and winked over the restless sea and strings of coloured lights popped into life in the fairgrounds, we toiled back up to the railway station, our shoes uncomfortable with sand. On the return journey, half asleep, we children looked out at the backs of houses as we travelled past, clackety-clack, clackety-clack, clackety-clack, all along the shining rails to Newcastle, nodding, dozing, dreaming.
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