"Let's get out of London this weekend." Having thought about the prospect for the last few minutes as I finely chopped an onion for our shepherd's pie, I put the thought out to Liam, threw the contents of my chopping board into the sizzling saucepan on the hob and waited for a response.
Ahead of us was one lone, clutter-free weekend, which had escaped being made part of our extraordinarily busy summer schedule, which was seemingly packed, fit-to-burst with weekend weddings, birthdays and dutiful trips to see family.
"Sure, what do you have in mind?" Liam replied, washing the potatoes over the sink.
"How about Brighton?" I suggested.
We'd been to Brighton a couple of times recently. Lovely seaside town. I couldn't get enough of the place. I could just see myself pottering about the bohemian cafes, silver shops and buying rock and candyfloss along the promenade. Problem was, every time I visited I felt more inclined to move there. Liam, who insists regularly that 'we can't say we've lived in London until we've lived at least a year in Zone 2', avoids any chance I might find to whinge about central London. It was for this reason, I suspected, that his expression looked less than thrilled about the idea.
"Kew Gardens?" He offered.
"That's not out the city - it's near Richmond." I threw the lamb mince into the pan, and poked it with a wooden spoon for a bit.
With no car, we were always going to be a bit limited finding somewhere outside of London, where we can return the same day, and still make the journey worth doing. After shooting down suggestions like, Southend, Bournemouth and then Cornwall- to which I received a snooty, ‘you do know that it takes seven hours or so by train, don't you?’- a thought popped in my mind.
"How about going back to Bognor Regis?" I asked, turning the meat with my spoon until the pink slowly disappeared and it turned a light brown. "You know, visit the little bungalow I used to go to when I was little...?"
"Bognor?" He asked doubtfully.
"- It's not as crap as you might think..." I replied defensively, before he could launch into a speech detailing all the reasons we shouldn't go to Bognor. "The place I went to was sweet and it had a lovely beach - large pebbles, not gritty sand in your socks." I added tactically. "There's Arundel Castle nearby... and Chichester a little way up. Besides, I think I'd quite like to go back, it's been almost eight years."
"Okay..." He said as he turned the gas on full whilst flicking the lighter with his thumb simultaneously. The hob jumped into action and he pulled his hand away quickly, before placing a lid firmly on the saucepan of potatoes.
"I've been thinking a lot about the old bungalow recently. I’m not sure why..." My sentence drifted off into my own thoughts for a while as I absentmindedly stirred the meat and stared pointedly at the wall tiles by the cooker. A couple of minutes of silence passed before I asked quietly, "Do you think a lot will have changed?"
"I don't know. But I should imagine so." Liam turned to face me. "Look, I don't mind going at all..." He wrapped his arms gently around me. "But are you absolutely sure you want to go back? Might not be as good as you remember."
It was a difficult one. Should you ever go back?
What if I went back to the little white bungalow and the familiar smells and sights had not only lost their sparkle and excitement, but with my critical adult eyes, what if I cruelly focused on the cracks and not the charm of the place? I pondered quietly over what to do, weighing up the pros and cons throughout our shepherd's pie dinner (which turned out wonderfully), wondering right through a rather interesting documentary on seals, and by the time I was stood by the sink, brushing my teeth before bed, I still hadn't made a decision on what to do. So, as it's best to do with all rather difficult decisions, I slept on it.
I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning and pottered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Sleeping on a problem always works (failing that it’s a good cup of tea). But before I'd even switched the kettle on, I was sure I knew what to do.
The train pulled into the station. I looked excitedly out of the window, and squeezed Liam's hand as the elaborate Victorian station roof came into view.
"We're here!" I squealed.
I'd been gazing out the window for the entire journey, watching the high rise buildings lower gradually as we'd left London, until you couldn't see buildings at all, just miles and miles of green, open fields. Upon my squeeze, Liam opened his eyes and pulled out his earphones, for a better look. Fumbling in my handbag for our tickets, we left the carriage, following the mass of Londoners who had also escaped London to see the sea, along the platform to the ticket barriers.
"Now let's get this straight. I'm not trawling 'round a million shops today. Okay?" Liam said as we walked down the hill towards the town. "We're here to get out of the city, don't forget."
"Okay... Maybe just a few." I winked at him.
We picked up a late breakfast; two coffees, a steak and ale pasty for Liam, the vegan sausage roll for me, and ready for the beach we headed down to eat them sat amongst the pebbles. Passing through a narrow side street, Liam stopped briefly outside a shop that was selling alternative posters and postcards.
"These look good. Do you mind if we stop for a minute?" He asked me.
Taking his coffee from him so he could flick through the boxes that had been displayed outside the shop front, I resisted a sly comment pointing out that we were here to get out of the city- not shop, holding back purely in case we passed any jewellery shops later. Walking down the street slightly, I found a quiet spot near one of those cafes with the tables and chairs sprawled across the road and moved my attention away from Liam who was excitedly plucking out posters of The Smiths album covers, to watch Brighton go by.
I slurped from one of our coffees, glad I hadn't gone to Bognor Regis. I had promised myself not to mention once to Liam how much I'd love to move to Brighton; how it was so much more relaxed than London, how the shops were more quirky, how the sea air reminded me of those seaside holidays when I was little. I most definitely wouldn't mention to him (probably ever) how secretly I'd like to be a Brighton hippy; wear gigantic tie-dye trousers with incense sticks propped up in the pockets, become truly vegan and drink only peppermint tea.
I'd decided that morning, to keep my rose-tinted spectacles very firmly on as I looked back to my childhood memories of Bognor Regis. The place itself was really quite unremarkable- and where we'd stayed - just a small village in West Sussex. The bungalow was just another home, the quiet beach like many others. It was my memories that were special, created during those precious times when my family was still a family, and we were all in love with each other. I felt the desperate need to keep those memories safe. I was afraid that if I went back, they'd be whitewashed over with unforgiving, dull tones of reality. I'd promised myself at eight O'clock that very morning as I’d placed my toothbrush back in its pot, to write a piece and keep them forever.
The bell attached to the door of the shop rang rudely, and I turned to see Liam walk out carrying a large plastic bag, looking pleased with himself.
"Ooh. What’d ya get?" I asked him eagerly, handing him back his half-drunk coffee with lipstick marks around the rim.
"Well, couldn’t really decide between this and The Smiths, 'Hatful of Hollow'... But eventually I chose Bob Dylan." He said, reaching into the bag and pulling out the poster he'd chosen and holding it up for me to see. "Thought it'd look great framed on the wall at home."
I don't know if you believe in signs, or meant-to-be's. I do. Liam doesn't. So I didn't say anything to him as he held it up proudly, I just smiled.
"It's brilliant." I said. "Just brilliant."