16 August 2011

Halcyon Days

The little white bungalow lay a short way down a narrow residential road on the same side of the road as the sea. If you were in the car, you had to drive 5mph so as not to hit the large rocks that had been placed every metre or so along the grass and lined beautifully manicured lawns, which led up to pretty seaside bungalows painted in off-whites, pale pinks and soft yellows. If you were walking down the road, you’d keep ever so close to the edge of the lawns, but taking care to not walk on the grass, mind – curtains twitched when you did that.

I always enjoyed the creeping 5mph drive as we arrived; it gave me a chance to see what had changed in the village. There were always the usual haunts that I’d hold my breath for, hoping that they hadn’t changed management - or worse - closed down in the year since I’d visited them last. First we passed the 'Olde Fish and Chip Shoppe' that made our usual Friday night suppers, next we'd pass the newsagents which had the best choice in pick-and mix sweets ever laid out, then finally the pitch and putt Crazy Golf just off the beach near the bright red phone box that looked as if it hadn't moved since the 1930s. It was only once I'd seen them all looking just as I'd left them a year ago, could I breathe a sigh of relief. Once I’d checked the really important things hadn’t changed, it was only funny when things turned out to be different. Just like when the Jewish family across the road bought new gnomes for their garden; along with some large, plastic red and white spotted fairy toadstools. At the time I thought they were just absolutely fantastic, and wondered why Mum couldn’t let us get some for back home.
The silver Volvo indicated right out of politeness, perhaps in case the neighbours were watching, then slowed to a stop just before the driveway. I jumped out quick from the back seat, before anyone else could, and raced up to the cast iron gates to open them. Their white paint had peeled slightly, and bits flaked off as I picked up the bolt. Shuffling awkwardly with my bottom sticking out, I pulled each gate back until both halves were flat against the hedges on each side of the drive. The Volvo swooped in and I stepped back, minding the snails that had left silky silver trails all up the path and loving the way the car tyres crunched the driveway as they rolled over the flints.
It always took ages for them to get out of the car. The three hour journey from back home meant their old legs had gotten all stiff.
“Right. Let's put the kettle on.” My Dad used to say, sighing heavily, and fumbling in his pockets for the house keys. But rather than waiting for him to open the front door (which would always take ages), I was racing my brother around the side of the house, past the bright red and yellow geraniums and purple pansies in beautiful rows along the front lawn, past the high privet hedge that separated us from next door and cast a cool shade on the side of the house, into the back garden with it’s perfectly mown lawns and those bright pink fuchsia plants lined up against the back door. We ran until we reached the very end of the garden, treading carefully amongst the roses and dodging the windfalls under the apple tree until we came to the garden swing. It was the most amazing thing about the garden. We didn’t see it’s slightly rusty frame, or notice the way the fabric smelt a bit musty, but climbed on carefully, and as we kicked off from the concrete below, we felt the breeze whoosh past our faces as we swung back and forth in the shade.
Before long, my Mum was loading each of her children with sleeping bags and pillows stacked in bundles so high that they couldn’t really see to dodge the snails who had ventured onto the stepping stones of the path that led to the front door. Praying there was no snail juice under my jellies, I pushed down the silver handle with difficulty and opened the mottled glass front door. The heat of the long porch always hit you, and that smell of musty deck chair covers that have been left to fade in the sun too long hung about for a couple of seconds until you got used to it. Delicate net curtains were pinned in place like bunting, but it didn’t stop the sun frazzling the seashells and dried flowers that lined the windowsills along the porch.
I scurried across the bamboo mats, and used my memory to guess where to place my feet as I stumbled up the few stairs into the livingroom, dumping the sleeping bags and running like a lunatic before someone else claimed my room.

My room was tiny, with pink trimmings and very narrow. The old metal bunk beds took up most of the space. Climbing up to the top bunk, the rungs would hurt the bottom of my feet so I'd hop up them quickly as if they were red hot, and jump onto the top bunk where the mattress would always sigh as I climbed onboard. Only someone as small as me could sleep in here as grown-up's shoulders brushed both the old wooden wardrobe on the right and the bunkbeds on your left as they walked in the door. It was the same little room my Mum had used to sleep in when she'd come to stay at Auntie Mary's bungalow, and the very same old bunkbeds too; though I should have imagined they were less rickety back then.
I liked to imagine Mum lying there, like I had in the early evenings; the bedroom door only slightly open so a slither of light could shine through from the hall. I loved to hear my parents pottering about the kitchen. I felt safe listening to sounds of the kettle boiling, the cups clattering and the biscuit wrapper being twirled tightly. Pulling my sleeping bag up to my chin, I'd lie on the top bunk in that dark room, my face lit up only by the slither of light, and listen. I'd fall asleep each night to the comforting murmur of the television on low in the living room, my mind full of the light laughter and applause of the studio audience.
Just down the road from the little white bungalow, only about a two minute walk, there was the sea. I spent hours playing on the long, pebbly beaches that stretched out for miles with absolutely no one to be seen, there was just the seagulls hovering overhead and the huge rockpiles that lay a little way out to sea, that became the ultimate place to catch crabs in shallow rock pools when the tide was out. Whenever the sun shone, we'd grab our buckets and go in search for 'sparklies', our name for those quartz-ridden pebbles that glittered like diamonds in the sunlight. We were miners, working until our backs ached from turning stone after stone, staying out late on the beach until the sun went down and the sparklies suddenly disappeared. A little way down the beach, a small broken jetty ran out to sea and when the tide was in, the twins loved to run along the slippery wooden slats, and with an almighty shriek launch themselves off the end into the sea, their arms clasped around their legs to see who'd splash the furthest. They'd strip off their costumes and run along the beach with wild abandon, picking up slimy bits of brown seaweed, draping it across their sandy bodies and race across the pebbles flinging bits at me, laughing when a seaweed slapped me on the backs of my legs.

"Come on, Lizzie! Don't be such a chicken!" My Mum would say, poking her head up from her book, before laying it down carefully on the tartan rug that had been spread across the pebbles in a vain attempt to make it comfy. I was stood rigid, poised at the very edge of the sea, as frothy waves lapped up and kissed the very tips of my toes. I had been watching my Dad and the twins in our new blow-up yellow dinghy out the corner of my eye for at least five minutes. My hand was placed firmly on my hips and with my right eyebrow raised as I stared, horrified at the metre or two of thick, black seaweed that I had to wade through before I could reach them.
It was only knee deep water, but I hated the way the seaweed clasped around your ankles, like it was going to catch you and drag you under, swelling around your legs so you couldn't see your feet - or even worse, what you might be treading on.
"There's just so much seaweed, I can't see!" I yelled back to her, digging my heels deep into the pebbles, and getting cross that everyone was now watching. "There might be crabs!"
The only way I ever reached the yellow dinghy was if my Dad carried me across, clinging like a limpet to his body, assured only slightly by a firm promise he would not drop me.

As years passed, the little white bungalow and everything connected with it stayed relatively the same as it always had. I of course, changed. The last time I sat on those high banks of pebbles looking out across the sea with my wooly jumper tucked over my nose, and the bottom of it pulled tight over my knees, I was sixteen years old. Absent-mindedly I had turned a couple of pebbles that lay by my feet, and there was a distant hope that I might see them sparkle, even though the sun was hiding that day. The sky was moody and the wind was strong, having built up momentum from chopping up waves and whipping across the sea. It sliced right through the loop holes of my knit-one-purl-one and reached into the far corners of every little part of me. I wrinkled my nose tightly and allowed the wind to lift me; hold all my memories, thoughts and dreams and take them away to be scattered all across the sea. I remember thinking it amazing how the wind caught my tears before they fell and whistled so loudly in my ears that as I cried, I couldn't even hear a whisper of it. 


  1. This is really evocative, bright but wistful, happy then sad. You described being a child so well I could see you - swinging in the garden, lying on the bunk-bed, standing at the water's edge, it was all lovely. The change in tone of the final paragraph, like the change in the weather, really hit hard, left me wanting, and not wanting, to ask lots of questions,to know what had happened.

  2. Beautiful, simply beautiful. I love your perfect description and I wish I had better memory and would have more memories from my childhood.
    I agree with Sharon, the last paragraph is sad and it left me wondering... What happened to the bungalow? Why were you sad when you were there the last time?

  3. How beautiful!!! I loved reading this. What a wonderful bunch of memories for you. Where would we be if we didn't have something of such wonderment in our childhoods? I can't begin to imagine. Love the way you wrote this. I was able to see it in my mind.

  4. Sharon - I absolutely loved writing this, it was so fun, got right back into being little - so glad you saw that. Really glad you enjoyed it. The last time I went, it was sad, because it was just as my parents separated. But really, it was because the end of those wonderful memories...

    Starlight - I think I surprised myself with how well I remembered it! Thank you for such a kind comment. The bungalow is now up for sale - but see my comment to Sharon; that is why I was so sad. I hated that the memories had to end.

    Bouncin' Barb - Thank you!! I know, I cherish all these memories so much. I think that's why it was so so important for me to write about them. I'm glad it was as vivid for you as it was for me. :)

  5. I love some of the words you use in this - the knit one purl one, the sparklies and the seaweed clasping round your ankles. Smashing.

  6. I really visualised the little you. Really well done, I enjoyed it a lot.

  7. this growing up thing is a pain in the arse don't you think?

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