• Katy Rigg

In praise of the Great British seaside

There’s something magical about the British seaside. It does wonderful things. Restorative, medicinal, transformative things. Meandering along a promenade in those balmy Summer months (any old British promenade will do) is an exhilarating assault on the senses; a delicious concoction of roaring waves and screeching gulls and shrieks of childhood delight. And that sea air that ties your hair in knots, and feels ever so slightly rough on your cheeks, as it rubs and scrubs and polishes away at all the worn out, raggedy bits of you. A breeze so salty, it tickles your lips and mingles with the taste of vinegar on chips and the scent of every garishly-coloured, sugary treat - the donuts, the sticks of rock, the candyfloss, the giant lollypops. You’d never normally be tempted by something that was such an unnatural shade of pink or yellow or blue, but it all feels part of the nostalgia and wouldn’t you be a misery if you didn’t? Because the seaside makes you feel young again. And everything seems as wildly exciting as it did when you were eight years old. The adrenalin rush of the 2p machines, the enticing melody of the waltzers and the loop-the-loop, the little passenger train that runs from one end of the prom to the other, the ice-cream and the bumper cars and the crazy golf and the sinister-looking fortune teller trapped inside a glass case. The sensible, adult part of you knows it’s all a bit naff, and yet you find yourself saying, “Shall we just have a go, for a laugh?” At the seaside, there is so much joy in the simple pleasures. The ones that don’t cost a penny, but engulf you in richness when you pause for long enough to take it all in - the crunching of pebbles as you trudge along a shoreline, and the breath-taking euphoria as the waves crash around your knees, waves that are always colder than you anticipate, no matter how brave you think you are. There is such contentment in a homemade spread on a tartan rug, as you gaze out to sea and deconstruct the horizon with someone you love.  It’s a place where humans are stripped right back: humble and unassuming and gut-wrenchingly sweet. It might not be obvious at first, but when you stop and look and drink in the crowd, you will see these people throughout the Summer months, on every beach, in every seaside town, here for the rip-roaring hurrah that is always on offer.   There are the coach loads of Britain’s forgotten elderly folk, bussed across from each and every neighbouring market town, drunk on the merriment and nostalgia of being by the sea, breathing a new lease of life into their lungs and unfurling their crooked bones.  There are the teenage lovers, languidly entwined on the sand or the stones, taking photos and kissing and grinning at each other in a woozy disbelief, cradling the limbs of the other as though they are the only two people who exist. There might be a mum or a dad or a friend who they’re supposed to see later, but not in this moment, not right now.  There are the tiny, hunched-over silhouettes of husbands and wives, as they sit in their matching collapsible chairs and watch the coming and the going of the tide in blissful, companionable silence, conversing only to offer cups of tea and for one to drape a blanket around the shoulders of the other. They have watched this unchanging tide and sat against these familiar rocks more times than they could count in a lifetimes, but the pleasure and the ease of everything it has to offer is as tangible as the very first.   And there are the families, the scores of families who don’t go on holidays involving passports and planes and upgrades and oversized luggage, whether that be out of choice or out of necessity. This is where they’ve flocked to instead - the “Staycationers” - to bask in the Great British sunshine, making memories and being together and letting their kids feel the roughness of the sand and the stones beneath their feet, gulping down mouthfuls of the North Sea or the English Channel into their bellies. Those same kids will be back here again when they’re 33, revelling in these memories of getting gloriously sun-kissed and drunk on sugar as they ran around the beach in their underwear.  They’re all here, these people, with bodies of every shape and size and shade of pink or brown or white. They’re all here, knee deep in the foam of wild, white waves, clutching the hand of a tiny child as he shivers in delight; or they're hunched over on a bright, striped towel, rubbing sun-cream into their creases and folds; or basking beneath a sun umbrella, earnestly licking the cone of a melted 99. All of these people are here, with everything beautifully, imperfectly and unashamedly on show. If you head away from the hustle and bustle of buckets and spades and fairground rides, and you climb up into the surrounding hills and look down on the beach from a jagged cliff edge, you’ll see this scene in all its minute detail. The shrieks of the gulls and the whistling of the waves will be no more than a whisper up there, where kites and gliders and birds circle overhead. The sea will look impossibly vast, and the people will look impossibly small, and the buildings will look like brightly coloured building blocks that a child has clicked together. You’ll note that this is a scene of unbridled, indescribable joy and you’ll conclude that when it comes to the best of British, it doesn’t get more British or brilliant than this.  


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