Sunday, 5 April 2015

Beautiful Broadstairs

Last weekend my husband suggested we ‘blow away the cobwebs’ – an apt expression given that, outside, the wind was blowing everything sideways.
          ‘What do you have in mind?’ I asked cautiously.
          ‘A drive to the coast.’
          ‘Ooh, Brighton?’  I love Brighton.  It’s the town where I was born and which, later, became home-from-home for the first twelve years of my life.  I immediately had visions of fish and chips on the pebble beach, getting blown to pieces on the pier and, later, taking refuge within The Lanes amongst wonderful arty-farty shops.
          ‘Ah,’ Mr V pulled a face, ‘I was thinking more...Broadstairs actually.’
          Broadstairs!’ I said in horror.  The last time we ventured there was surely twelve years ago, if not longer.  It was definitely a pre-pooch era because we used to drive there virtually every weekend in summer with three over-excited children.  After a full-on week working in London, packing up the car and piling down to Broadstairs with buckets, spades, water-wings, sun cream, picnics, towels, changes of clothes, flip-flops, sunhats, but also raincoats, umbrellas, woollies and wellies in case the weather changed without a moment’s notice, is something I tend to look back on with…well, exhaustion.  The photograph albums show three happy children beaming into the camera.  They don’t show the haggard woman who was behind the lens with arms like stretched spaghetti while the husband drove round and round the seaside town vainly looking for a parking space.  In fact, my only other memory of Broadstairs is when my step-daughter and son wanted donkey rides, and then proceeded to have a nervous breakdown once the poor animals set off along the sandy beach.
          ‘It will be different now,’ my husband looked at me with beseeching spaniel-eyes.  ‘It’s pretty much just the two of us these days.’
          ‘You’re right!’  I stood up, fire suddenly in my belly.  ‘Hang on.  I don’t have to pack a picnic, do I?’
          ‘Nooooo!  We’ll go somewhere nice for lunch.’
          ‘What are we waiting for?’ I cried, grabbing my coat.  ‘Lead me to Broadstairs.’
          Fifty minutes later we were there (it would have been double if I’d been driving).  We found a parking space with ease and walked along the empty promenade, before walking down steps to the almost deserted beach. Despite the strong winds, the sea remained virtually flat.  Pale grey waters lapped sand so yellow it looked like God had sprinkled it with turmeric.  The only thing that disturbed the uninterrupted expanse of beach was a trail of paw prints belonging to a couple of dogs off their leads.  They barked joyfully, paddling in the shallows as the wind whipped their long ears up above their heads.  And talking of dogs, we passed three beagles.  I mean, what was that all about?  Some sort of sign that it was time to get another?  And suddenly a man appeared from nowhere with…yes…a beagle, and got chatting to us.  I stooped to make a fuss of his pooch who, the owner informed, was a stud dog and went to Crufts every year.
          ‘One of the bitches is in pup now, if you’re interested.’  He pressed a business card into my palm.  My fingers curled around the stiff rectangle of paper.  I would love a puppy, but when there are so many unwanted beagles out there needing a forever home, a pup makes me hesitate.  I gave his hound one last cuddle, before we carried on strolling along the winding promenade.
          Funny how memories of the kids here suddenly became rose-tinted, rather than hard slog.  In front of us was the bit where they made umpteen sandcastles with massive moats. To the right was the area a small funfair used to be.  The kids would beg for just one more 50p to have just one more ride.  And to the far left the donkeys would be tethered, patient and resigned to lumbering up and down the beach with child after child on their backs.
          I sighed and inhaled the sea air deeply, just as my stomach growled with hunger.
          ‘Lunch?’ asked Mr V.
          I nodded.  How very nice not to be battling to eat a sandwich while seagulls swooped and tried to mug you of your cheese and tomato on brown.
          We went to Prezzo and sat in their beautiful sea-facing conservatory, warm and cosy, while outside the stiff breeze rattled signposts and shook hanging baskets full of spring flowers.  And there, at the very next table to us, sat the actress Gwyneth Strong, better known as Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses, having lunch with friends.
          ‘Don’t stare,’ said Mr V.
          ‘I’m not,’ I said indignantly, while doing exactly that.  I can tell you now it’s the hardest thing in the world not to look at somebody when you know you shouldn’t.  ‘And now you’re staring!’
          ‘I know. I can’t help it!’
          It took all my willpower not to say, ‘All right, Cass?  Where’s Rodders?’  Although I suspect she’s heard that one a million times.
          So we did our best to pretend we hadn’t noticed this celebrity and concentrated on staring at the sea instead.  Which reminds me.  What did the seaweed say when it got stuck to the bottom of the sea bed?  ‘Kelp!  Kelp…!’

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