A bit of my heart belongs by the sea. I can’t explain why this is. I was born and raised in Elephant and Castle, where the closest thing to the seaside experience is the nasal squawk of seagulls fighting over the remnants of a Perfect Fried Chicken box meal. Childhood trips to the seaside feature among my strongest memories – the caravan at Selsey Bill, and long walks down the beach with my granddad, trips to Brighton and Hastings and occasional holidays on the Isle of Wight. I remember these vividly. I remember scraping my knee on slime-covered rocks as we traversed the coast around Ventnor (my granddad was a big fan of long, wandering walks.) I remember standing on a cliff in Malta beside a church approximately the size of a garden shed, staring out at the thin margin between rock and air, beyond which stood the ocean, wide and calm and beautiful. It wasn’t blue. The sea rarely is. It was a pale green, almost the colour of a marble when you hold it up to the light.
We didn’t have the seaside in Southwark, but we had the Thames. Every other Sunday, I would go to my grandparents for Sunday lunch, and, if the weather was good – and sometimes even if it wasn’t – we’d go walking with my granddad to the South Bank. It’s the stretch of riverside roughly between Blackfriar’s Bridge and Westminster. It’s changed a lot now – tourist attractions and landscaped gardens, trendy restaurants and twinkling lights. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much there. Kids with skateboards in the hollow space beneath the Southbank Centre, the clack of wheels on concrete. An assortment of hand-carved rocking horses fashioned out of driftwood, some of them in the shape of ducks – these were usually beside Waterloo bridge, but occasionally adjacent to Gabriel’s wharf and the Oxo tower. A park between Waterloo and Westminster lined with tall hedges where you could play hide and seek, or climb the big spider’s web so you could see the river. And then later, on the way home, we’d get ice-cream from Antonio, the Italian ice cream man who’d always stop to chat with granddad for a while.
My granddad passed away in June. Most of my memories of him are either by the sea, or at the riverside. They are all good memories. A bit of my heart belongs to the sea, to the warm, bloodstained bronze of waves in the sunset and the gravel-throated roar of pebbles swallowed by the surf. I feel peaceful there. It’s important to know that, when you suffer with anxiety; that there’s a place where you can breathe, exhale until there’s nothing left inside you and start over. And you might think this is all pretentious shite and maybe it is, but the fact remains. I think when my business in London is done, it might be time for me to find a way to live beside the sea. Move to Hove, maybe – these pictures are all from the weekend I spent in Hove this past week, sitting on the beach, watching the sun go down. (They were taken by my friend Sarah, whose Instagram can be found here.)