Days at the beach, nights spent counting how many swims were left

Family Fortunes: Swimming lasted until fingers wrinkled and shrivelled, then we’d run back to the sand

“We didn’t have goggles. Under water everything looked slightly blurry, dreamy.” Photograph: iStock

“We didn’t have goggles. Under water everything looked slightly blurry, dreamy.” Photograph: iStock

 

We never went naked. We had those towelling draw string contraptions for changing into our togs. Mum made them with the Singer sewing machine, the night before we went on holidays.The boys used towels, they didn’t need to cover their top bits. Everyone changed quickly so we could all go swimming.

In the sea, long green and brown seaweeds sometimes tangled in my hair. Years later I learned the proper names for them, they sounded like Latin prayers.

I had bionic lungs, able to hold my breath for ages under water. I felt more me when swimming. We didn’t have goggles. Under water everything looked slightly blurry, dreamy. Small shrimpy fish, sand in a million particles, lots of fizzy bubbles. Sea breathing was thrilling. I knew I wasn’t “ Man from Atlantis”, yet sometimes I imagined I was a girl version of him.

Swims usually lasted until fingers wrinkled and shrivelled , then we’d run back to the sand changing into dry togs and hooded parkas. I liked climbing rocks on my own, exploring pools. Sometimes I walked with my eyes closed up and down the waters edge, pretending to be blind, just listening and feeling.

Picnics were made up of sausages cooked by Dad on pans lit by blue camping gas flames. Buttery bread doled out by Mum, dripping deliciously, fully satisfying our salty hunger. Drinking Mi Wadi or sometimes milky tea with treats of Jam Rings or Marietta biscuits, things that wouldn’t melt in the sun. Then we’d be off ready for a game of rounders if the tide was out. Teams divided, boys versus girls or picked by guessing numbers. I was a fast runner, lucky when on a winning team. Dad cheered us on, sometimes batting for the smallest ones.

If the tide was on the way in, some of us would make a speed boat dug out of sand. It was something we could sit in waiting for the water to engulf us.

Before the tide came in fully, we’d have to gather up everything fast. The sea could be impatient. Usually a flip flop was lost, a sandal or a spade missing. The green tartan rug shaken free of sand and crumbs. Heavy towels with half-dried swimwear would be divided among us all, Dad carried the wind breaker and bags of picnic things. Beach paraphernalia always seemed heavier leaving the beach, we were lighter though.

I went to sleep each night dreaming of the beach, counting how many swims were left.

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