Monday 5 April 2010

Sea Air

In my experience, those of us brought up at the seaside at regular intervals suffer from ozone deprivation. This may occur at the sound of a pigeon or a Canadian goose, masquerading, to our starving ears, as a seagull or, simply, when the sun shines long enough to remind us that it isn't always cold, damp and grey in the U.K. Though, to be fair, my sea was in Wales so I should, more realistically, be reminded of the sea when it is cold, damp and grey. Anyway, I was overwhelmed by this longing a few days ago, so the Guru, who had a day off, kindly offered to take me to the sea second nearest to London. Why not the nearest? Well, that would have been Southend. Don't ask. I would have to bear in mind the law of Defamation. Brighton is where we made for. I have good feelings about Brighton. My best ones are of participating in the Brighton Run in a life I led a long time ago. (For those of you over the Pond or in the Antipodes, the Brighton Run is a challenge, never a race, to Veteran cars to travel, successfully,the road from Hyde Park in London to the Pillars, which denote the borough boundary of Brighton; a distance of some 60 miles. These old ladies - the cars, not me and my friends - were pre 1900 for the most part. The one I had the honour of driving in was built in 1902). It was a lovely outing, starting at 7.30am on an inevitably cold and misty November morning. I should, of course, have said in my explanatory note to 'outsiders' that the whole idea was to commemorate the date when it ceased to be illegal to drive a car without a man with a light walking ahead of it, thus, November, the nearest Sunday to the relevant date. What did one wear in an open top carriage with an engine on an unforgiving November morning? Think skiing. Sometimes it rained. I sat beside the driver wiping his spectacles which were not equipped with windscreen wipers. On one occasion, we were accompanied by a V.I.P. He sat with the driver and I sat in the back with his lady wife. This time I was assigned to baling out the rain so that her shoes would be only marginally ruined. From time to time, the driver passed his specs back to me and I stopped baling and wiped. Yes, we got there. All credit to the driver that my children were not left parentless, through disaster or pneumonia. The roads were always lined with cheerers-on. I loved it. It was great to arrive at the sea-front in Brighton and smell the sea and shelter from the wind in makeshift tents and feel the tingling in your skin calm down and wring your gloves out, although, it didn't always rain, of course; sometimes there was hail.

That was then. Now we struggled out of London in more or less ordinary week-day traffic and made our way sedately down the Motorway forbidden to the Veterans and in any case, developed since my voyages. (Perhaps, sedately is not quite the word since the Guru was driving). We indulged, first in a delicious lunch, but the pull of the sea became irrisistable so no coffee, only a pit stop and off to go. There was a strong wind, really strong, strong enough to make it seriously difficult for the external me to make any useful progress. The Guru insisted and urged me along with reminders of how I was here for the smell of the sea and nothing in life was easy, as one would persist when it looked as if the witch with the flying coat you had in tow was going to keel over and be an embarrassment to you and a hazard to others. My ears were so cold I ceased to hear his exhortations,but we made it to the seafront and started to walk along it. As it happens, the first sight of the sea, when I was able to forgo my concentration on keeping upright, was disappointing: it was gringe coloured. As a life-long seaside dweller, I was able to understand and explain to Guru that the wind was whipping up the sand underneath and discolouring it. The semi-safe habour of the pier loomed and soon we found ourselves in a sort of fun fair with all the games and screams you would associate with that. Not quite the exalted experience I had fought the elements for, but we emerged on to the walk- way and prepared to do a Scot of the Antarctic with the wind again. And the smell, the ozone, the raison d'etre of the expedition? Fish and chips, that's what it smelled of, or doughnuts, depending on which side you were being battered on. Not a whiff of the sea, not English nor Welsh: frying, that's what we could smell. Ah well, that's not the only disappointment I've had since I was really 40. So it's Cymru for me as soon as I can work out how and when and it was nevertheless, a lovely day out. Diolch yn fawr, Guru.

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