Growing up in the suburbs of Belfast city... life lived by the Co. Down coast meant freedom.
The flat landscape, the open skies, the ever present blue-grey Irish Sea, became a raison d'etre for living ...yes I think it's not going too far so say that this became a truth for me .....and the main reason for this obsession was definitely the beach.
Nowadays, with cheap air travel we have a greater knowledge of beautiful expanses of golden sand and turquoise sea, from Portrush to Portugal, India and beyond..at least on the internet!!
But nothing can compare with early memories, and mine are of the beach at Ballyferris.
Waking up to the smell of an Irish fry, bacon,eggs, mushrooms and toast. Knowing that a whole day and the exploration of the beach was ahead of me. No homework, no responsibilities,this was tantamount to heaven. I didn’t analyse it then, and it’s taken me a lifetime to work out even a little of why I loved it so much.
Come with me, as we walk over the little grassy ridge at the coast edge of the field. Come down to the beach , there you will find yourself treading the worn path that many have taken before. Around you , the smell of beach daisies.... a type of camomile. My love for these innocent flowers has stayed with me since.( I even wrote a song about them once... “I love the flowers , I love the trees , but most of all I love daises.” ...not exactly Larkin or Heaney!...)
When I walk on other beaches, Morecambe or Southwold, Portrush or Brighton... I strip some seeds from the abundance of the seedheads, to drop on coastal areas bare of daisies.
Rarely did I return to the caravan without a bunch of these flowers for mum.
So, on past the daisy strip, which by the way could take any thing up to an hour, on down the beach, heading to the sea.
If the tide was out , I squelched my way over a mound of sticky brown seaweed ,treading lightly in my bare feet, for fear of some squirming creature having been caught there, left by the receding tide. The hard sand was cold beneath my feet.Truth is it was very cold, and this was probably why my patient mum always shouted after me to put on wellington boots ...as I ran off from the caravan. Clothes for Ballyferris were basic.... a t-shirt or at the most a felted woolly jumper, a pair of cotton shorts and bare feet. I’m convinced, this is one of the reasons why I still have fairly healthy... if rather large feet! Reach the water and take a tentative dabble at the edge with toes in, before running back up the beach to warmer sand.
At the end of the summer the sand at the top of the beach had dried up in the sun and shone like silver dust. It was very fine and a joy to scrunch under your feet until they were covered by the earthy warmth.
This poem below was on a post by Anthony Wilson ...writer , poet and blogger...it reminded me of that girl and the freedom she had in those days...
Who is that child I see wandering, wandering
down by the side of the quivering stream?
Why does she seem not to hear, though I call to her?
Where does she come from, and what is her name?
Why do I see her at sunrise and sunset
taking, in old-fashioned clothes, the same track?
Why, when she walks, does she cast not a shadow
though the sun rises and falls at her back?
Why does the dust lie so thick on the hedgerow
by the great field where a horse pulls the plough?
Why do I see only meadows, where houses
stand in a line by the waterside now?
Why does she move like a wraith by the water,
soft as the thistledown on the breeze blown?
When I draw near her so that I may hear her,
why does she say that her name is my own?
Charles Causley, from The Collected Poems for Children (M..altered gender to suit my memories)