I’m standing on this beach in my head.
It’s late afternoon. The sun’s sinking slowly but I can still feel the sharp needles of its heat on my skin.
I’ve walked to the very far end, where the sand hits the rocks that stop all but the most reckless.
Looking back, I can see the crowd is thinning out. Just a few pockets of people left, a family into the fourth innings of their final test, three guys going for the world record at keepy-uppy, a distant plume of BBQ smoke with a group looking like they’re settling in for the night, a mad dog still trying to frighten off the waves.
The sound hasn’t changed all day, the endless loop of rising-up and crashing-down. The tide’s now at its height, little of the beach remains, all traces of the day removed.
Then there’s the smell. I’ve left behind the sun cream and the sausages and now all I can smell is the salt and the seaweed. No one much has ventured this far.
It’s the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the holiday. Flight home in the morning, work on Monday.
How do I feel? A touch of dread? A clarity of thought? A peace of mind? Above all, a glimpse of Freedom.
The beach is half-a-mile of gentle crescent. Golden sand of various grades, super-fine at the back, super-sodden at the water’s edge, which is where I’m now standing.
Maybe there’s time for one final swim. There are a few still in the water. Two sit just on dry land daring the waves to reach their outstretched feet. The boys playing football have now switched their attention to headers in the shallows.
Beyond that it’s a couple of die-hard wave jumpers. And in the brave blue yonder sits a lone surfer. He waits.
That’s where I dream of being. Sitting cross-legged on an old-school long board, looking out for the ride of my life. But I’ve never learnt. It’s still body boarding for me, now teaching the kids, and by now they’ve had their fill. They’re in the beach bar with mum, eating ice cream. Many holidays ahead for them.
But I’m still here watching the waves. I look back along the beach to the beach bar, the car park, the road round the coast.
It’s time to go.
Does this beach actually exist? It’s a mix of places. Watergate and Whale, Bantham and Baleal. But it’s not about the where or the when. It’s about the why. Why is this my perfect beach?
The thing is I have this recurring dream. I’m on holiday and there’s something specific I’m there to do. Sometimes it’s skiing, sometimes surfing. It’s the reason I’m there.
Yet one way or another I never quite get round to doing it. Things get in the way or I decide to do something else first or I can’t persuade the others I’m with to join me. My frustration builds but I can’t seem to do anything about it.
Then it comes to the final day. I wake up raring to go. This is it, this is the time. But still the obstacles rise up to block me at every turn and all I can do is watch as the final few hours slip painfully away.
Then I wake up.
The insight isn’t the need. It’s the tension in the need.
That’s mine. The fear of life passing you by.
Next year, surf lessons.