But most noticeably, how odd not to have the beach at the centre of everything. For a fortnight, life began and ended with the beach. Budgens is to the left of the beach; the chip-eating contest to the right. Having an argument? No better place for it than standing precariously on the sea-wall. Feeling romantic? Get you down to the seaside, young lovers. No, not there, where I can see you, for heaven’s sake.
Back in Lewes, was it any wonder I’d lost my centre of gravity? Turning into Southover from the station, I sniffed in vain for that pervasive smell of brine, fried doughnuts and bulky chip-eater; was disappointed not to see sparkling blue on the horizon, nor hear distant cries of ‘You little tyke, you’ve got sand in me eyes again’, and the resulting slaps so dear to my seafaring self. The cliffs and the squall of seagulls just added to the confusion.
Absent-Minded Girl suggested we meet, but was a tad puzzled by my chosen venue, the Bell Lane playground. We took off our shoes and socks and sat in the sand-pit.
‘I was just the same when I came back from the Isle of Wight’, she said sympathetically. ‘Every morning, I’d put on my wet-suit and goggles. They were very understanding at work.’ I worried that I was becoming as a.m. as A.M. Girl, but the very next moment she tried to lie back in the sand and banged her head on the climbing frame.
‘You know what Lewes needs?’ I said to Aging Lad next day. I was wearing a purple sarong that had been à la mode in Swanage. Aging Lad never notices the physical appearance of women over twenty-three, but he looked perplexed when I suggested the missing factor in Lewes’ fabulousness was the sea.
‘I thought you were going to say a Spearmint Rhino club’, he said. We bought ice-cream and sat on the Cliffe bridge. Without my contact lenses, the Ouse looked a mighty and boundless body of water.
Inevitably, Grange Girl brought me to my senses. We were in the Knot Garden, next to the sign that says no children playing in the fountain, watching children playing in the fountain.
‘Everyone loves being by water’, I mused. ‘All this joyful scene lacks is a dappled path leading from Eastport Lane down to the sand dunes.’
‘I wonder’, said Grangey thoughtfully, ‘what Lewes would be like if it had a beach?’
‘Like Swanage’, I said, hopefully.
‘No’, she said firmly. ‘It would be like’ – she spat the word – ‘Brighton’.
We both shuddered. After a moment, I removed my sarong, and dropped it in the bin.
‘It’s good to be home’, I said.
Published in VivaLewes.com, and in Viva Lewes magazine September 2013. Photo by Alex Leith