Walking along the pebble beach, we hold onto our hats for dear life as the wind attempts to blow them off our heads whilst the waves beat angrily at the shore. Seagulls squawk and circle above, eagerly hunting for food scraps. It smells like salty sea air until we get closer to the pier and then we get wafts of vinegar as it is lightly sprinkled over packets of chips while battered fish is wrapped up in newspaper. It’s a moody, cloudy day, you know the kind, the wind is strong and it’s whipping everyone up into a frenzy. Yup it’s the British seaside complete with colourful carousels, gaudy deck chairs and kitsch stores selling rock. Oh my goodness do you remember ROCK?
It’s been a while since i’ve been here. Too long. A strong wave of nostalgia washes over me as I remember childhood trips to the seaside. Trips that at times I resented and other times relished. Trips where we would hunt out a sandy beach so we could build the biggest sandcastles time would allow, where we would bury each other in the sand and rush to dig each other out as the tide came in. Where we would hunt for crabs in rock pools and listened to our parents groans as we begged them for our third 99 Mr softie ice-cream of the day paired with a flake and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. “But pleeeaseeeeeee mum!”
Every year, during the school holidays I would encounter small twinges of envy hearing my peer’s travel plans flying to exotic destinations like Orlando, Florida or Disneyland Paris whilst we were driving the car to Pembrokeshire or Weymouth. Yet, it is times like these when I’m transported back to those sweet memories of long lazy days on the beach, afternoon cream teas and farmhouse boiled eggs for breakfast that I couldn’t be more grateful for my upbringing which was so wonderfully rooted in traditional British culture. Our parents taught us what it was to delight in simplicity, what a beautiful country we lived in and how to enjoy ourselves in spite of the sometimes unpredictable British weather.
Today I’m here in Brighton with lil’ sis and middle-sis (i’m big sis). Lil’ sis lives in Canada and so the time the three of us get to spend together is precious. We’ve decided to road trip it the hour and a half South for a change of scenery, some sea air and gourmet food.
Lunch is at Terre à Terre an award-winning vegetarian restaurant in the centre of town. The menu is really quite incredible, I stare at it awe-struck until I realise I’m not actually sure what anything means. I’m thankful that the little one calls over the waitress to talk us through the menu. She describes it as dishes you think you’ve seen before which the chef takes, destroys, and makes their own creation. Our favourite dish, the “KFC” is Korean fried cauliflower with sweet and sour sesame, onigiri rice, soused shiso dikon and khol rabi, pickled mirin ginger jelly and green leaf salt dried chips finished with chestnut ume plum purée. See what I mean about the menu? Our other main is a sharing platter of a whole bunch of stuff I don’t know the name of or how to spell let along begin describing!
Desert is a twist on traditional Spanish churros; cinnamon sugar spice dusted doughnut straws served with vodka cherries, salt caramel sticky dunker, warm dark chocolate dipper and finished with wild berry freeze dried crumble and extra brute cocoa powder.
For drinks it is the Herefordshire organic cider. My first sip and i’m immediately transported back to Pembrokeshire circa 1995. The little one and I confer and agree, the cider tastes of farm. It’s almost as if we can taste the manure that was used to fertilise the roots of the apple trees from which the apples were picked to make the cider. Middle one tells us that this is what organic cider tastes like. Despite the pretentiousness of the menu, the food is outstanding and the flavours exquisite. So good in fact, we wolf down every single item and have to strongly resist the urge to lick our plates clean.
A walk along the pier, a few stops along the beach front shops, an idle coffee later and the day is fast drawing to a close. In true British style the sun decides to make a late-in-the day appearance almost blinding us as it sets along the seafront.
The three of us find ourselves momentarily in-between time, as we start the journey home chirping our rendition of “oh I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to be beside the sea”. Where the old has mixed with the new, the past of our simplistic childhood beachside shenanigans is temporarily juxtaposed against our modern foray into gourmet vegetarianism. It is somehow strange to be at the beach but paying for our own meals and now driving ourselves home. It’s a comforting feeling to know that travel doesn’t have to involve flying to far-flung corners of the globe. To know you’ve been there but you’ve somehow arrived back. Full circle.