Ten steps to goodbye in Southwold

  1. We buy ice cream microphones, chocolate and mint. They sing a song of holiday, our caramel cones. We are welcomed in Southwold by sun and blue sky. We walk beside beach huts, peering inside. There are hatted old folk with foldaway chairs. They have tin cups of tea and radios for company. They nibble sandwiches and snooze in their seaside sheds.

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2. As a child, I believed that doing a handstand proved my immortality. As long as I could stand upside down, I would live forever. On Southwold pier, I scissor kick the sky. My shadow leaps with delight, challenging my adult doubt.

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3. There are thousands of bronze plaques, permanent fixtures on the pier railings. Messages of love and remembrance, odd little quotes. Each one is a short story, a marker which states, ‘I lived and loved well on this piece of Earth’. They say, ‘read me, so I am remembered’.

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4. We play coin-operated machines, handmade by a Great British eccentric called Tim Hunkin.

  • There is Whack a Banker, a fabulous game for shifting anger. Thirty seconds to bash as many bankers as possible.
  • In The Booth of Truth, we receive dodgy readings of our character, based on Barnum statements that could apply to anyone.
  • In Mobility Masterclass, we practise walking across a motorway with a Zimmer frame. The aim is to get safely to the dance hall the other side – there are three settings for this game, aged 80 (easy), aged 90 (hard) and aged 100 (extreme)!
  • I win big on Pirate Practice, one billion dollars my prize, for steering my pirate ship past rocks to raid a yacht.
  • I have a consultation with The Doctor, half man half mummy. I put his stethoscope to my chest, then he scribbles an illegible prescription. Does it say ‘margaritas’? I think it does!


5. We devour fabulous food at Sutherland House fish restaurant – three courses for the two little piglets in the corner.


6. At twilight, we have the town to ourselves. We are like kids in an abandoned playground. There are so many grand houses with no lights on inside – empty palaces that come alive only at weekends, when Londoners unlock their second homes. There is the occasional house, still inhabited by local people. We look out for the yellow glow in windows. We see a pair of feet up on a living room table – there is life! – but mainly, Southwold on a Thursday night belongs to gulls in the black sky, shy rabbits that hop between poppies and long grass. As we approach on the coast road, they dart for cover, their white tails disappearing down holes.

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7. The beach is ours for the night. We own this stretch of the east coast. As the sky darkens, lights come on in the water – big ships sheltering from the harsh North sea. The Liquid Giant spits salt on the sand. Diagonal waves race to shore. Under the pier, we look between sea-beaten legs. The noise doubles, trebles, we are part of the sea under here. Out the other side, we climb over slippery rocks, to see red Mars above.

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8. Back in town, the lighthouse beams safety warnings to ships at sea. A crescent moon joins the display. Gulls loop between light shafts.

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9. In the morning, the sky is grey. We walk the length of the beach again. We watch the water crash into the sea wall. In winter, the waves smash over the top of the beach huts. They take the exposed huts away, to stop the North Sea breaking them to pieces.


10. And then we know how to say goodbye to the two tiny lives we lost. At Party Pants on Southwold High Street, the shopkeeper inflates purple and pink helium balloons. She goes to another shop for us, to get some tags. We write our messages and fix them to the ribbons. We walk through Southwold town, then up the pier.

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The wind is strong on the pier. Our balloons bounce against each other. They are like toddlers play-fighting. We try to take a photo with our messages showing, but soon we surrender to nature’s force. When we let the balloons go, I feel the drop in my stomach, the sting at their loss. They climb in the grey sky, floating north west. We find a bench, Dad 100 puts his arm around me. Tears come. We watch them rise, impossibly high. They are visible for much longer than I think they will be. Then there is peace beyond sadness – seeing them tied together, still climbing. They are a speck in the clouds now. I blink and they are gone.

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A big thank you to Dad 100, who took all the brilliant pictures for this post – you’re very lovely x x x 

 

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6 thoughts on “Ten steps to goodbye in Southwold

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