There were seven of us on that first beach hut adventure. Six adults and one tiny-eight-week old baby. My nephew. We lounged in deck-chairs as we read our books, and brewed cups of tea. Strolled along the coast and swam in the sea. Twelve arms to share one precious bundle.
Within ten years, the adults were outnumbered. Rumbustious kids, adventurous toddlers and sandy-bottomed babies. Buggys, pottys and sun-cream. We hauled a hand cart up and down the steep and winding path, heavy with picnics, towelling jackets, swimming suits. Buckets and spades. Saucepans, nappies and home-made cakes. Lounging became a dream of the past, forsaken to the glorious chaos of toddler pursuit, life-guard duties and feeding a hungry swarm. We cooked up fish fingers and baked beans on the gas stove in the hut, strung a mosquito net to fend off angry wasps. Embraced the weariness as we settled our gaggle of salty-haired offspring onto child-sized plastic chairs. As the beach cleared and the sun dropped, we sipped mugs of tea and smiled as they ate with an appetite born of a well lived day. Babies slept on impromptu beds spread on the beach hut floor. A weary-legged tramp took us back up to the top of the cliff. The sleep of the rosy-cheeked, sated child. Heads lolling in car seats, drunk on fresh air.
Tots grew into children. Bikinis and body boards, chips and arcades. Windy days brought waves to ride and kites to fly. Even when it rained the beach never failed to work its magic. Sandcastles became more adventurous. Shells gathered for bracelets, plaits beaded in hair. Granddad’s faithful frisbee, beach-boules and cricket. Suntan lotion glistened on youthful bodies which had evolved between our visits.
The whistle on the kettle changed its tune and more mugs were needed. We spread, our chairs spilling across the promenade. We took more than our share. Behind dark glasses teenage eyes watched passing talent. Youth swooped from angsty adolescent to playful child and back again with dizzying speed. Fireworks, air shows and smart phones. They might not want to come next year. Can they bring their girlfriend/boyfriend? But go without them, and oh they are pissed off.
We must buy our fish and chips from the very same place. Park at the cliff-top to take in the view of our beach. Ice cream cones, mugs of tea and rock cakes are compulsory. Change is good, but who can argue with those traditions. We number sixteen now, there is a new tot on the beach. My great nephew – sandy-bottomed, salty-haired and very precious.