I live quite close to the beach. Close enough that if I wanted to, I could go every day. Close enough that it wouldn’t be out of the question for me to own a fishing rod or surfboard. Close enough that I could sublet my flatmate’s bedroom to holidaying strangers, if I felt so inclined (furnished). When the breeze isn’t filling my nose with the smells of fetid oil from the fast food shops or the musty funk of the green bins that I keep forgetting to take out, I can get a whiff of the briney deep.
It’s such a shame that I’m scared shitless of it.
From sand in my vag to bluebottles wrapped around my leg, going to the beach just doesn’t fill me with joy. I like it, and it’s very pretty, but… Yeah. It just doesn’t float my boat.
I’m not sure when this changed, because I have a lot of memories of loving the beach. The waves, the taste, the sinus cleansing shock that accompanies most visits – what’s not to love?
I was one of those kids who, every summer, took on an olive hue after spending countless hours bathed in coconut oil and playing in or on the beach. My grandparents were the usual initiators, who adored a day at the coast. I think it was an attempt to get warm after spending most of their lives in the UK. They could spend an entire day on the sand and never have to leave. Even getting changed in and out of swimmers wasn’t a drama. Not after Nan made the tent.
The tent was a long strip of terry toweling material, sewn together to create a sleeping bag type garment. There was no seam at the base or the top, and it was just one long tube of fabric. The concept was simple: step inside the tent, pull it up to your neck, pull the drawstring tight so that the tent wouldn’t drop down, and you could get changed in total privacy. You could even carry on conversations with relative strangers while the vigorous movements from beneath the toweling were unmistakable attempts to get sand out of your nether regions. Pure brilliance.
But as time went on and I became more aware of things like sharks and bluebottles and seaweed, I worked out that the ocean was fucking frightening. Yes, seaweed. Shut up.
I had grown to become somewhat of a magnet for things like march flies and slippery rocks, and if anyone was going to discover a fishing hook in their thigh, it would be me. I think this assurance just spurred my sister on, and she continues to love the ocean to this day.
My mum loved the ocean baths – those big swimming pools that are filled with sea water. They probably have a proper Australian name, but they’ve been called ocean baths in my family my entire life. Anyway, once mum learned how to swim, not much could keep her out of them. She would spend hours bobbing around, and we would watch, shivering, on the steps.
One day, no one else was in the ocean bath and mum was full of glee at having it to herself. She hurriedly splashed her way in and happily grinned up at dad and I. It just didn’t make sense that the baths would be empty on this particular day, and it was as dad started to complain about the smell that I squatted down to try to work out what the millions of flecks of bizarre organic matter might be. It dawned on dad and I simultaneously.
Mum was swimming in poo.
She was floating with floaters.
She would clearly require a decontamination wash.
To this day I have no idea why there was poo in the ocean bath. In fact, I have no idea if it really was poo. All I know is that the pool stunk, was mysteriously empty and the water was flecked with shame.
She went back in the next time we were there.
But there was no way I’d ever share a beach change tent with her again.