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Ah, the beach!
What does that mean to you?
Perhaps you think of miles of white sand, the turquoise sea lapping at your feet, palm trees and cool pink drinks decorated with little umbrellas.
Perhaps your mind is drawn to a sandy cove surrounded by cliffs. There are rock-pools full of anemones, crabs and tiny glittering fish, and dark caves smelling mysteriously of seaweed; each one a potential smuggler's hideaway.
Maybe you can remember sitting in the car on the seafront, watching the rain lash down on the windscreen and eating fish and chips, hot out of the paper. There was the crunch of the batter, the delicate dance of white fish on your tongue and the satisfying squelch between your teeth as you bit into the chips. Even now, that memory of vinegar vibrato and warm salt will make your mouth water. When the sun reappeared, you could go out onto the rain-washed sand with your bucket and spade and play for hours.
The beach where we spend our summers is not like that.
Fifteen years ago, we heard some good friends of ours had a share in a beach house. At the time, we were newlyweds, new parents and very hard up. We asked our good friends if we could borrow it for a cheap holiday.
"Well – yes," they said, misgiving in their tones. "But you must come and visit first, before you decide if you want to stay for a whole week."
When we arrived, we could understand their hesitation. This is a beach house in Essex. So, there are no towering cliffs and sandy bays. It is not in Frinton, respectably genteel with its beach-huts; nor yet is it in good natured, rowdy Clacton with the pier and generous golden sands. This beach house is further south, and looks out onto the Colne Estuary. Here, there is little sand, and what there is, more shingle than sand. Here, we have mud.
One of the main reasons we get upset is disappointed expectations.
We had expected sand. Instead we got mud, and rocks, and oyster-beds that rip open unwary feet so swimming is best done in shoes.
But that disappointment lasted only minutes. An estuary is far more interesting than a seaside town. Whatever the season or weather there is always river traffic. The boats go out at dawn and dusk carrying the engineers who service the windfarms. At high tide the yachts and the cargo boats full of sand make their measured way into the small harbour. The ubiquitous sailing dinghies race up and down and round and round, their sails a fluttering flotilla of butterflies. The sunsets are some of the best in the world, and at night the navigation lights blink in patterns as complex as a ring of church bells.
And those mudflats are full of birds.
If we had continued to hanker after sand, we would still be disappointed. Sometimes we have to see the beauty of what is, and not the glitter of what we desired.
A Moodscope member.