“But I don’t like the beach.” My seven-year-old daughter is adamant that this is a terrible idea. Maybe she’s right. By arranging to spend a weekend in a beach hut, I’m trying to return to some vintage age, a charming time of buckets and spades by the British seaside, ice creams, Punch and Judy, golden memories. Except they’re someone else’s memories; we never went to the British seaside when I was small. There’s a word for this: anemoia — nostalgia for something that never existed. I’m trying to capture an ideal that never was. Nevertheless, it’s a bank holiday weekend, the sun is (miraculously) shining, and so I’ve loaded the kid, beach toys, picnic blanket and a waning sense of optimism into the car.
Strictly speaking, it’s not a beach hut exactly that we’re heading for: Bournemouth Beach Lodges promise something a little more luxurious. And when we arrive, all my daughter’s doubts dissipate.
“This is like living in a dolls house!” she squeals, climbing the steep steps up to her room, a little mezzanine with a single mattress in it. She peers down through the wooden slats beside her bed as we assess the space. A table and bench turn into another bed, if needed, there’s a TV, and a dinky, well-supplied kitchen. We ‘re going to sleep in the — very comfy — double bed up in the mezzanine, tucked in under a sloping roof. The en suite facilities are good, with a better shower than we have at home, and it’s all ingeniously fitted together to maximise the space. There’s even a Dorset apple cake waiting for us, which we take outside and eat with a cup of tea, admiring the view — which is really something.
The lodges overlook a wide boardwalk, and the expansive golden sands of Boscombe Beach are right in front of us, the waves crashing pretty much the only noise. It’s lovely. “Let’s go!” I enthuse, grabbing the picnic blanket, and trotting down the steps to make the 30-second walk to the beach. We spend a lovely 15 minutes on the sand (I’m particularly thrilled to realise I can take my cup of tea with me) and then, true to form, my daughter pipes up. “I don’t like the beach.” She’s spied the land train, which trundles along to Bournemouth every half hour or so. So we pack up, and get on the train, which climbs up and down the steep hills until we get to the attractions of the centre of town – fountains, a fun fair, the park. It’s lovely, and we feel particularly smug as evening comes — and tourists trudge back to their cars — as we hop back on the land train and go to our lodge, where we order pizza (the delivery driver isn’t terribly impressed by the hundred or so stairs he has to walk down to get to us from where he parks his car on top of the cliff) and drink wine while we watch the sunset.
The next day passes in almost exactly the same idyllic way: short beach trip, playing in Bournemouth, dinner delivered (this time by bike, a much more sensible idea as they can cycle down the boardwalk), drinks on our little terrace. The next day we have to leave our little home by the sea. We pack up and head over for a last play on the sand. “Do we have to go, mummy?” my daughter asks, plaintively. “I love the beach.” I hope she’s having the golden childhood I want to remember.