There is a place as familiar to me as home, where I go every year with my family. I’ve been visiting the seaside town of Southwold in Suffolk on and off for my entire life.
My parents used to take us there for family holidays. I can remember the car journey, which seemed to last at least a year to my small person self. There would be a toilet stop at the Happy Eater (remember those?) and we knew we were getting closer when we drove over the Orwell bridge.
My father would sigh, ‘Or-well’. Every single time.
As the A-roads gave way to winding country roads and the landscape became flat and open, he would cry, ‘First one to see the lighthouse! First one to see the water tower!’
You couldn’t actually see the lighthouse from the road but you could spot the gigantic water tower on the common. Inevitably either my brother or I (usually my brother – he’s eight years older than me and at that time about three foot taller) would reply,
‘Seen it! I win.’
There’s one road in and one road out of Southwold. There are no traffic lights and up until about ten years ago, there were no high street shops apart from a couple of banks and an ancient Gateway (remember those?). From the horse-drawn carts that used to deliver the locally brewed beer to the dozen or so pubs around the town, to the multi-coloured beach-huts, which still populate the promenade, the town has an air of a place which never quite left the 1950s.
And it is to these huts every year that I go with my family. True, they are basically sheds by the sea and yes, one year after a particularly bad autumnal storm, our beach hut disappeared into the North Sea but it’s my favourite place in the world.
For this is the place where I stop, where I still my mind and learn to just be again. We have enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner here, we have read books, played some very competitive games of Scrabble and solved the crossword every day. We have soaked up the sun and peered out at the rain, snug under beach towels.
There is no-where else in the world I get to do this and it feels like a precious treat every year.
This is where I sent Cat Nightingale in Life Or Something Like It, when I wanted her to take a step back and look at her life from a different angle. With no phone signal and nothing urgent to do, she starts to see what she really needs to make her happy. It’s not what she expects either.
So I’ll be sitting in the beach-hut again this year with my book, games, newspaper and family, watching the world go by, allowing my mind to rest and unwind.
I can’t wait for my little slice of beach-hut heaven.