Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sun, sea, sand ... and seaweed

Evening, God.

From where I'm sitting, I can see a very special part of your handiwork.  I can look out of the window of the cottage that we're renting for the week and I can see the sea. Silvery, calm, shimmering - tide in at the moment so the sandy beach where we sat earlier is lost beneath the gentle waves splashing on the breakwater. 

I love the sea.
It's very beautiful. I love the sea. I think I've said that several times before, but I know you don't mind. I'll keep going on about it. 

Something inside me expands when I get to spend time at the seaside. I love the sound of the sea, the way the sunlight sparkles when it catches the waves, the rhythm of it; the way sometimes you can count the waves and predict which one will be the big one when the tide is coming in.  

I love rock pools and the little treasures that my husband can unearth for the children and I love that he can spend hours stooped over little pools and turning over rocks to reveal hidden creatures. 

I love the way the timber of the breakwaters have weathered in the relentless sun and wind and sea. I love the way that there are stones jammed between them so tightly that they can't be dislodged, but the might of the sea threw them there carelessly. 

I love pebbles and the sshhh of shingle and the way that I sink in the fine sand and become off balance when I stand in the surf and watch a wave receding. 

I love the excitement on my daughters' faces when they see the sea for the first time and their impatience to get down to the beach. I love that this year they are fearless and happy to wade into the sea until they can barely touch the bottom and then swim instead of just hopping over the breakers as they have in previous years. 

Off to the beach!
I love that, because it's something that I can't do. 

I love almost everything about the sea. 

I love the sea very much, but I've never been in it. At least, I've never been deeper than my knees, and then, being British and only ever having been in the sea around our shores, it's with great trepidation. 

I'm afraid of seaweed. 

Don't laugh. 

I know you weren't laughing. Does it upset you, that I hate seaweed? That I can paddle in the shallows with my trouser-legs rolled up but I need to be watchful about where I tread in case some of the wretched stuff ends up on my foot? Today there was lovely clear sea about ten feet beyond the shoreline, but alas, I couldn't reach it because there was an inordinate amount of fine, bright green, frondy seaweed between me and it. Not even the thick bladderwrack stuff that coats the groynes and the legs of the pier but the fine, fluffy stuff - I hate all of it. The stray bits that are carried about on the tide are the worst. They might wrap themselves around me. 

I have no idea where this phobia came from, but it is a phobia. My heart beats faster, I feel panicky. I can't tell if I've always been afraid of seaweed or whether there was a point at which it all went wrong. Can you? 

Was there an incident that traumatised me? I'm quite sure that my brother waved it at me when I was small, but whose brother didn't? Why would that leave me so terrified of it?  I envied the girls today as they swam and splashed and laughed and I envied their Daddy his opportunity to share the joy with them. 

I sat high up on the beach and doled out drinks and towels and collected pebbles. 

I had a dream when I was much younger. It's not exactly a recurrent dream, but one that I've had a few times with the odd modification over the years. I'm in a series of caves at the seaside. Each one has steep sides and leads into another. Each cave is about thigh deep with water, and there are three in a row, then beautiful open sea. I can see the sunshine sparkling off the waves and the sea is clear and pure and I'm longing to swim there. The only way there is through these three caves.  I step barefoot into the water in the first cave. 

It's full of fish. So full that the water is dark and heaving with them. It's dark with flashing scales and I have to force my legs through them. It's really horrid to walk through all these fish slithering against me and I keep stumbling as I tread on one and then I'm afraid because I don't want to fall over. I manage to get to the end of the cave and there's the next one. This cave is full of muddy water. It stinks. It's like a swamp. Under the surface of the mud there are who knows what kind of creatures crawling and biting and stinging, and the mud smells terrible. Mosquitoes are buzzing round and there are strange unexplained ripples that frighten me. I wade as fast as I can to the end of the cave and climb with great relief onto the rocks that divide this cave from the last. 

The last cave is the only thing that separates me from the beautiful, crystal clear ocean beyond. There are white waves breaking onto a pale sandy beach and wonderful coral formations with brightly coloured fish. It looks so inviting. 

The last cave is full of seaweed. All kinds.  Squelchy stuff, frondy stuff, mossy stuff and slimy stuff.  It's a long pool full of seawater and seaweed. 

I just can't do it. 

I managed the other caves full of slimy fish and all manner of creepy crawlies, but I can't do seaweed.  The wonders of the clean, tropical ocean beyond are not for me. I'm defeated. 

I turn back. 

Looking for a smiley pebble.
This dream stayed with me. I have no idea if it means anything (other than a demonstration of the horrors my childish imagination could come up with and the limits of my courage) but it is as clear in my head now in my forties as it was then, when I was just a child. 

I live in Derbyshire. Of all parts of the UK, Derbyshire is probably the best place to be if one has a seaweed phobia. Derbyshire is furthest inland of all counties in Britain. It's not a particularly large island, as islands go, but if you wanted to get as far as possible away from the sea, Derbyshire's the place. I don't come across seaweed that often, though at our old house we inherited a pond which regularly became overgrown with weed; my husband dealt with all that. Oh yes. Not me. If I had a phobia about open spaces, or closed-in spaces, or spiders, or trees or something it would impact my life much more and I'd have to do something about it, but seaweed?  Fairly easy to live with.  Easy to avoid.

There are echoes, sometimes. For instance, if anyone has dropped a tissue in the wet area of the changing rooms at the swimming pool, then I am anxious about going near. I would absolutely hate to tread on it. If it became fastened round my foot I would be beside myself. I hate putting my hand into washing up water with lots of floaty bits of food in it. I have to steel myself to clear out the drain in the shower if it gets clogged and have been known to throw up after doing it. 

I cannot make papier mache. Oh no. Wet bits of paper stuck to me? No thanks. 

My brave Elizabeth.
So, I hate seaweed, I live inland, but I love the sea. I love it with a passion. It recharges my batteries and I live off the experience for a long time afterwards. I have set as my aim that I will make the effort to see the sea at least once every year, because I feel especially close to you at the seaside. I gaze at the ocean and I see you. 

I see your power, your vastness, your unchanging nature. I see your majesty, your beauty, your relentlessness.  You cannot be contained. You have many faces; still, tame, calm, soothing - or fierce, thundering, awe-inspiring. I love to see the fishing boats, I love to spend time on the beach, I love to take photos. 

Swimming? No thanks. I'll watch. 

There are other reasons I don't go in the sea. The usual ones about being too self conscious in a swimsuit or even shorts. I didn't even pack any shorts for me this holiday, let alone a swimsuit. Elizabeth looked at me quizzically and asked why I wasn't coming for a swim and I didn't know what to say as I don't want to introduce the ridiculous idea that someone might be afraid of seaweed, and nor do I want to admit that I am so crippled by my body image that I couldn't bring myself to get my legs out in front of strangers. Dilemma. The moment passed. She swam and sang with joy. I paddled gingerly in the foam at the waters' edge and took photographs. 

Wel, Lord, when I started this I had no idea that I was going to get all that off my chest. My seaweed phobia is just an inbuilt part of me. I reckon that if I needed to wade through it to save one of my girls' lives, I wouldn't just stand there wistfully looking at the open water beyond; or at least I hope I wouldn't. It's just one of the many flies in the ointment of life for me. I adore the sea, but I can't go in it. 

How beautiful is that?
I don't know where I'm heading with this. I wouldn't dare to ask you for healing in case you need me to do something brave to conquer my fear. I don't want to have to be brave. I'd quite like to understand where the fear came from, but not if it requires me to face it in any dramatic way. I'd quite like to be out there laughing and swimming with my family but I can't do it so I'll let my husband have this special thing with the girls. Let it go, hey.

I didn't mean to get all maudlin. I am loving our holiday by the sea. While I've been here chatting to you it's gone dark and the sea is now an inky black invisibleness with a myriad of lights where there are ships out there. I can hear the waves on the breakwater and I can see the lighthouse winking far up the coast. Tomorrow we're off to the beach again and I'll make a good sandcastle and I'll lie on the rug and dig my toes in the sand and then go and walk carefully along the shoreline in the shallow water. I'll take lots of photos of my girls as they grow up because in the blink of an eye they won't want buckets and spades any more. I'll have to bring them for me. 

I'm going to find a pebble with a smile. Every year I find a pebble with a smile and when I get home I add eyes and a nose and I label it with the date and location of our holiday. My pebbles cheer me up all year round.

I want to make the most of this holiday. I'm needing a top-up. 

A top-up of sun, sand, sea - and you, Lord God, who made it all. 

Even the seaweed. Though I can't for the life of me understand why...

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