Tel column on the total magnificence of living near the sea7th October 2019
Here you go. Will paste it below. Ironically, I stumbled on the nudist bit of the beach entirely by accident yesterday. Nobody out alas since it was pelting with rain.
I’ve been living in Norfolk for a month now. Every morning, as soon as I wake, I open the curtains to check where the tide is. If the boats beyond the bottom of the garden are lying on their side like drunks, it’s right out. If they’re upright, the hulls gently lifted above the marsh, it’s high. I could dispense with my watch since this ritual sets the day’s timetable – when should I sit down behind my laptop and write? When can I open the garden gate and step into the marshes for a walk? I stride out there at least once a day and make for the romantic expanse of Holkham beach, although I’ve learned to avoid the nudist area. Brave souls to be risking that in October. Let us hope they’ve had their flu jabs.
This is relevant since a study has just been published declaring that living beside the sea is good for your head. Those of us who are lucky enough to live within half a mile of coastline are happier and less anxious, according to the eggheads at Exeter University. There’s some drivel in this survey which talks of the coast as a ‘protective zone’ for psychological wellbeing and the importance of ‘blue health’, which is the relationship between our mental health and the natural environment. But otherwise it seems pretty sound and is apparently the first official study to prove this benefit, the first scientific underlining of that music hall ditty: ‘I do like to be beside the seaside.’
It’s not remotely surprising to me. Nor you, maybe, if you live in Aldeburgh or Whitby. If you live in Bournemouth, does the effect of having to live in Bournemouth cancel the benefits out? (Just joking. No letters please. I once went on a terrific hen party to Bournemouth.) In a month of living here, looking out at the North Sea, I feel calmer and more peaceful than I have for a couple of years. I’m not the sort of person who believes in the medicinal properties of white willow bark over ibuprofen or talks fondly of crystals, but there is something spiritual about being near water. I suspect it’s the reason that, during a brief flit back to London, I headed immediately for a walk along the towpath. Whatever fusses and irritations we may be suffering, the tide will come and the tide will go. Life continues.
As far as I can gauge, the only problem with living this close to the sea is that I’ve put on half a stone from the fish and chips, from the crab mayonnaise and baked potatoes soaked in so much butter the potato flesh turns yellow. In my nearest town, there’s an Old Etonian fishmonger who flogs very posh pots of mackerel pâtés, fishcakes and homemade chowder. ‘Freshly boiled lobster today’ boasts a sign outside, and, honestly, what is the point of freshly boiled lobster and all that fiddly finger-work if not to smother the thing with more mayonnaise? As if a Dickens character, I’ve started eating potted shrimps on toast as a tea-time snack. But because I’m so happy here, I don’t much care about the weight. I’ll go for a longer walk tomorrow and have something very slight for supper. A pot of taramasalata to start, perhaps, followed by a prawn curry.
Hurrah, the bi-annual, hurly burly of the big fashion weeks has finished. That’s it for another six months. I loathe the parade of cross, thin women wearing uncomfortable clothes and strange make-up in hot warehouses to make us think we’re supposed to wear a lace cape with thigh-high boots and a panama hat come the spring. It’s absurd, especially when we’re supposed to be guarding against ‘fast fashion’. Fashion houses have been scurrying to address the sustainability question this season and in Paris, Chloe’s creative designer declared ‘it’s our responsibility to make a statement that you don’t want to throw away in six months.’ Which is all very admirable but those cross women will be back in six months, parading another Chloe collection, so who are they expecting to buy that, then?
Politicians are being urged to watch their words and that is quite right. But the rest of us need to guard against slipping into hyperbole, too. A 20-year-old vegan from Canterbury has grumbled that she’s ‘traumatised for life’ after biting into a meat sausage roll accidentally given to her in Greggs. Traumatised forever for biting down on a flaky pastry? Goodness. Is there a specialised trauma therapist we can find to help? Here’s hoping she never confuses Quorn mince with a bolognaise. I don’t mean to sound like a 900-year-old grandmother who carps on about rationing and disintegration of the bulldog spirit, but with the tempestuous waters around us at the moment one does slightly wonder how certain sorts would cope if we stumble into another war.