The Tide is Always In

I don’t hear any seagulls. That’s one of the main things that bothers me. You can’t see the sea from my bedroom window normally and if it’s too cloudy you can’t really see the seagulls above, but you should always be able to hear them, voices as harsh as the wind. Except I can’t hear them because I’m not at home, not in my seaside town in the West Country. Instead I’m in a landlocked state where most of the lakes are manmade and even the sound of the sea is out of my hearing.

Weston was built as a tourist town: it was just a village until the Victorians came with their desire for holidays on the beach. Even the name of the town: Weston-super-Mare, Weston-upon-Sea, tells you that it’s the water that is important.

     I don’t live by the ocean; I live by the Bristol Channel, the Severn Estuary, the field of mud that happens to have water flowing across it. It can be silver in the right light, at the right time, but more often it is brown, especially when the tide is out. According to North Somerset Council, “When day trippers arrived during a low tide they were sometimes disappointed at not being able to have a dip or a paddle. The problem was solved in 1928 when a causeway was constructed between Knightstone and Claremont. Glentworth Bay became Marine Lake with what was known as Little Sands, where the tide remained in all day long.” That’s what we see in this photograph, the smooth surface of Marine Lake separated from the rough edge of the sea. It doesn’t look like the place for a holiday, but the tide is in and that is what is important, not just for the tourists. I grew up somewhere where the tide is always in.

There’s a tradition in the UK that we will all go to the beach the moment there is a Bank Holiday regardless of hell or high water. The water in Marine Lake a couple of days after New Year, a couple of days before I flew back to Nashville, was as high as I’ve ever seen it. With every breath another wave rose up and my spirits rose with it. According to the Met Office, the West Country may be warmer than most of the United Kingdom, but “South-west England is one of the more exposed areas of the UK, with wind speeds on average only greater in western Scotland.” The tourism industry has been in decline in the United Kingdom since the 1970’s, but my parents and I were not tourists. We were home and this photograph was a memory being preserved before I had to leave my seaside again. We were not going to let the wind spoil that, on the contrary, the wind was part of what made it home.

We went there on that day because the tide is always in and that means the memories are always there. My mother came to Weston in 1969, only eleven years old and by 1971 she and her teenage friends were running along the causeway between Marine Lake and the sea, between the mainland and Knightstone Island. They didn’t care about the weather then and we didn’t forty years later. I wasn’t just standing by the sea when this photograph was taken, I was standing beside her, both as a teenager and as my mother, remembering why Weston was, is and will always be home.

My father came to Weston as a man in his twenties. He wasn’t coming to live; he was just following orders, a member of the Royal Air Force temporarily stationed at RAF Locking, an airbase that does not even exist anymore. When I stood beside him and my mother to take this photograph, I was standing in front of a block of flats that was once a hotel, another legacy of Weston’s renovations. In 1983, that hotel was where my parents held their wedding reception. When I stand by Marine Lake, I’m standing on the memories of how two strangers to the town, a girl from Romford and a boy from Bournemouth, found their way to the sea and built their lives on the shore. It’s not just a tourist town, it’s not a holiday destination or a day on the beach, it’s what made us.

“My imagination, however, requires that I stay in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view…I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am.” (Palmuk 6).

Weston made my parents who they were and in that way it made me. We might not have walked along the narrow causeway on that wet and windy day when I took this photograph, we may have walked around the long route to Knightstone Island and kept our feet mostly dry, but we still went to the beach in early January to acknowledge what that place was to us. They’ve rebuilt the seafront in the last few years; the new seawall is too clean to date to the Victorian Era and there are shining rails to stop people falling over the edge. Knightstone Island used to have medicinal baths, built by Dr Edward Long Fox, now Dr Fox’s is a tearoom, though the listed nature of the buildings meant they could only change the contents, not the faces. You can have soup and hot chocolate to cure you of Winter’s chill or you can eat a cheese sandwich with cheese that was matured in the real Cheddar caves. Everything is locally produced; Weston is always part of Somerset and the West Country, even when the name of the county changes from Somerset to Avon to Somerset again. A new Weston is built on the Weston that has been there for over a hundred years but despite all the changes, the tide is still always in. That’s what I miss most when I’m not there, that the tide should always be in.

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