Suzanne Harrington: As a child, summers meant sitting on cold beaches and having soup

The pandemic had reset our attitudes and relationships to pretty much everything, including the sea
Suzanne Harrington: As a child, summers meant sitting on cold beaches and having soup
Suzanne Harrington

Have you noticed how we categorise the sea? Caribbean good, North Sea no thanks. Mediterranean good, Irish Sea bit nippy. South Pacific good, North Atlantic forget it.

 I’ll stop before I start sounding like the shipping forecast, but for decades now we have had the luxury of rejecting the seas we didn’t fancy. Not even climate change could stop our sea-picking. We went where we wanted, when we wanted — all we needed was the cash. Note the use of past tense.

As an Irish person — an islander surrounded by cold sea — I have immersed myself in Irish coastal waters maybe twice in my entire adult life, the last time in a wetsuit. Not quite at gunpoint, but close. Memories of freezing childhood picnics on windswept Irish beaches — flasks of soup and grey mist in July  — long before climate change arrived, finally making summer look like storybook summer, but without the wildfires and looming mass extinction.

These days, despite living a ten-minute walk from Brighton beach, every August I drive 1,400km to a Cote d’Azur campsite because the Med is warm and lovely. There are white peaches and chic beaches and everyone is French golden delicious. 

In February I flew 8,367km to Kerala because the Arabian Sea is even warmer and lovelier. Palm trees and mangos and tropical water. Blue skin and goosebumps? No thanks.

And then Covid did what climate change has not yet been able to: it locked us down in our local areas. Indoors for so many months that when we finally left our houses, the pandemic had reset our attitudes and relationships to pretty much everything, including the sea; we realised that what we have on our doorsteps might not be so bad after all. We made friends with the local sea because the foreign one was off-limits.

Hello, staycation. Hello, cold water. (Conveniently, Wim Hof has taught us all how to wade into it without dying of a heart attack as it laps around our knees). I am off to the Isle of Wight (100km from my front door) in my new bell tent — frankly, I could not be more excited. I’ve never been — it was always too near. Too cold. Too uncool. Post-Covid, it feels like Ibiza.

When you think about it, Covid restrictions have liberated us from the tyranny of choice. 

Zero mental energy is expounded on trying to work out where to go this summer: we are not going anywhere.

 The upside? No baggage restrictions, no delays, security strip searches, family fights in the departure lounge, boarding jostling, deep vein thrombosis, inflight scratch cards. No air rage or airplane ‘food’. Nope. Just the unexpected exploration of what’s on the doorstep, what’s down the road. Cold sea is better than no sea. Unless you are landlocked, like the residents of Xinjiang, north-west China, 2,650km inland.

 Do they long for the sea? 

Or is it an islander thing? Hang on, I’ll Google it.

 

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