Sea Mills Memories

I was born in London, grew up mostly in Edinburgh but the place that we returned to time and time again in holidays and in dreams was my grandmother’s house in Cornwall. I even attended primary school here for a while before we made the move to Edinburgh. This was where I had my seventh birthday when I was given a blue canvas tent and I camped out alone in the vast garden.

The house was an old mill house situated on a tidal estuary. My childhood memories are full of anticipation of the tides and the weather: the grey expanse of mud as the water retreated, crabs scuttling from lifted slates, the grey of slate on the beach and house and garden walls, the jetty and slipway with the over-hanging ilex tree and the frequent drizzle. If the tide was right, we swam or messed around in boats. But sometimes the tide would come in all scummy and there could be no swimming: or the wind would suddenly drop and there could be no sailing. There were walks along to China Beach to collect pieces of broken crockery where clumps of shiny sea spinach, spiky samphire and silvery, grey- green sea purslane were revealed when the tide went out.

I remember how the swallows swooped across the garden path into their nest in the tool shed, when each year they returned from Africa, further than I will ever travel. We drank cups of tea on the slate steps where we scrawled noughts and crosses in the afternoon sun and had games of “hangman” with little pieces of slate. In the evening, I would listen to the oyster catchers and the sand pipers, calling their longing and wistfulness across the creek.

This was where I read a hundred books every summer, curled up in an armchair in a quiet room, dreaming of adventure and romance. Those cast-iron gates, at the threshold of the garden are still there in my imagination, calling me into that precious lost world.