When it came to our 2020 Family Beach Day, we took inspiration from another famous beach known for creating triumph from disaster. Yes, it was the Dunkirk Spirit that drove us on.
Would we allow the lowering, ever present clouds of COVID-19 to put a stop to our annual outing? Not us! we told each other - we would cock a snook at coronavirus...
By my calculation, this is the eighteenth year of family gatherings on the beach. There were just five of us in 2002 while our largest ever gathering numbered well over twenty. One year we had to hold
two Family Beach Days to accommodate favoured dates and two years ago the weather was so very frightful that we took over a whole area of a Harvester restaurant for an entire afternoon. Not even the most intrepid of beach-goers (and, boy, are we intrepid when
circumstances dictate!) would have ventured onto the sand that day. Once or twice we met up at beautiful West Wittering but most years Littlehampton (known in the past as The Children’s Paradise) was our chosen venue. It offered all we needed for beach
So it was that the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and I tentatively laid plans for this year’s escapade. We knew not everybody would be able to make
it, for all manner of reasons, but agreed that Family Beach Day would go ahead, come what may. We were joined in this stalwart resolution by the Middle of the Darling Daughters and the Rascally Trio (who would happily spend their lives on the beach if allowed.)
We knew that all those family members who could not be with us in person would surely be with us in spirit...
Yesterday was the Big Day. With Mr B under the careful
watch of the Delightful Donna, I had just over four hours of blessed freedom to frolic and I was determined to make the most of it. The Trio and their mamma were already camped on the beach when the rest of us arrived. The Trio delightedly hid behind the windbreak
so that their beloved Auntie Kazza and Cousin Hazel couldn’t spot them as they approached - what they didn’t realise that I was heading up behind them, having had to make a short detour to negotiate the wooden steps onto the beach. There’s
no hiding from me, I told them.
Their delight at seeing me was nothing to the excitement at the large, bucket-shaped box I was carrying, a colourful label on the
front announcing that it was a “Professional Sand Castle and Sculpting Kit.” This was originally the property of the Youngest of the Darling Daughters’ now all-grown-up off-spring but she had gifted it to me on the basis that I could doubtless
make more use of it than she could. The Trio immediately tipped the contents out onto the sand and proceeded to try to work out what each of the thirteen pieces of kit was for. To be honest, we never quite got the hang of the pump, the brick holders or the
bucket lever - and when we filled the storage bucket with sand and water, as instructed, it didn’t turn out a perfectly formed castle, but a shapeless mound of sludge.
Which didn’t matter at all because we resorted to my time-honoured sandcastle building methodology. The sea was way, way out, leaving lots of perfect sandcastle sand, so Tala (Elder of the Twins by one important minute) and I built a reasonably
recognisable castle, surrounded by a seaweed moat and decorated with colourful plastic moulds. As always, I collected stones to spell out the Year of Construction for future reference. “Did you realise,” my youngest daughter asked me, “that
according to you it’s 2022?” It’s not like me to go Back to the Future...
We ate our picnic lunch on the beach, the Trio jumped over the waves
and we explored the rock pools, discovering a mermaid’s purse in the process. There was a lot of chatter, and a multitude of photo opportunities. A walk along the prom, prom, prom brought us to the Longest Bench where all the Tremendous Ten grandchildren
have their names inscribed on wooden slats.
“Saw the slats on the bench which name us -
Didn’t know that
we were famous!”
in the words of one of my many seaside songs, relating the story of a sunny seaside week with Team Baldwin a good few years ago now.
Indeed, we reflected as we walked along, with the Trio racing each other ahead of us, that’s the indefinable essence of Family Beach Days. We don’t exactly do a great deal, and what we do is always just what we have always done. It’s what
you call “tradition.”
Mostly, we just enjoy the company - of each other and the happy ghosts of all those Summers Past...