In a dusty album, in a dusty suitcase, in the dusty attic of my parents’ dusty house there is a photograph that never fails to make me misty-eyed. I don’t remember the day the photo was taken. That memory blurred a long time ago and the photo itself will soon fade beyond the point of recognition.
And then there will no longer be any record of my first ever trip to the beach. Wearing only a pair of two-sizes-too-big wellies and a gap-toothed smile, the picture captures me in a moment of pure happiness. I have an ice cream cone in each hand, a football under one arm, a bucket and spade under the other and am peeing merrily into a rock pool.
Thirty years later I still don’t think I’ve ever had such a good time. For starters, I don’t even own any wellies any more. I am older and, arguably, wiser now, but still love the beach as much as that first day. I consider it to be my happy place. If I stand on a chair and crane my neck, there is a slight sea view from the roof of my apartment block. It might actually be a concrete car park, but when you’re leaning so far over the side of the building it’s quite hard to hold binoculars steady.
What is true is that I now live within walking distance of sandy shores. Admittedly, it would involve a life-threatening walk across eight lanes of Sheikh Zayed Road traffic – never easy when wearing a sombrero and a rubber ring – but it is close enough for me to now consider myself a weekend beach bum. Yes, if I wasn’t so uptight, inhibited, rotund and pasty, I could easily be an extra in Baywatch. Or, at the very least some sort of happily shipwrecked cartoon pirate. Unfortunately, try as I might, I can’t master beach style. Straw hats make me look like a gondolier, a surfer’s wetsuit is an obvious no-no and even I know a sandal/sock combo is impossible to pull off.
Bootcamp fitness instructors have actually stopped people mid-press-up to point out my Hawaiian-shorts/vest ensemble, and the less said about an ill-advised attempt to wear Speedo-style trunks the better. Being neither athletic nor German, I know never to repeat that mistake.
But the beach is where I go to relax and I refuse to let something as trivial as my sense of self worth or the occasional coach-load of gaping tourists spoil that for me. So I’ll continue spending all my weekends at the beach, though for now I think I’ll leave the camera at home.