At the beach last Sunday I abandonned the rest of my family and went for a walk along the sand. Once out of sight, I briefly entertained notions of taking off, Ladder of Years style, re-inventing myself and living a new life for a while but, when it came down to it, I couldn’t be bothered and so settled for a spot of beachcombing instead. I love beachcombing. Not like this, just the picking-up-shells-and-bits-of-driftwood sort and something I’ve always wanted to find is a sea urchin. There are two reasons for this; firstly, I like sea urchins – I love anything textural that invites you to pick it up – secondly, and more importantly, sea urchins represent a deep-seated frustration from my childhood about the way that Real Life never quite measured up to Life In Books. When I was a child most of my knowledge of the world around me came from Ladybird books but, irritatingly, my favourite things in any of these books were always the ones I couldn’t find. What to Look for in Summer promised oak trees bearing green, shiny acorns (which would, in due course, turn into the brown shiny torpedoes promised in What to Look for in Autumn!) All the oak trees growing near our house, however, struggled to produce anything more than the most embryonic acorns and certainly nothing remotely torpedo shaped. It wasn’t only the natural world which let me down. Our house was hugely deficient in the wooden cotton reels, date boxes, corks and fountain pen innards demanded by the exciting projects in the Ladybird book of Toys and Games to Make ! Now I realise that lived in the south-east of Scotland, not the south-east of England, which was probably more representative of the countryside portrayed in What to Look for in Summer, and that, even in the late sixties, wooden cotton reels had been all but replaced by plastic, wine made an appearance only on special occasions and my father would have parted with his own innards rather than let me anywhere near his fountain pens, but I can still remember the feeling of being let down by the world around me.
Now, I’ve managed to overcome most of these childhood disappointments. Most, but not all. Until last Sunday I still hadn’t ever found a sea urchin on the beach. I was wandering along, thinking about this, when, suddenly, there it was – an actual sea urchin!
And that’s it really. Never found a sea urchin, frustrated by the inadequacies of the world around me as a child, now have a sea urchin and very happy about it.
Bit of a pointless post, really, although it has to said I sometimes still don’t think the world around me quite measures up to the World In Books.