At work today, I seemed to be wishing lots of people happy holidays as they snuck off early for the Easter weekend. Some of them, with a definite air of optimism over experience, were setting off with their metaphorical buckets and spades for a few days at the seaside, determined not to let the dismal weekend weather-forecast dampen their enthusiasm.
Is there anything more likely to prompt nostalgic reminiscence than talk of past seaside holidays? Waves crashing on pebbles, the salty tang of the wind, the crunch of sand in picnic lunches. Children, families, lovers and loners; excitement and energy, romance and regrets.
Among my most treasured memories are two summer holidays when I was around 9 or 10. For two years running we stayed at the Georgian House Hotel in Littlehampton. In those days a relatively sleepy seaside town, with none of the brash brightness of Brighton or Hastings. No amusement arcades, slot machines or fairground rides, but the wonder of three different beaches!
The sand dunes - rolling soft sand that your feet sank into, while blades of sharp, unforgiving grass dug into vulnerable bare legs. The main beach - with its pebbles, deck chairs and wind breaks, where dads and kids would squat at the water's edge to build castles in the wet sand. And my favourite - the furthest away from where we were staying, but worth the extra walk for its magical combination of beach hut and rock pools.
The excitment of negotiating my way around the rocks, my feet clenching through their flip-flop soles, trying to cling on to one stone before gingerly stepping out to the next one. All the while knowing that if I slipped I'd jag my knees on the ragged edges, and drench the thick jumper that was keeping out the seaside wind. The magic of lifting a rock to find a tiny crab that I could lift up, oh so carefully, and store in a bucket of water. The bucket carried back and stored with our other treasures in the beach hut until it was time to leave.
When I was a child I always cried at the end of the holidays - never wanting to go home. So my very wise mother devised a special treat - only allowed on the last day of the holiday. A knicker-bocker glory. A tall glass, with syrup at the bottom; small pieces of tinned fruit covered in ice cream, piled up with whipped cream; topped off with more syrup, a strawberry, and a sprinkle of hundreds and thousands. It was eaten with the longest spoon I'd ever seen. Oh the wonder of pushing the spoon down through the melting ice-cream to find those pieces of fruit at the bottom, hoping to uncover another strawberry - it was almost as good as finding a crab.