We have washed up on the South Coast of England, landed on a shingle beach not 100 yards from where Julius Caesar had his first encounter with some very hostile natives.
It’s a temporary return to a small seaside town which seems to have been frozen in suspended animation for the last 7 years. We are here to attend to family matters, a necessary pause in “the trip”.
And I have been transported back to a caricature England. An Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransom, England. It’s a breezy sunny Sunday on the beach. A bandbox smart brass band is playing a Sousa march on the bandstand, its audience huddled on plastic chairs wearing warm jumpers. I am sitting outside a cafe on the Green. It’s three o’clock, about the same time that Caesar landed. A mere 2,065 years separates our individual observations. There are striped deckchairs and big dog called Alfie who is attaching himself to anyone who will throw him a ball. Two rosy cheeked little girls are asking to share a rock bun while their Mother and her friend have arrived, looking forward to “a nice cup of tea”
We have strolled the beach path between two castles where the same little fishing boats, the huts, the winding gear and the lobster pots are anchored on the pebbly shore. Halyards are still clinking against aluminum masts, dark marker pennants still flap as the wind quickens and, beyond and below the boats, the grey green Channel lies like a slab of cold marble.
In the town seagulls as big as Rottweiler's walk the streets and slight, weasel faced men, surely from old smuggling stock, men with hunched shoulders and nervous eyes, scurry through narrow streets where the jumble of old houses lean and totter, holding each other up like good old friends and where now, wealthy London makes its weekend home.
We are not sure how long this pause will be. There has been a visit to a yellowing Dickensian lawyer’s office, where Jarndyce and Jarndyce might be considered a rushed case. .. so who knows how long…
Caesar’s landing, and mine… Sunday 19th Sept. The South Coast