I have a confession. I am totally cheating on the Thames Estuary with the North Sea. Right now. Today. It’s my day off and I needed to get out of the city to realign my noggin so me and the gals hopped on a bus down to Portobello and after 20 minutes of jiggling here we are. The beach. As I walked down the hill, eyeing up the big bad blue-grey of the indomitable seething waves, I couldn’t even pretend I was going to behave myself. There it was. The irresistible sea. I can’t figure out if temporarily switching affection from home to exotic waters is that bad. In one way it feels like having an affair with your beau’s fit uncle. The one that works out. Naughty. But in another, less mental scenario it feels like you’re loyally exploring your lover. The waters of the world all link up, don’t they. So really it’s like I’m just visiting another side of my partner. A day trip to another part, paying my respects to a lesser seen facet. Really, my Portobello affair is like a couple’s retreat. One where you fall into natural appreciative contemplation of each other, your life together. Not one of those expensive ones where you get to air your differences with a counsellorwho encourages you to bash each other with polystyrene bats though.
Is it strange to feel loyal to a thing that’s not a person? I feel loyal to our little strip of Estuary. It’s like a person to me. A tumultuous lover, a steadfast friend, a welcoming aunt, a projection of my father, a swirl of everyone and everything. A dipping pool of everything you need. I’ve lost count of the number of times the 7.4 or whatever mile stretch of seafront has sorted my head out. It’s always there. It stays in your blood when you’ve grown up by the sea. You can almost feel your body angling itself towards it. The sea is the North in my compass. I’m always pointing that way. You feel a bit hemmed in when you go inland. Where’s the water? It’s not right somehow. And coming home, the first sighting of the water is when you really know you’re home. That’s when your insides settle and your traveler’s equilibrium is righted.
I can’t believe this is the first time in ten years of doing the Edinburgh festival that I have thought to come down here and have a spot of sea goodness to clear my head. You fall into a groove that becomes a rut easily up here. Pacing the same streets to get to the same places, your schedule rotating around four or five points. Theatre and bars and restaurants and Tesco and your temporary home.
But not this year. I needed to get out. So Portobello it is. Smooth yellow sand, very unScottish sunshine. The sea looks so full it could spill out; drip down and out of the sky, wash towards you with the excitement of a waggy-tailed wetly-greeting dog.
I’m going to go for a paddle. I’m going to take off my shoes, roll up my jeans, and go and stand and wince in the water. Feel the lower degrees of the ocean coldness, the kinder tendrils of the killing cold of the deep, still brusquer than the chill of the Thames. Feel the roughness of it. The shifting sands, gurgling and gushing away, never the same thing twice. The frantic assault of the toes. Be righted by it for now, a tonic, a day’s affair, a rough kiss. Finish the festival. Then come back to the familiarity of home.