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Days of sea and sun at Southwold

PUBLISHED: 15:25 07 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:18 20 February 2013

Sun, sea, sand and birds... the Southwold of today isn't that far removed from the one of Ian Collins' childhood holidays

Sun, sea, sand and birds... the Southwold of today isnt that far removed from the one of Ian Collins childhood holidays


Some families cross the big divides of race or religion or nationality, but in East Anglia where a local newspaper once announced: Seething man marries Great Snoring woman the split was always within or, still more, between the shires.
My parents marriage closed the chasm between Norfolk and Suffolk The Bridge over the River Waveney and we taboo-breakers then went even further, by moving to the edge of the Fens in Cambridgeshire.
What I had first taken to be the Soak of Peterborough proved too far from the waves for my liking, and so I spent every school break heading for the coast which unites the many different seascapes of East Anglia in a uniform bliss.
We went for the day to Hunstanton or Holkham. We holidayed in tents or chalets or caravans in brilliantly bleak outposts such as Sea Palling, Walcott, Waxham and (pre-gas terminal) Bacton.
My paternal grandparents took me on the train from Wroxham to Cromer or Yarmouth the first for agonising formal lunches with terrifying plates of sea monsters (crab, lobster), the second for the races and weeks spent with my maternal uncles family in Felixstowe introduced me to the joy of the beach-hut.
But from the start the word Southwold had a mythic quality for me.
It had been the first resort for my mother growing up in pre-war Yoxford when parades of shops ran all the way down the High Street, and also along parts of Stradbroke Road and Victoria Street.
Then again, mas guardian could remember the department store on South Green which had two more local branches one in down-town Southwold and the other in Walberswick.
Memory, memory. Southwold is made of this. They say this precious place never changes, but it does only more slowly than elsewhere, even with the dire developmental tide of the Blairite decade.
In hot classrooms I used to long to be up to my neck in cold water. So Southwold, when we finally got there, was all about the beach and the sea.
I remember it much like the famous Stanley Spencer painting, with deckchairs and windbreaks, and lines of towels and swimming costumes billowing in the breeze. Stan had reclaimed his vantage point each morning by measuring the distance between piles of dog muck, but my mind has blotted out that bit.
My sharpest memories are of blistering sunburn and of that painful crunch of discovery, on wind-blown picnics, that sandwiches were probably so-named because of the sand which lodges there.
My album of recollection holds snaps of the museum, lighthouse, boating lake and a stump of pier awaiting its glorious revival. Oh, and birds.
I recall watching terns fishing diving into the briny deep like pterodactyls and then late walks along the harbour or across dune and marsh and common.
A friend of mine once pulled a mammoths rib from the cliff towards Covehithe, and I found fossilised sea urchins, bright cornelians and the odd piece of plastic-like amber.
Everyone loves Southwold except my late writer friend Paddy Kitchen, whose father dragged her there in her war-time childhood, to stay in The Swan.
Even worse than the air-raid siren which sounded while she was being dragooned into a swimming lesson forcing her to tread water until the all-clear was the hotel dinner. She forever shuddered at the memory of a plate of small blobs of oily skin and bone which went by the name of dabs.
Some of us give up childish things, while others grow up to grab them. Im with the latter lot.
My first journalist posting was to Lowestoft, where I soon had the dream appointment of Southwold Correspondent. Mythic magic became reality when I managed to buy a former coastguards cottage where I aim to end my days.
I had a long London friendship with the painter Prunella Clough and she left me a picture. When I went to collect it, I spied a heap of photos on her executors kitchen table which brought the amazing revelation that she had grown up in the place I love best.
Why had she never told me? We all have our secret Southwolds and mine is still essentially about sea and birds.

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