Behind The Beach Huts

PUBLISHED: 11:06 29 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:06 29 December 2015

Jan Etherington and Jagger

Jan Etherington and Jagger


Who am I? It’s a question you might be asking, as you reach this page. I’m a journalist and comedy writer, and with my husband, Gavin Petrie, I’ve written several radio and TV series, including Second Thoughts, Faith In The Future, Next of Kin and Duck Patrol. We’ve recently become East Anglians, and here’s how it started . . .

Beach Huts, Southwold, Suffolk, EnglandBeach Huts, Southwold, Suffolk, England

Three years ago this month, my husband and I drove up the A12 to our new home in Suffolk. It was snowing, the roads were icy, the wind was freezing, the North Sea looked positively dangerous. We knew no one.

‘What the blazes have we done?’ we asked each other. We had lived in a house on the banks of the River Thames, near Hampton Court, for 20 years. We had a boat at the end of the garden. It was big, but one floor was an office and we needed the bedrooms because our son and family lived in Australia. They (and lots of friends) came to stay. We loved our riverside life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. We didn’t want to think about ‘downsizing’. Writers never retire. We’d keep working and like the swans at the end of our garden, paddle against the current just to stay in the same place.

Then my husband made us have The Talk. We could write anywhere and therefore, live anywhere. We loved being near water, and we’d often talked about living near the sea. Why not start looking? Treks to Dorset, Sussex and even my childhood haunt of glorious Gower in Wales followed. But the south coast seemed permanently clogged with traffic and hugely built up. Wales was a possibility, but my husband is a Scot, so what about the Fife coast near Edinburgh? Then our daughter upped sticks from London and moved to Suffolk. “Where?” we said.

We soon found out about Suffolk. We visited. We took the grandchildren to the beach, discovered Southwold, Aldeburgh, Sutton Hoo, Minsmere and crabbing! Then one February day, we drove into a seaside village and saw a house for sale. It was Arts and Crafts, needed a lot of work, but for the first time we could imagine ourselves living here.

Selling a house you love, is like ending a love affair. First, you have to find a new love, then the parting’s easier. So we found our ‘new love’ and put the ‘old love’ by the Thames up for sale.

“Are you mad?” said friends. “You don’t know anyone in Suffolk.” Oddly, it made me more certain it was the right thing to do – a challenge, an adventure, a new life, in a new place. There’s a tendency, as you get older, to be suspicious of change. To stay in your comfort zone, opt for ‘a quiet life’. Well, my New Year’s resolution in 2013, and every year since, has been to regularly say ‘yes!’ to something I’ve never done . A risky but bracing decision, which has occasionally found me sobbing “Why did I agree to do this?!”

So far, I’ve swum across Sydney Harbour with my son in a race. “They’ll just swim along chatting. It’s not competitive, Mum!” Olympians in Speedos dived over my head into the harbour, the pace was punishing, but I was determined to finish. I’ve done a 10-minute stand up at Southwold Arts Festival, and appeared on Newsnight in a discussion with Esther Rantzen about ‘downsizing’. Now, that was scary. But the bravest thing I’ve done – we’ve done – is move our whole life to a completely different part of the country. No bolt hole in London. No commute.

We rented a flat while our house was being restored. Our landlady insisted on an unusual clause. “You can have the flat if you promise to be in the village production of Under Milk Wood.” Suddenly I was Mrs Dai Bread, attending rehearsals with my new neighbours.

“How often are you up here?” they asked. “Just weekends?”

“All the time. This is our only house. We live here now. Permanently.”

“Really?” Tentative smiles became warm hugs. Invitations to supper, drinks, coffee and lunch flew through the letterbox like a squadron of paper aeroplanes. I got a ‘Miss Marple’ push bike with a basket on the front. I was well on my way to becoming a LOTV (Lady of The Village). And then I met DK and the pirate on the beach . . . but more about them next time.

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