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This article was written on 02 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The landscape of memory (or why I love Lincolnshire)

People in Nottingham tended not to have much money, time or imagination when it came to going on holiday. The most they seem to have wanted to do was to get out of the county and see the sea, in some strange primordial way. Old habits die hard, which means that when I was brought forth into the world in the early seventies, we still obeyed our instincts and, once a year, packed up the Vauxhall Viva and headed east, like a family of lemmings, impelled by a strange urge to see the county of Lincolnshire and watch the North Sea belting hell out of it.

We kept faith with Lincolnshire long after people had ambitiously started disappearing off to Spain and coming home with raffia donkeys, probably because we lacked imagination to the same degree as our forebears. Other people had holiday pictures, taken in shorts and squinting into the sun. We had them wearing thin waterproof coats and squinting into a rainy sandstorm. Sometimes, we also had chips, but as my dad didn’t approve of people who ate in the street, consumption of these was governed by strange rules I was never party to. I remember being very small and sitting, five people to a Viva, while we steamed the windows up to the sound of quiet chewing. This seemed normal.

Either because holidays were so rare that they seemed hugely precious or because I have that kind of brain that works in odd ways, like a mechanical monkey riding a tricycle, I fell in love with Lincolnshire and find, much to my satisfaction, that I’m still in love with it now. Part of it is the hazy Kodachrome glow of a partly imagined past, with my grandparents, suddenly alive again and waving at the cine camera, while me, a fleshy boulder of a baby, eternally scowling, bounces on their knees, or, in one pathos-drenched scene, is dressed up in a white pointy hat and sat on a freezing cold funfair ride while the rest of the family waves at him. I look baffled by this insult to my dignity, turing around in slow and inevitable circles, fatly.

Say ‘Lincolnshire’ to me and it brings up a million memories. It brings up memories of the bungalow we always rented, a bright, light and airy sixties new build on a cul-de-sac of other new builds, with bright white render. The furniture was a sort of design testament to a recently vanished past, with two enormous revolving egg-shaped orange armchairs, each on four flat, brown legs, a brick fireplace that looked like something out of the intro to the Rockford Files and, joy of joys, a TV that was in a round plastic pod on a slim, tapering pawn-shaped white plinth. Over by the window there was a radiogram, long and elegant and shaped like a sideboard, and the dining room furniture, also over by the big picture window, had chrome and black plastic chairs with arranged around a white melamine table. Even back then, it felt like being in a future that had never happened.

I slept, joy of joys, in the bottom bed of a bunk bed, which made me feel safer and more secure than I have ever felt before or since, pushed over into the corner so that, lying on my back, I had walls at my head and left side. The bedroom was similarly kitsch, done out in deep purple with a beautifully patterned bedspread on my bunk and, above my head, an exotically orange patterned mattress with a single, springy strip hanging down from the bed above. I used to like to flip this strip and, in my head, I can still hear the rattly and, to me, joyous noise that it made.

Out of the window, because the bedrooms were at the front, you could see the bungalow that was at the head of the cul-de-sac, furthest from the road in, which had an old life preserver, red and white, mounted high up on the walls, which seemed so brilliantly unusual to my mind that my heart vaulted each time I saw it. And above that, in my mind’s eye, an absolutely huge vault of blue sky that seemed to go on forever and seemed like it was, in a single image, optimism.

That blue sky was, in part, why Lincolnshire felt so strange and otherworldly. I came from a world where suburbs stretched for miles and whatever contours the land had once were now buried under brick. It was, in short, suffocatingly dull. But here, a few interminable hours’ drive away, was something that was genuinely and utterly other, a flat landscape that felt as though it was waiting for something that may never come and seemed to have endured for some long, timeless expanse. It was odd and surreal and it thrills me even now, thinking about the effect it had on me back then. This, here, was strangeness and something not wholly explicable.

The road to the beach was no less full of wonder. There were red hot pokers in some of the gardens, which felt like the most exotic flora I’d ever seen and there, just as you got close to the beach, were houses made out of railway carriages in huge expanses of grass. Who lived there? Where had they got the railway carriages from? And just… why? I never found out, but they fascinated me. And then on the sea front itself, where we rented our chalet for the week, we got the final consummation of everything that the walk there, laden down with deckchairs and, that most British of beach accessories, the windbreak.

I can only remember the name of one chalet, called ‘Feroza’ and I know that they were further down than the main part of the prom and also, of more direct interest to me at the time, the standpipe. None of the chalets had electricity or running water, so if you wanted a cup of tea from the gas hob, you had to walk down with your kettle and fill it up. Everyone took their turn, even infant me, although in fairness to my parents, I probably lobbied quite hard for the dubious honour of taking my turn. And I also remember that one gust of wind hit me with sufficient force to knock me over and send the kettle rolling around while I wondered what had happened. The other thing I remember were the smells of that chalet – sun-bleached wood and that the gas, once alight, smelled lovely. Even now, that oddest of smells makes me feel cosy.

Finally, there was the centrepiece of the prom, a beautiful, whitewashed exercise in concrete, with beams giving you a view onto the deck below and an ice-cream stand where I used to get my Fabs if I was feeling really ambitious and wasn’t likely to get blown over by a gust of wind. Nearby, there was a sort of small, rubber-lined track where you could pay to have a go on little electric carts and the whole thing seemed like it had whatever you needed to enjoy yourself. There were Fabs, there was tea, there we electric carts and, of course, the vast expanse of beach. If, post-mortem, you get the chance to go back somewhere you were happiest, then I hope I end up here.

As you wended your way home in the failing light, when the flat scenery seemed to fuse with the sky, so that you were living in a giant, mysterious landscape, there was a phone box to the left of the sliproad from the beach and I have no earthy idea why it persists in my memory. Perhaps we called home from here once, or perhaps I came in to wonder at the round hole in the bottom of it which showed the earth beneath it. I have no idea. But it seemed magical then and, now that it is part of the topography of memory, it seems just as magical now.

We always went for a week and I always cried bitterly at the end, because the end of the holiday meant a return to hideous, prosaic normality. It meant saying goodbye to houses that were made of railway carriages, to life buoys on the side of houses, to huge skies and standpipes and chalets and all the rest of it. One day, we stopped going and found first Jersey and then, as my Nana got older and her mobility was restricted by MS, we started going to the Norfolk Broads where your scenery changed with comparatively little effort.

Lincolnshire, though, more than anywhere else before or since, feels in some way like it’s the landscape of my heart and imagination. I’m not sure I could survive the disappointment of going back and finding it smaller and changed now that I am bigger and older. For as long as my memory works, however, tomorrow is always the day we drive to Sutton-on-Sea and my heart is already vaulting at the anticipation of it. Perhaps one day, I’ll get there.

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