Nearly fourteen years ago the Mr and I began ‘stepping out’, as my Gran used to say. Before one of our earliest dates we broke out a map of East Anglia, peered at the coast, chose a town that we’d never visited before and drove there. It was Southwold.
The seaside itself is lovely enough, regardless of the surroundings, but good grief! We realised that quite by accident we had hit the seaside jackpot.
This town is wonderful. It has one of the finest breweries known to humankind, a truly lovely beach, a high street filled with independent shops and cafes, and, deep breath, rows and rows of beach huts.
In 1998 I had never seen a beach hut before. It took me a while to get my head around the concept: a prettily painted shed, sitting on a promenade a stone’s throw from the beach, usually filled with buckets and spades, sometimes with jauntily striped curtains and a teapot. Oh.
Video postcard from our holiday 2009
This was an attack of the wanties the like of which I had never experienced.
Fast forward eight years to 2006 and Eldest was six months old. I had hatched a plan. We would make our own beach hut in the garden. It would be the Mr’s ‘working at home’ shed. It would have broadband and I would put pebbles in front of it. I could visit him with cups of tea and pretend I was at the seaside.
We ordered it from Lugarde. I remember the day the flatpack was delivered. I had a baby on my hip and very scary hair. Something went awry with a fork lift truck and a hole appeared in the front lawn, but there it was: a shed, with potential. Somewhere at the back of my mind I thought I might claim a corner for myself to make things in.
Sometimes the Mr worked in the hut but mostly he didn’t. He liked to work in the cottage. In 2008 I had left my scientific career to keep a closer eye on eldest and her tendency to have very high fevers (and sometimes febrile fits). I’d begun to make jewellery in earnest, started a blog and had a second baby. The thought that I might use the shed grew stronger. In April 2009 the beach hut appeared on my blog for the first time, a day or two after eldest had been in hospital (see above). In the autumn of that year I finally plucked up the courage to apply to participate in Cambridge Open Studios, having visited them since I was a student. I was absolutely thrilled when I was accepted and decided to turn the shed into a tiny exhibition and workspace.
Our shed is, I suppose, a kind of shrine to a Southwold beach hut. Despite this I had never been inside one. This year we had decided to hire a hut as a treat but quite by chance we bumped into a friend down the pub and she offered us the chance to borrow hers. Oh my giddy aunt.
Spookily, the beach hut we borrowed was decorated in a very similar style to ours, with pebble collections and beautiful handmade cushions. It was lovely. Rather foolishly I forgot my camera card, so snapped the view using my iPhone. Much as I love the pea wigwams, raspberry bushes and snoozing dog visible from my studio, this view was hard to beat. The little ones wanted to draw it, so they did, and then set about making sandcastles.
At one point I sat in the hut reading ‘All my eggs in one basket’ and eating flapjack whilst the girls pottered on the sand. To be truthful, if I’d been given the choice between sitting there reading and looking out at the beach or sitting in Tuscany (my other favourite place) with a vase of Chianti and pile of delicious pasta, there would have been no contest (even if there had been fireflies as part of the deal). I couldn’t have been more thrilled if Colin Firth himself had walked into my kitchen. Sitting in the real thing was, as I had imagined it would be, absolute bliss.