Yesterday I went to Bournemouth on the train. I craved a glimpse of the sea and the chance to battle against the waves. I also needed somewhere natural and untamed to think.
I arrived at Bournemouth Station feeling hot and tired, thinking that I was crazy to have come all that way for a few hours. Outside the station I hesitated. Which way to the sea? Approaching the only person not absorbed in conversation or mobile phone, I asked for directions.
‘You’d need a taxi,’ he said. ‘I’m meeting a friend here, and then I’ll give you a lift.’
‘No thank you, if you just point me in the right direction.’
He waved away my refusal. ‘Of course I’ll take you. It’s no bother at all.’
His friend arrived at that moment, saying, ‘Hello, Mr. Moles.’ They hugged and kissed and he introduced her as Sonia, explained that they would be giving me a lift.
‘This is really kind,’ I said, in some embarrassment. ‘I hope it’s not out of your way.’
‘Not at all,’ said Sonia. ‘Where do you want to go, Bournemouth or Boscombe?’
‘Anywhere where I can swim.’
‘Boscombe’, they said together.
‘I used to live there,’ explained Sonia. ‘Now I live in Sheffield, but I come down every now and then to stay with Mr. Moles, don’t I Mr. Moles?’
He chuckled. ‘You do,’ and reached for her hand briefly as he drove,
‘Why Sheffield after this beautiful spot?’
They both laughed and looked at each other. ‘Why indeed?’ said Sonia, and Mr. Moles added, ‘That’s a very good question.’
‘I like Sheffield,’ said Sonia, ‘but it’s grey by comparison. I used to live in one of the flats overlooking Boscombe beach. It was beautiful.’
She paused, ‘My leaving here and going to Sheffield is a long story.’
They exchanged glances again. Then Sonia turned her attention to me.
I explained that I had come down from London for a few hours to be by and in the sea.
‘You’re brave to come all that way for such a short time.’
‘No. I just had a longing to be by the sea.’
They dropped me off and advised me that ‘Brief Encounter’ was the place for a meal and drink if I wanted one later.
‘Like the film?’
‘Yes, like the film,’ and they laughed.
I discovered later, as I strolled past that it was ‘Reef Encounter.’
I waved goodbye and made my way down to the sand and sea, the shrieking of gulls, the steady rhythmic beat of the waves, and the shouts of the children all around me, and wondered about Mr. Moles and his Sonia. There is a story there but only they can tell it.
I changed with a towel round me for modesty although no one gave me a glance, and hid my bag and possessions under the lifeguards platform.
Then to the sea! It was wonderful! The waves were rough and playful and knocked me off balance as I struggled into deep enough water to swim. I was buffeted and thrown back to the beach time and again, and loved every minute. Several people were standing in the surf, jumping and squealing bur few were actually swimming.
When I finally and regretfully emerged I put my clothes back on and damply set off for a walk before realising that I had mislaid my glasses. Back to the lifeguard’s platform, blindly scrambling round in the sand, I found them, and triumphant, set off once more.
Once away from the ice cream sellers and the hot food stands, with their greasy queasy smells, I soon found it became quieter. I walked until I was weary, then sat down with my book, cheese sandwich and water and felt that it was heaven.
I finally walked back to Bournemouth station. It was a long slog but it was some time before I hit a road with any bus stops and by that time I though I might just as well keep walking.
On the train back I thought about Mr. Moles and Sonia. What private joke had originated her name for him? I wondered if they would be eating in ‘Brief Encounter’ and hoped that when she returned to Sheffield their parting wouldn’t be sad.
Did I find the peace I craved in Boscombe? Not remotely, but I don’t regret the trip.