By Anne Norris
Some places live on in your heart, memory bringing thoughts of sunshine and days of idleness. I am sure that the memories my children have of Rye in the 1970’s will be filled with such images, as my memory is. Certainly a softness comes into their eyes and their voices when they speak of it.
Yet while we can think of warm days spent on the Rother learning how to sail, of days crossing the marshes in that brightness which makes driving at times almost impossible, these idyllic dreams are such a small part of our experiences.
We first went to Rye Bay when my younger son was only crawling, staying in a friend’s caravan at Winchelsea Beach. The magic took hold so that as soon as it was possible we got our own van and made the drive from North London every other weekend.
We used to arrive at our van, which had very basic accommodation of gas lights and calor cooker, sometimes after dark, from the early start of our season on the 1st of March until the end on 31st October. The site was also very basic, no hot showers, not even hot water in the toilet block which was anyway across the field, the path to which was lit at night by one single light. We did not expect soft beds, warm rooms and television, and got our kicks from walking on the seawall, scrambling over rocks, playing on the shingle. Very different reponses than those of some of the people we took there.
We went for the day once, taking several boys who I was teaching at the time, for whom the Seaside only meant Amusement Arcades. The wild expanses of sand and shoreline were very strange to children from an inner city school. It was an experience which encouraged me in the future to take other children out into what they saw as the wildernesses. Real eye openers.
We lent it to a colleague of my husband’s who took his three children there, and the first thing he did was to rent a tv, to entertain them when they got back from the pleasures of Hastings each evening.
Do children from town get the chances to visit wild places or are their experiences processed, packaged, like their food and their games?
If so, I am sure they are the losers. We spent time together, we talked to each other, we read books, we drew and paddled and sometimes we sat and thought, and at other times we just sat. Days of Idleness. Yet surely it is in idleness and stillness that so often growing is done.
We also learnt a lot from meeting with the elements and in March and October there can often be a lot of elements. I remember one visitor complaining that the wind blew straight from Siberia onto the beach. We certainly had to learn about the sea, and my children were never allowed to sail or swim unless I was there.
It all sounds very earnest and boring. No tv, rules about swimming, basic conveniences, and either cold or scorchingly hot.
But the pluses. My daughter took up astronomy because there she learnt to look up at the stars, my older son learnt the skills of sailing which took him to many further waters, my younger son played in the rock pools and gathered up the shells. And I unwound after teaching children who had none of the advantages my children had.
Now some thirty years later, I wonder whether the Ypres Castle still serves cider in its garden overlooking the saltmarshes, whether The Landgate straddles traffic or whether that is now a pedestrian area, do the fishing boats still hang nets from the boathouses along the quay. Are these just the stuff of dreams and memories. Is the Rye Pottery, where we bought so many things, still there, and still using the same styles, the same colours?
Should I leave my memories of Rye as they are, or should I open up a new page? After years of visiting other further parts of the globe, after years of experiences filling my memory banks, should I leave it all untouched except by love. Or should I come again, see again, find a new memory? How would it be? How would I like it? Should I dream of the past as I knew it or find the new reality of Rye as it is today?
Rye’s Own February 2004
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