There is more light here than I remember, or maybe I have new, dark, London eyes. It glances off white sand and wave tops as off a mirror, crashes back at me in shades of silver, and more silver. I can’t go outside without sunglasses, and even then I squint through my cheap frames. Everything is in sharp relief and yet I can’t look at anything directly, except the shadows in the short grass that pricks my soft heels.
I am too soft for the bright light and the hot tar and the blades of grass. I shower and swim, but I’m not clean, coated all over in a thick smear of sunscreen, with sand under my nails and between my toes and drifting from my hair. Makeup sits oddly on my skin and in my pores, too obviously fake in the sunlight. My hair smells like barbecues.
I will not come back to the bach again. There are hundreds of white shells stacked beautifully between the bricks, and bright red flowers that bloom against the old wood of the garage, then close in the evening, and bloom again. There is a cold concrete floor, and two oddly placed sinks, and collages of photographs that show me growing up. The graffiti done by my little sister and her friends (slashes of silver and red and orange, science jokes, their own names again and again) will not survive the sale of this space. The area is gentrifying, baches built upon, and busted down, and rebuilt as architecturally elegant squares of glass and metal, primary homes rather than repurposed garages, and what was once a sleep-out will be a part of the bigger footprint of a more beautiful home.
This is not a place I grew up in – I was already grown, aged 20, or near enough, when it became ours. But it is under my skin in a way none of the earlier rented spaces are, and leaving it for the last time is a loss I feel. I want to remember the thin sliding doors and the badly-positioned light switches and the very small kettle; the sound of the water pump when the taps are turned, and the heavy footsteps of anyone up the groaning stairs. I will remember the umbrella on the deck lifted clean away by gusts of wind, and the wooden-slatted lounger bought by my uncle. I cannot claim ownership of the deep green armchairs or the bright red formica table but I want to take the memory of them away with me back to London, where the same worn pieces of furniture would fetch hundreds of pounds in shops in Crouch End.
Outside, by the barbecue and the huge wooden table, is a photograph of me and my sisters, taken not long after the bach was purchased, if the colour of my hair is anything to go by (striped brown, red and gold until 19, black until 21, red until 29, blonde for now, if you’re interested). We are lying in the dunes with shells over our eyes, one in a band t-shirt, one in a simple black top, one in a black dress overlaid with a flowered waistcoat and a long necklace (I have always been overdressed). We look serene and silly, but I remember the day: the wind, and the time it took to source matched pairs of shells, and how difficult it was to balance the shells without clenching our eyebrows tight. I remember the sand in my ears and how many photos it took to get the right one.
This is the only place in the world where I switch off. There is no WIFI and no television and my data costs are extortionate, though even as I embrace the solitude I hotspot my phone periodically, to remind myself of the other worlds, still in existence, far away. And I hold onto my phone; I take photo after photo of the flowers and the barbecue and the grass and my family. I can’t take enough. We are a well-documented family, better than any other I know. The photo collages on the wall of the bach will hang somewhere else when I return, a new wall on a new site, in a house I have no memories of, but I know there will be flashes of the familiar: a poster, an armchair, my own four-year-old face made yellow by three decades of sun.