Turquoise cot, flapping curtain, sunlight, cellular blanket… Before getting married and having my own children I wasn’t particularly interested in children.
Seeing friends’ kids mucking about on the beach in Dymchurch, however, brought back memories of my own childhood visits to Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, the same dark English Channel cold waters…
We went to Frinton-on-Sea practically every summer holiday from when I was born – like my parents had done before, although they didn’t meet there as kids. Our whole family went. Me and my three siblings, and lots of other families – the Listers, Gores, Whittakers, Hills, etc invited by my Mum, plus lots of Nannies. Food from our home vegetable garden arrived in wooden crates. And often there were lots of dogs. There was a family with an Indian Nanny who always wore a sari and had left her own young family in India.
There were no pubs or fish & chips shops in Frinton-on-sea due to its 19th founding century charter, which explicitly outlawed pubs, to avoid attracting the “wrong” sort of residents apparently. This also contributed to its very old-fashioned reputation. I remember you even had to drive across a railway level crossing to enter the town – another barrier to the outside world.
We stayed at John’s Cottage, First Avenue. Opposite John’s Cottage was a large hotel with turrets, The Grand. My mother sold John’s Cottage in the mid-1970s and had 2 modern houses built in the large garden. My sister Bridge inherited one of the new houses and continued the family tradition, taking her children there and inviting us to join them.
Our days in Frinton consisted of swimming in the cold water. If we did so on a low tide, we had a long way to walk as the tides went out very far. High tides often covered the sand completely and, if the weather was windy, they washed up the concrete steps onto the concrete boardwalk in front of the beach huts. We built sandcastles and endless long channels in the sand to catch & drain the seawater. Shrimping with a net was another favoured activity. We cooked the shrimp in boiling water on an old-fashioned stove – I distinctly remember the salty fishy smell.
We would walk to the beach down First Avenue, across the Greensward, to our beach hut number 99, I think. We would shelter in the beach hut from the wind and rain. The Nannies boiled a kettle on a primus stove and we ate sandwiches, which often got sand in them.
Blackberrying was fun. We used a walking stick to pull down the long bramble branches. We played tennis on the famous grass courts at the Lawn Tennis Club, went to performances at Frinton Rep Theatre, and cinemas in Walton and Clacton. I seem to remember South Pacific and maybe new Bond films as they came out…
I also recall visits to the Piers at both Clacton and Walton. We went on the Bumper Cars, Roller Coasters and the Ghost Train. One distinct memory is being taught how to make a reversed charges phone call from the Red Phone box at the bottom of First Avenue in case we got lost.
On one occasion my father took us out to the Pirate Station Radio Caroline in his Boston Whaler flat bottom motorboat. I think we shouted out a request to be played. We played Racing Demon and Monopoly and I also recall once making a circular skirt from a tablecloth.
My last memory of Frinton-on-Sea is in about 1993, after which we started going to Cornwall, which inspired both my painting and fabric designs. I now realise these memories and experiences are the narratives that underpin my artwork.
My artwork has a distinctly personal narrative, and I now appreciate these past experiences appearing in my artwork frequently, if not always obviously. They can appear when I am on painting courses or when I am simply playing in my studio. Most recently they have been triggered by the arrival of Molly and I am intrigued to see what will appear next as I spend precious time with her and Sal, in France, and I explore and experiment.
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