Birchington Bays

A chance meeting with my twelve-year-old self.

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Public Domain

It was a glorious day when I walked the dog this morning. Brilliant sun low in the sky, a few wispy clouds on the horizon, and a gentle breeze. It was high tide and the sea was a rippling lake. It was warm too, and I was looking forward to reaching the shadier parts of the sea wall.

As Santi entered the tidal pool at Minnis Bay to retrieve her ball for the first time today, a young boy cycled past above us on the sea wall. I caught his eye, but he quickly looked away, smiling a little at Santi as he rode off. He reminded me of myself as a 12-year-old boy. We had just moved down from London then, in 1967, and I had a few days off before I was to start at my new school the following Monday. That was a pivotal time in my life, as my school experience was miserable for the next couple of years. I wondered why the boy on the bike wasn’t at school.

After a few more ball retrievals, Santi and I climbed back up to the sea wall and headed east. As we rounded into Grenham Bay, I could see the boy standing stock still, straddling his bike, looking out to sea. There he remained for the few minutes it took us to reach him.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Alright?” he mumbled, looking down to the ground.

I stopped walking. “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I don’t have school today.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m changing schools. I was getting bullied so they’re sending me to a new school.”

“Which school were you at?”

“King Ethelbert. I’m moving to Charles Dickens.” He was looking at me now, but I couldn’t read anything in his expression.

There was a pause as I wondered what, if anything, to say next. “It’s awful being bullied. I was bullied terribly when I was at school. How old are you?”


“That’s how old I was when the bullying started. Are your parents, er …”

“My nan and my granddad.”

“You live with your grandparents?”


“Are they … nice?”

“Yes. Nan told me to go out and get some fresh air.”

“That’s a good idea. Things will get better.”


“Ok. Enjoy the fresh air. See ya.”


I wanted to stay and chat some more, but a twelve-year-old boy should not be talking to a sixty-four-year-old stranger, should he? So Santi and I walked on. He was still standing motionless, staring out to sea, as we rounded the cliff into Beresford Gap.

As we passed the boat ramp at Beresford Gap, I spotted what appeared to be a seal swimming westward, no more than a ball throw from us. Just as I saw clearly that it was a seal, it went under. I scanned the sea for a minute or two, wondering how long a seal can remain submerged, and then I spotted it again, way off to our left, leaving Beresford Gap, heading for Grenham Bay.

I hope the boy saw the seal.

Brian Vine was born in London and moved to Broadstairs, aged 12. He worked in Botswana and The USA, He now lives in Minnis Bay.

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