Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

There is perhaps no better sound in the world than that of a familiar wave slapping against a familiar beach. I was born and grew up with that sound on the East Coast of England. When I return to my source, it is almost a primal journey back to the essence of what I was and where I came from. I can sit and listen to it for hours, watching the eternity of the lapping wave — one after another they follow, the sea sometimes blending in with the sky, simultaneously changing colors like a moving landscape of steely greys and greens, blended with browns, that tells me I am home. It calms me and makes me whole.

I am home for the holidays, oft sang with sentimental lilt at this time of year; but it is a lovely time to be home. Though I don’t own a cottage here anymore, I am so lucky to be able to rent my old home and touch the familiarity of its bones once more, feel the spirits of those who passed through and who were dear and still are. Wherever I go in the world, I am most grounded when I am here. I feel my soul be able to pause, slow, stop, sleep the slumber of an often-anxious spirit.

My daily world feels so very far away from here, when I am here; not that that world isn’t wonderful in its own way, but here I can be a child again. I can walk along the beach, visit the landmarks, saunter down alleyways, pace the same seafront, sit on the same sea wall and I am me, but a lighter me, less burdens of work, home, responsibility, age — more me and that little girl who grew up here.

Lucy Jensen
“The South Lookout – Our Aldeburgh Childhoods”

My oldest friend and I just finished co-authoring our latest book — a collection of memories from our childhoods here on the East Coast of England in the 1960s and 1970s. We were charmed children, best friends, living next door to one another, able to run free on bicycles and on our little legs all over the place, with dogs and friends everywhere we went. In and out of the sea every day, out and in the friendly shops all over town, blessed with a rare freedom you just can’t give children anymore.

It has taken us about 18 months of back and forth and sharing memories and pictures, putting them into some kind of coherent order and putting our manuscript together; she in Oxford, England, me in California, enhanced by her very considerable graphic designer skills. And here we are, very close to publishing our childhood memoir that we talked about and made happen. And here I am, staying just a skip away from the South Lookout, the sentinel of our childhood, the tower that was always right there next to where we were sitting on the beach, hanging out on the sea wall, swimming in the sea. It was always there watching over us. Now I can watch over it from my window on the world over the beach and bay of my hometown. I glance over as I write and sip and chat and there it is as it has always been.

Fortunately, the late ’60s and early ’70s heralded the early days of Kodacolour film that you could get developed in the local chemist and several people snapped our moments in time around the South Lookout that have lived on in dusty old albums in dark chest of drawers. Lizzie and I extracted these moments from her parents’ albums and mine to bring together the color, light and life of those special times. We gathered together other voices who had come to visit during those years and gave them a place in our book as well. It has been a labor of love over several months and soon our book will be published.

“The South Lookout – Our Aldeburgh Childhoods” will be available on Amazon in the coming days and we are planning book signings in 2024; hopefully a couple right here in our hometown. Maybe it will inspire you to write up your own story — if not for you, then for your children and grandchildren that they may know you better and the era that you grew up in; not to mention their own heritage.

For some people, coming home can be painful; reminders of things lost or left behind. For some, the thought of staying in their childhood home might be more than they can bear, knowing that they never wanted it sold as it was. For me, I have made my peace with all of that, and I am unburdened these days by wishes that things were otherwise.

I am so very happy to be back home for the holidays in the knowledge that home is so much more than bricks and doors. It’s the place where your people reside and gather, a spot on the universe where beloved spirits might collide and embrace you as you pass. For us it’s right there around the South Lookout in a small coastal town called Aldeburgh on the East Coast of England.

Our Lookout, Our South Lookout

Like an old grandpa, he was just part of the landscape
A place you passed, a spot you loved
You knew he would be there, always there, like scenery.
Unlike most things.
He was built around 1830 to help
Ships passing by.

He was the watchman
Of the bay,
The keeper of
Those in peril
On the sea.

As the stepping-stone to the beach and the water,
He watched all of us —
The sentinel of our youth.
Those times that you remember as
The very best of all times
In sun-kissed hazy memory
He was there.

He saw our tea and ginger cake trays
After long days in the sea.
He saw our laughter and our stone seeking,
Day in and day out.
He saw the friends and the boyfriends coming and going.
He saw people dying and babies born.
He saw us sell our houses and move away,
Knowing we would be back
And we would be sad
It happened
As it did
For all of us.

He saw it all.
Our Sentinel, our South Lookout
Our quiet stone watch tower.

Even now,
He hears our voices, counts our steps.
He knows us when we come.
We skip over the sea wall by his side
And he welcomes us home.
However long away we have been.

We never thought of his ageing,
The effects of time and storms upon his walls
We expected him to always be there,
Always present as our sentinel, our lookout
Like our grandpa and those before.

He kept our place on the beach for us,
Every weekend, every holiday.
He watched over the young
As they splashed in the surf.

He told us when it was
Not the time to test the water
Or its powers.
With shuttered lid in greys and dusk,
He kept watching
Over us

The Look out,
Our Look Out.
Our fine stone structure of great stature,
Historical and landmark
And personal,
Very personal.

Our old friend
Encapsulating memories of all those happy times
And the times before
And the times before us
And surely the times after. 

Sending peace to you and yours. May you all find Christmas in your hearts.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].

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