Virginia Barton

Sand between your toes and itchy feet

Catholic Herald, 7 October 1988




Oh I do like to be beside the seaside – especially the English seaside in early September, when the crowds have gone home, and the sun puts in an eleventh-hour appearance. Thanks to the kindness of a niece who conveniently vacated her cottage, my husband and I spent two happy weeks on the Dorset coast.

We are not very good at holidays. We have the reputation for being unadventurous, penny-pinching, and unwilling to forego the habits of home.  So a camping trip to the Dordogne is out. So is one of those teach-yourself-absailing jollies, based on a caravan in the Rockies.

Part of the problem lies in my husband having started his “travels” at the age of 11 with an unscheduled visit to Siberia. The next 50 years of his life were spent more or less on the hop, clocking up thousands of miles on business. He is eager to hang up his passport and these days it takes more than a carrot to winkle him over the Channel.

As for myself, sheer terror prevented my boarding a flying-machine for two decades. This reprehensible state of mind has been remedied by two things. First, to travel abroad by train is slightly more expensive (and much less convenient) than flying. Second, I am in possession of some miniscule yellow pills prescribed by my sympathetic GP. Washed down with a pint of champagne, one of these little marvels guarantees a worry-free journey. (Not a remedy for the unaccompanied traveller, as one tends to arrive legless).

It’s a sure sign of confirmed middle-age when the prospect of travel promotes a state of quail rather than pleasurable anticipation. When it takes a week to recover from the upheaval of simply moving from a to b, one must admit that one has become set in one’s ways.

Perhaps it is optimistic to expect to turn the habits of a year upside-down inside a fortnight’s holiday. Suddenly you are on the loose – but how perversely the body and mind cling to the familiar routine and rhythm (Given the opportunity to sleep late, so longed-for during the other 50 weeks of the year, one wakes at 6.30 am on the dot as usual. By the time one has adjusted to this unaccustomed luxury, it’s pack-up and go home day.)

Vices and failings can also be habitual. I’m pretty sure I’ve been spewing out more or less the same sins since I made my first confession. Which is a dismal admission. To break the rhythm of  one’s spiritual life may demand more than two weeks at the seaside – or less than five minutes soul-searching behind a closed door. A different confessor can help stir up some forgotten or neglected corners of the reluctant conscience.

A Padre Pio may well be waiting in Bognor or Blackpool. While shedding the routine of office, kitchen or factory floor, one can have a go at discarding some spiritual nasties. Or at least look them in the eye.




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