Whenever I visit my English “family”, my base is either Westgate-on-Sea or Birchington-on-Sea, two towns that lie a little further along the coastline from Margate.
There is a sound that is synonymous with these visits. The type of sound that if you hear it on the radio or in a movie, it transports you back to that place, or that time. For me and Westgate-on-Sea, (or Birchington, or Minnis Bay), it is the call of the seagulls of this area.
Did you ever see the film “Finding Nemo?” In that film, Australian seagulls are depicted as a villainous and greedy lot, with a call that sounds like “mine, mine, mine” (e.g. YouTube ‘Finding Nemo – MINE’). Australian seagulls are a small bird, with beady eyes and a bright red beak. They are urbanised, without fear, eternal scavengers, and found in great numbers on every beach. And they do squawk and squabble over every morsel of food they can spot, just as depicted in the film by the short and sharp “mine” voice.
The seagulls of Thanet are different. They are a much larger bird for a start, and their beak is longer and a yellow colour, but it is their call that attracts my attention. I only ever hear one bird at a time. It is a repetitive work-up call, with a long, lamenting fade at the end. It is a lonely and haunting sound that reminds me of lost souls. It is as if the gull has crossed the channel calling and calling for their loved one, only to fall away disappointed at the end. It makes me think of Emily Bronte’s Catherine running along a windswept coast, calling in vain for her Heathcliff.
I don’t think the locals have such a romantic view though. I suspect their seagulls are considered a pest in the area. As for the rest of my imagining – well – the coastline along here can get decidedly windswept, just as depicted in an old romantic English novel.
We are lucky enough with the weather though, for the week we have been around. We have left behind the heatwave conditions of central Europe, but it is still officially summer in England, and the sun shines for a reasonable portion of our stay. Enough to warrant Bill having a game of golf at the range opposite our hosts’ house, and for all of us to have a couple of trips to the wooden beach hut that they rent along the waterfront. We even managed an outdoor breakfast at the local beachside café.
On the last day of our stay, the portable gazebo was pitched in the backyard, and all the extended family turned up for an English country garden summer lunch. Many thanks to S & R for putting that on!
After all the movement and adventures of our eleven week sojourn in Europe, there can be nothing better than to settle into the bosom of people who have known and loved you for so many years. These two little seagulls from across the ocean found who they were looking for, even if it was only one short week.
Until next time, my Thanet mob ………….
Friday 16th – Sunday 18th August 2013