Until I was 6 I lived in Aldershot, the Home of the British Army. We lived in a ground floor flat on a huge estate of army flats. I played in a brutalist playground of concrete tunnels and slides, with concrete climbing blocks and walls. Almost all the photo's of us from that time are of the carpark outside our flat, where we rode our bikes and push along toys. I remember the dark concrete stairwells that we ran up and down, and I still distinctly remember my worst ever nightmare as a child, that featured those stairs and the horrors that hid in it's shadows. I don't remember much grass and I don't remember many trees, other than the crab apple trees of my infant school playground.
When I was 6 we moved to Mudeford, in Dorset. A small coastal village, where we had a house with a garden, surrounded by trees, with a stream running through it. I remember pondskaters, voles, sticklebacks and a huge oak tree that I was utterly convinced was the Faraway Tree. I spent most of my time at Mudeford Quay and Stanpit Marsh. I messed around in row boats and went mackerel fishing, collected stamps, drew trees and flowers and kept notebooks full of car number plates. I walked a neighbours' golden retriever called Honey, on the beach by myself, occasionally letting her off the lead and then panicking that she wouldnt come back. I saw an episode of The Famous Five being filmed and wanted to be an ornithologist who solved crimes. My best friends were Andrew and Justin and I had a guinea pig called Julie.
When I was 8 we moved to Woolwich in London and back to a brutalist playground.
Those two years (and every single Christmas, Easter and Summer holiday that we spent at my Grandparent's house by the sea, next to Dungeness) created a need in me to be by the sea and in the countryside. They are the two most important years of my childhood, and when I remember them, I remember feeling like me. Not feeling like a new kid, not feeling like I had the wrong accent, not feeling transient.
Yesterday I went for a walk, while waiting for my washing to finish in the Harbour launderette (our washing machine has died), and I looked across the water at Mudeford.
It took me 37 years, but here I am (albeit across the water). Back where I know I belong. Where the annoyance of having to use a launderette is more than tempered by being able to take photo's of lapwings and walk along a beach path. Where this is my every day. And even more importantly, where this is my childrens every day.