The tides of time wash up memories
FLOTSAM and jetsam — what a fabulous phrase. My father used it a lot in the England of my childhood to describe the “bits and bobs” that would wash ashore at Brighton.
In the truest sense of the phrase, flotsam means floating debris, usually from a shipwreck, while jetsam refers to items jettisoned from a vessel in distress, presumably to lighten its load.
I don’t recall shipwrecks off Brighton, on the shingled south coast, unless you count paddleboats bumping into the pleasure pier, which is now a rather important heritage-listed landmark.
The little vessels all had numbers back then and a chap with a booming voice would call you ashore after 15 minutes on the water and Dad would suddenly become deaf and would pretend his watch had stopped and refuse to obey.
And then one day the puffed-up paddleboat marshall acquired a loudspeaker and called us in with such a great show of blustery noise that surely he could have been heard in London.
This picture, taken earlier in January at Putty Beach, the national park oasis on the northern end of Killcare Beach on the NSW central coast, has nothing to do with paddleboats. But as great, glistening heaps of kelp washed ashore at my feet and arranged themselves in lovely patterns, I thought of my late father and those magical holidays at the beach each summer, sitting very still on the wet and gritty sand, willing something terrifically interesting to wash over our feet as Mother sat in a hire-by-the-hour saggy deckchair and worried about my lack of plimsolls and tendency to catch cold.
I used to hope for pirates’ skulls and gold coins to wash our way but the most we got was the carcass of a poor seagull.
Never mind, it was enough to squat beside Dad, wriggling my toes, tasting the salt spray, listening to the cough of seagulls and knowing that one day he would be gone but I would always be able to go down to the beach, any beach, and sit very still and feel him close.
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