This story was published in an ezine, Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine in June 2014.
ON CELLARDYKE BEACH
Every summer when I was a kid my parents took me to a little fishing village in Fife called Anstruther for two weeks. We stayed in a chalet at Anstruther Holiday Village.
My parents never had money for a holiday so the first year we went it was a treat. I was nine. Dad drove us there in the old red Volvo he was driving at the time.
The village was twelve miles outside St Andrew’s. We drove past hundreds of acres of corn and poppy fields when a massive road sign materialised out of nowhere. Welcome to the East Neuk of Fife. I thought the words ‘East Neuk’ were exciting and magical.
We almost missed the turn off for the village. The road sign was tiny. Faded white paint on a tiny pillar of stone. WELCOME TO ANSTRUTHER and a sign pointing to the right. Mum saw it at the last minute and yelled so hard Dad slammed on the breaks, thinking something was wrong. Dad reversed back along the road, turned right and followed the street.
The Holiday Village took ages to find. It was tucked behind several rows of houses. We drove along the same street dozens of times before Dad finally asked for directions. He weaved the car between the houses and drove through large wooden gates bearing a sign with the words ‘Anstruther Holiday Village’. He parked the car in front of a small building marked OFFICE. It didn’t take him long to get the keys and a map to our chalet.
It took ages to find the chalet. We drove around the place in frantic circles while Mum scrutinised the map and Dad yelled at her. He finally stopped next to a building we’d passed dozens of times, got out of the car and carried our luggage inside.
The chalet was a converted old one-storey, two bedroom Army barrack. The amenities were basic. Electricity. Calor Gas fire instead of heating. A bath and toilet. A colour TV with four basic channels. Basic furniture including a couch, a couple of chairs and a large table. Self catering of course.
As the years passed my friends went on holiday to Spain, Greece, the French Riveria and Italy and we returned to Anstruther. It never occurred to me to be jealous of them. The weather was always scorching. Every year I got a tan. I was with my favourite people on earth. I got to take pets with me. Foreign climates held no interest for me.
Our first year in Anstruther was a year of discovery.
I took my budgie with me. Billy Boy. Dad had taught him to sing rude songs, swear creatively and make rude body noises. I couldn’t help laugh when Billy Boy whistled the sash, made belch or farting noises and sang Billy boy’s a protestant boy fuck the pope while Mum threatened to cook him for dinner and gave Dad one of her famous ‘looks’ designed to wither him.
On our first day in Anstruther I discovered the greatest second hand bookshop in the world. It was at the end of a street that looked directly onto the harbour. We were walking to the village to have a look around when I noticed a sign on a lamp-post that read ‘2ND HAND BOOKS’ with an arrow pointing along the street. I dragged my parents with me. The book-shop was in a building painted bright blue.
I was in heaven. There were two large fold down tables in front of the shop covered in books. Inside the shop was my version of Aladdin’s Cave – every wall covered in floor to ceiling bookshelves breaking under the strain of books they carried. There were even shelves in the middle of the room that you had to squeeze past.
We hadn’t been in the shop five minutes when I started weighing Mum and Dad down with books. There was sappy expression on my face. My eyes were wide as saucers. I’m sure I drooled a little. They almost had to drag me screaming from the shop in the end carrying eleven carrier bags filled with books. The whole lost cost lest than £30.
I visited the book shop every year. I always bought dozens of books. As I got older my tastes changed and I discovered the joys of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sean Hutson and Richard Laymon.
I have so many memories of summer days sitting on a blanket on the beach huddled over one book or another completely lost in the world between the pages.
On our second day we discovered the neighbouring village of Cellardyke. It was a tiny village a mile and a half away. We decided to check out the beach at Anstruther and were sorely disappointed. A few inches of sand and lots of rock. Dad clambered across the rocks to see where they led. Mum and I followed. I stumbled and fell a couple of times.
The rocks led to a proper beach and another harbour. Golden sand stretched for miles. The beach had donkey rides, stalls selling gifts and a Mr Whippy ice cream van. Dad bought us a cone and found out the place was called Cellardyke, the smallest village in the East Neuk. There were a couple of rows of shops, a post office and a cafe.
When we finished our cones we took the road way back. The road was called Coast Road. We walked past rows of caravans that stretched most of the way between the two villages. We found out later they were part of Cellardyke Holiday Park.
Over the years we spent a lot of time in Cellardyke. The walk was pleasant along the Coast Road. The breeze from the sea was lovely. We always bought a cone. Dad I walked along the narrow harbour wall and watched fish in the sea and looked at all the fishing boats. Mum always sat at a small bench on a hill overlooking the harbour. The idea of walking the harbour wall made her feel queasy. We spent a lot of time on the beach. Dad would drag Mum into the water and wind her up by splashing her. I sunbathed and read.
On our third day we discovered the little shop at the bottom of the hill behind the holiday village. There was a very steep hill that led from the back gate right down to the beach. The hill was too steep for a car and you had to walk very carefully. My legs were killing me by the time we reached the bottom.
We were behind a lot of houses. There was a sandy path that led down to the only sandy area of the beach. Right next to the opening that led to the sandy path there was a little shop. It sold the usual newspapers and magazines as well as hand crafted gifts and home made sweets.
Dad started to go down to the shop every morning to get a paper, bread and milk. We bought all of our gifts there. We started our daily walk to Cellardyke from there. As the years passed the hill seemed to get steeper and steeper. Dad’s legs got bad with arthritis and we had to stop using the hill.
On our fourth day we discovered the Anstruther Fish Bar. It was one of many businesses that overlooked the harbour. We’d been shopping one day when Dad noticed a huge queue leading from the building down the street. Curious, we went over to investigate. The windows of the place were covered in signs proclaiming the fish bar to be award winning, the best in the East Neuk and world famous.
We had to queue for almost two hours before we finally got a table. We sat at a table at the back of the restaurant. The place was mobbed and cramped. There wasn’t a lot of room for people to move about.
The fish and chips were amazing. They were served on plates inside cardboard boxes that looked like rolled up newspaper. You had to eat with a wooden fork.
We ate there at least once every year.
I have so many memories of Anstruther than have never faded.
The smell of the sea. I’d never smelt it before and grew to love it. Even now I can’t smell the sea without thinking of those summers.
The sound of seagulls screaming as they flew overhead.
Hot sand squelching between my bare toes.
Rummaging inside various gift shops.
Sitting on the harbour wall and eating a Mr Whippy.
The hot sun in my face, making my skin sweat and my eyes water.
Walking along the pebbled streets that wound all over the village.
After we stopped going on holiday to Anstruther we returned for a day trip every year. We revisited all our haunts. We carefully made our way down the steep hill behind the holiday village. We walked across the rocks. We walked to Cellardyke and had a cone on the harbour. We paid a visit to the 2nd hand book-store. We ate at the fish bar. We walked the pebbled streets.
It was during the first week of our second year in Anstruther that Dad has his accident.
It had been raining and miserable all day but it finally stopped. Dad wanted to explore the rocks with me and my dog Sheba. He wanted to show me how to fish in the shallow pools that sometimes formed in the rocks. Mum didn’t want to come.
The rocks were okay at first. A couple were damp buy nothing major. Dad walked carefully, stopping to wait for me to catch up. He lifted me over some parts I couldn’t manage myself. I had a net with me and Sheba was running around. He helped me catch tiny little fish. Sheba got bit on the nose by a crab and stayed much closer to us.
After a while we reached several large flat rocks that had green moss on them. They sloped upwards. At the bottom were a series of sharp rocks piled on top of each other. Dad tested the first moss covered rock. It was fine. We crossed it. He was testing the second one when his legs went from under him. He gave a scream and he lost his footing and slid down the flat rocks towards the steep ones. He smashed both knees off the sharp rocks. There was blood everywhere. Sheba lay down at his feet and howled in pain.
He couldn’t stand up and told me to get Mum. I ran back towards the holiday village screaming my head off. I yelled and cried all the way to our chalet while everyone stared at me. Mum phoned an ambulance.
Dad had to get over thirty stitches in each knee. At the hospital they found out he had arthritis in both knees. The stitches didn’t come out for month and his knees were left badly scarred.
Sheba came to Anstruther with us every year. She was my dog. My voice was the only authority she recognised. She never paid any attention to Mum and Dad. At home she used to escape from the back garden and run to the grass verge across from the house. She ran circles round Mum and Dad as they chased her. As soon as I appeared she ran to my side. I didn’t even need to say anything.
Summers in Anstruther were even better with Sheba. I’d play with her on the beach and in the water. I’d bury her in the sand. I built sandcastles that she took delight in demolishing. She had this big rubber bone that we used to play with. I would take a hold of both sides. She’d grab the middle and drag me around the water.
I came home from school one day and Dad told me Sheba was gone. I was thirteen. She’d bitten a kid at the end of the street on the hand and his parents made such a fuss she had to be put down. I went into hysterics. I locked myself in my room and trashed the place. I didn’t speak to my Dad for weeks and called him a murderer.
The summer after Sheba was put down we returned to Anstruther for the last time. It wasn’t the same without Sheba. I sat around the chalet moping with my head stuck in a book. I didn’t want the beach or the water or anything. Dad offered to get me a new dog that was trained but I only wanted Sheba. My best friend I’d shared so many happy memories with on Cellardyke beach.
2014 by Pamela Scott