(transcribing this from my Japanese notebook on a perfect summer day, holed up in a deserted netcafe in a small town near the Dorset coast. Waaaay too quiet here. Been reading Richard Gott's book on time travel. Head all full up with superposition, parallel universes, space-time distortion, and the folks back home)

On days like this back home, we used to go to the beach. It wasn't a real beach, just a place down by the river on the edge of town. But there was surf (the weir, twenty, thirty feet wide, white water thundering across it, fierce spray smelling faintly of bleach) and there were warm shallows by a kind of peninsula of pale sand, with real shells in it, which formed at low tide and was accessed by a steep, twisty path made almost invisible by trees and nettles, so that it felt like a discovery every time when you came out of the trees and saw the sand, the high green primeval jungle of the cliff, and the fast current racing by. Secret beach. Our own secret beach.

The water was fearsomely polluted, people said, lord knows what shit comes out of the power station upriver - you'll glow in the dark! - but I always went in anyway. Lying on our backs watching model planes droning overhead, the sound of summer. Long walks to dry off, chewing cornstalks like yokels, muddy sneakers trailing dusty laces. On a golden summer evening with the sun going down, you could wander for miles down the river path through tunnels of leaves and out into a series of linked ponds, once a quarry. Dragonflies the size of my head. Melting orange light pooling on still, deserted lakes surrounded by head-high grass. Naughty pup sneaking off and going in, coming out all muddy and grinning and soaking me, everyone else running away from her yelling and laughing. Later, down to the beach. Sometimes at night there were bonfires, and fireworks. Stoned gigglings sat by the weir, faces wet with spray, huddled round somebody's lighter under somebody's coat in the darkness. Further upriver, past the chemical works, a string of moored boats and a tatty but cosy little clubhouse, all hideous dralon sofas and scarily loud eighties wallpaper. On the odd weekend there'd be a hilariously naff disco: a glitterball, sixtyish blokes in frilly dinner shirts, game old girls dolled up in lime crimplene boogying to a wedding dj, and all of us with linked arms swaying, howling happily along to Tom Jones and Delilah. The pool table was wonky but the drinks were cheap, and you could sit outside with the lights from the disco drawing bright wavy lines on the night water and feel utterly distanced from the city, the identikit clubbers, the too-noisy bars with no seats and no corner to talk in. Hear the water, see the stars. Feel the warm damp air. And if it got a little parky, there was always someone to lend a jacket or a friendly arm.

(re-reading this letter here, on the real beach:
"can we go home? or is it never the same us and never the same place?")

Familiarity, belonging, the feeling we call home. Running a list through my fingers there are maybe thirty names and faces of people I was down there with, on the beach, some close, some just the familiar faces of people you hang with, but never really know too well although you're always pleased to see them. Background faces - but when they're not there in the background any longer, how strange it all is. It's now over a year since I last saw the beach, or my five favourite people from the crowd that made up the 'us' who hung around there. On the wonky pool table, a fast break sent the balls flying mostly in the same direction, but there would always be one or two that flew off the table completely. Now here I am on a real beach, at the real seaside. And there are real waves and real sea-spray, real seagulls, real shells that were not put there by (person) trying to fool us all, and the sand goes on clean and unblemished for miles, not a footprint on it: not secret but oh so private, nobody here but the birds, and me. And I'm sitting here on a rock thinking about our little pretend beach, somewhere between the chemical plant and the power station on the edge of the city.

(crammed into our hapless little heads, endless parallel universes. where would you like to go today?)