My parents used to spend their holiday in Ramsgate, and they would walk to Broadstairs, a few miles along the coast. When my brother and I came along I remember playing on the beach, the trampolines that were embedded in the sand, sugar-coated donuts, and the orange railings of our guest house where we had bed, breakfast and evening meal, and where my brother and I slept in bunk beds while our parents did that walk. So, the area has great significance for me and for my parents, and on this basis I decided that it was where I would go for the first Mother’s Day without my mum.
I anticipated it being difficult so I booked a few days in a B+B in Broadstairs, because it’s prettier than Ramsgate, although the latter is not without its charm. I spent the first few nights, slightly tipsy on the wine I’d bought to drink in my room, sitting on the balcony overlooking the sea, which was right across the road from where I was staying. The sky was black (bible black, as I believe Dylan Thomas would say), as was the sea. One night, drunk, wrapped up against the chill, I stared out at the sea thinking about my parents and my mum in particular. I was remembering her. Other people who knew her may be remembering her. But one day there would be no one alive who would have known her, and I thought about how at some point even the youngest person I know would be dead and there would be no one who would remember me, no one alive who had known me. It wasn’t as miserable as it sounds. It’s just true. And as I looked at the black sea I was struck by the fact that when I was gone, when everyone who’d known me was gone, the sea would still be there, coming in and out, and the sky above it would still be there. It was surprisingly comforting to think that.
On Mother’s Day the sun was out. I took the Thermos of ashes and I walked along the cliff tops en route to Ramsgate, looking for a suitable place to scatter. As I walked I was aware that my parents had done this same walk many times, that I was seeing things that they would have seen: the same coast, the same houses, the same trees. I was walking in their footsteps.
I approached a cove with a sign: this will be good, I thought, because I will always be able to remember where I scattered her. Then I read the sign. Dumpton Cove. No, I thought, I don’t think I can scatter my mum at a place called Dumpton Cove. Doesn’t seem right. So instead I walked a little further along and wished her Happy Mother’s Day as I tipped some of the contents of the flask onto the ground and then over the railings. I watched as the wind carried her away.
I made it to Ramsgate, had an ice cream in an old-fashioned parlour that I was convinced we would have eaten in on my childhood holidays and then I set about trying to find the area where our guesthouse would have been located. As I wandered (finding the blue plaques that showed where my favourite painter, Vincent van Gogh, had lived and taught) I was struck by a kind of familiarity. I ventured further and felt drawn to the long streets, dipping down towards the coast. Houses with railings, the kind I remembered from our holidays, but nothing orange – but then, why would they still be orange after all this time? I’ll never know if this was where we stayed but I do know that I felt an overwhelming sense of having been there before, on that very road. It’s likely that it was a false memory of course, because I wanted this to be the place, but the feeling was intense.
I walked back to the B+B in Broadstairs as the rain started to fall, and I sat in my room and I cried.