The Land Across the Sea by Jacqueline Bartle

I grew up by the sea. The seascape changed constantly and I was out in all weathers, grey skies when vast curtains of rain swept across the water or sunshine when the beach reverberated with the sound of families having fun. I always kept to the shallows, for fear of what might be lurking in the depths. 

For the sea was full of the unknown; rock pools transformed into miniature coral reefs, which I imagined full of weird sea creatures, although I only ever saw shrimps, crabs and small fish. Anything seemed possible and this romantic view was encouraged by my family. Strange waterspouts sometimes appeared close to shore. I was told that they were whales or mermaids, so I watched carefully, longing to see either, but I never did because they always disappeared before I got close.  

And then there was the mysterious land with its clear outlines of trees and buildings that I sometimes glimpsed beyond the sea. I had been told that it was Africa. I wondered what it would be like to go there and made up stories of a distant country inhabited by many exotic animals, which could never really coexist outside a zoo. And I was sure the sea nearby would be overflowing with the whales and mermaids that had so far proved so elusive. 

 Because the land became invisible when there was a sea mist, I even imagined that it might disappear and reappear at certain times like Brigadoon. At night I often dreamed that I was travelling there, always by boat. Sometimes I reached dry land and would find many new species of animals, birds and plants. At other times I only got close to the shore. But the result was always the same.  Just as I was about to photograph something unknown to science, the land disappeared into the fog, and I was back at home.  

One momentous day, my family told me we were all going to visit the land across the sea .At first, I could scarcely believe my good luck.  My dream was about to come true. Only it appeared that the land wasn’t really called Africa, but Skegness, and we would not travel by boat, but by car. 

And then I suddenly realised that whatever the place was really like, whether it was called Africa or Skegness, nothing could match the country of my imagination. The reality was sure to be disappointing. If I tried to catch my dream it would disappear and be lost forever.  

I refused to go.  And to this day I have never visited the land across the sea, except in my dreams. 

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