For My Father
Words and Photographs - Phil Hewitt
Stiffkey Village, North Norfolk. A place of huge importance in my life. More specifically, a family run campsite called High Sand Creek. A modest pitch of land hugged either side by golden cornfields. A small wood adorned with makeshift swings shelters it from the cool north sea breeze. As a child i’d run wild with summer friends making dens and hiding from the big kids. Beyond the woods lie the Salt marshes. To reach the sea you’d have to walk near to a mile but you’d have to time it right. Anyone that knows the Norfolk broads understands that you abide by the tides. Just outside the campsite gate a small bird hide stands upon a small hill. Names carved into the aged wooden surfaces leave behind reminders that for a week or two each year, this was their place. Mine’s on there somewhere. The hide looks out toward the sea; miles of flat land intertwined with twisted creeks, wild samphire and pools of water laying still from the previous high tide.
A number of bridges scatter the landscape, those of which still stand from my childhood years. We used to go crabbing off those bridges while the sun set behind us. Curtains closing on the most perfect of days.
The campsite itself has it’s own sound. A small pottering of pans and hushed conversations mix into it’s own unique song filling me up with a feeling I can’t quite put into words. I take a moment. I’ve not been here (apart from the fleeting visit to park the car, say hello and wave goodbye) in over 15 years. I took a beer up to the hide. You can see all the way to the neighbouring town of Wells Next-The-Sea from there. The sun bounces off the buildings on the quay winking at me like it knows me and I think of Wells beach and the one photograph of my parents arm in arm, smiles beaming from ear to ear.
I’m in no doubt that those 6 week summer holidays you yearn for as a child are the most treasured. For 2 weeks of those 6 I spent them with my mother and father here on this very spot. We had a trailer tent. A blue and white box that would unfold into our miniature pop-up house. It seemed as though that as we’d unpack, the tent would ooze out all of the love it could offer and seep into our bodies like a class-A drug. It was perfect.
But why has it taken me so long to arrive back in a place I hold so close to my heart?
The last time I spent here was with my father in a 2 man tent. It rained constantly, the tent flooded and he got sick. He was taken away in an ambulance, although I don’t really remember much of that night. In hindsight It was a sign that our time at Stiffkey as a family had come to an end and highlighted what seemed a brief holiday sickness to me could have been something more serious.
Now at a milestone age of 80 my father can Legally be classed a pensioner but I could put money on people asking for I.D to prove it. It was this year that I learned my father had been diagnosed with cancer. One word resonating louder than the rest. Incurable. Like many others I’ve become accustomed to being around cancer. I’ve seen the passing of my Auntie, my Grandmother and parents of my friends. When I was much younger my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer but thankfully she remains with us, 10+ years on, fully recovered.
Death has a strange way of changing your outlook on life. An incurable disease brings with it fear and sadness but it also brings a seed of newly acquired tenacity, love and adventure. My father is by default, a resilient man. He says to me that he’s told the cancer can stay but it’s on his terms only. No getting in the way of any plans. Doctors have devised what can only be described as a “wait and see” type plan. Every three months another quick check up and back to normal proceedings.
Anyone that’s ever met my father will confirm that you won’t forget him . He is a charming man with with a wit so quick you only have to blink and you’ll miss it. His humour has the power to leave an entire audience in stitches, crying with laughter. His demeanour is infectious. To say he’s an intelligent man is an understatement. In the height of his career he designed complex spellbinding holograms. The man hasn’t just existed for 80 years, he has a lived a life many people couldn’t even begin to dream of. A keen astrologer, musician, cyclist, marathon runner… cross dresser if you count the local pantomime. The list goes on and on and on. The beauty is that even though I think I know my father I’ll no doubt learn a whole lot more when he’s gone. There are stories that could collectively make one of the most brilliant biographical reads on the planet. If you live a life of adventure you live on throughout the eons.
The drive for my Father to do more seems larger than ever. The man that’s been on a mission all his life hasn’t hung up his boots just yet. At the time I write this my father is busy redecorating the house, a fresh look for the years to come. He’s planning as many holidays as he can muster and his eldest son, my half brother is getting married this year so it’s a good excuse to party. There’s a huge amount to look forward to and ultimately that’s the most important part of all of this. It’s a chance to tell a few more stories and create some more.
The few days I spent in Stiffkey were important because it highlighted what special memories my father gave at a time he was undoubtably at his happiest. As I wandered the marshes and tiny little towns it made me reflect on what he had achieved in these 80 great years. We’d be here for quite a while if I told you everything…
He is a true inspiration to anyone that wants to understand what it is to live. Choose life not existence. That’s my father. And he has given me and everyone who knows him everything he ever could; including my most treasured moments as a child all wrapped into one blue and white trailer tent, parked up for 2 weeks a year in High Sand Creek Campsite.