This line floated through my head recently when we two humans – plus dog – were spending a few days in St Andrews at the beginning of March. At the time, we were walking along the broad expanse of the West Sands. (If you’ve never been there, think Eric Liddell and Chariots of Fire). It was a clear blue morning; a light, bracing wind blew in our faces; there was the cry of seabirds, a shimmer of light over the sea and a distant susurration of the tide. As a student at St Andrews University I must have walked on that huge beach dozens of times, but now in 2016 I was enjoying its luminous breezy sunshine with an intensity and pleasure that I do not remember experiencing more than forty years ago when I was attending that fine institution.
Perhaps when I was younger, I was preoccupied with study (doubtful), or maybe even with girls or some of the other delights on offer. I vaguely recall, after a university ball, skinny dipping at the West Sands, and I suppose that must have been a fairly intense experience – intensely cold, certainly. I also remember being able to run the full length of the Sands. As a youngster I probably just took for granted the fact that the wide West Sands existed as a pleasant backdrop to all the other much more important activities in which I was involved. Perhaps we all do this, when young. What I had certainly forgotten was the extent to which wind-blown sand and salt permeate your clothes, socks, hair and car long after you have left the beach.
Anyway, on this occasion – March 2016 – I found walking along the West Sands to be thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly memorable. Having survived a stroke, I am, of course, extremely grateful to be able to walk at all, let alone walk miles along a sandy beach. It has to be said, too, that I was with my wonderful wife – it has to be said, in case she reads this and believes I haven’t fully acknowledged the joy I should feel in her presence. Then again, this was our whippet Archie’s first experience of a beach. His lunatic racing about on the enormous expanse of sand was wonderful to behold – sheer, physical joie de vivre. Perhaps we all enjoyed the beach so much because we live in landlocked Deeside, which, however beautiful, cannot offer the huge skies and wide horizons of St Andrews. Perhaps we enjoyed it so much simply because for a few days we were out of routine – away from reality.
Did I fail to fully appreciate St Andrews when I studied there? Almost certainly. Is youth “wasted on the young”, as GBS says? Perhaps – actually, I think that line says more about the wistfulness of an ageing George Bernard than it does about the young. Re-visiting a place one has enjoyed as a youngster stirs up old memories, which we view through the prism of age and experience. Perhaps wistfulness is an inevitable part of that. But I’ll be savouring the memory of our 2016 walks on the West Sands long after the sand and salt have gone from my socks and my car.