It was the summer I lost my jelly shoes. We were at the beach – Mama, Papa, my sister Jos, and I. I loved those shoes, with their sparkly silver glitter. But we forgot them and left them behind. And when we went back to look for them, they were gone forever.
We were incredibly lucky growing up, Jos and I. Looking back, it was a blessed and wonderful childhood during which we wanted for nothing. I don’t know if we knew that then. What we did know was love, happiness and safety. Losing a pair of sparkly plastic shoes was, in my eyes, as bad as life got.
In this summer in the picture, we were in Devon. Our little family had rented a house for the holidays and we spent long days at the beach. I remember the sand. It wasn’t just by the sea – it was in our clothes, in our hair, gathering in the seat corners of the car, and feeling gritty on the lino floor when we got back to the house.
Mama and Papa would sit on the straw mats they had packed in the car for our outings. Jos and I would play all day in the sand. With a bucket and spade, along the water’s edge, we would build castles and dig moats around them. We could, we thought, do anything. We’d have sandwiches for lunch and ice creams for afters. There was nothing in the world to be unhappy about.
Along the shoreline, pools of warm water gathered around the rocks. We spent hours exploring, collecting dead crabs and seashells, and finding mysterious creatures who floated in and out with the tide. We’d gather them up and guard them until the end of the day when we forgot about them in our fresh-air-tiredness.
And so, we also forgot my shoes one day. Those glittery plastic sandals which epitomised my summer of happiness. Until they were lost. I always believed they’d been taken away by the tide. For years I have told myself I left them among the rock pools, only for them to be swallowed up by the sea as it overtook the sand.
I talked to mum about this photo last night, and she said it was, as I had thought, taken the summer I lost my shoes. But she had a different version of what happened. We’d left them on a wall at the beach, she said. We’d piled into the car, remembering our straw mats and buckets and spades and Jos’ buggy and the rest of our belongings – but my beloved sparkly sandals were forgotten.
I must have been barefoot in the sand – because summers back then were lived without shoes just as they were without worries. I suppose I have romanticised my memory over the years. I suppose I wanted to think of my glittery shoes as being swept out to sea for safe-keeping by the mermaids, and not of them sitting lonely and forgotten on a seawall.
Apart from the shoes, it could have been any summer. We have many, many different versions of that photo from over the years. Jos and I, sitting in the sand on the beach, squinting in the sun, and not a worry in the world to enter our minds for an entire lazy holiday. The years go by, we look older, the locations change, sometimes we are in England, sometimes we are in far flung lands. It never mattered to us as children that we didn’t understand what people said to us – we still befriended the other children on the beach. They taught us to jump off the side of the catamaran without fear, they taught us to count to ten in Spanish, in German, in French. Summer holidays, like the rest of the year, were carefree for us blessed children.
We didn’t know how lucky we were.
In the last decade, 10 million children have been traumatised as a result of war.
They know nothing of a life where losing a pair of glittery jelly shoes is such a terrible event that you still remember it 25 years later. They know nothing of a life where your biggest decision is which colour friendship bracelet to buy at an exotic night market. They know nothing of a life where summer holidays mean endless worry-free days spent laughing and playing with family and friends.
Many, many children die or become seriously ill as a result of living in conflict. They know nothing of a life like the peaceful, worry-free childhood I remember.
The charity Action Aid has launched a campaign to help rebuild the lives of children affected by war. The Rebuild campaign is asking celebrities, and people like you and me, to tell the stories of their childhood. They are stories that are simply worlds away from the lives of children affected by war. But by telling these stories, and by listening to these stories, we can perhaps encourage each other to find ways to help children affected by war rebuild their lives. For those living in conflict, Action Aid is working to help them change their stories.
Please visit the Action Aid website to find out more about the Rebuild campaign. With our help, the lives of children living in conflict can be rebuilt. Please, tell your story, share it widely with the #rebuild tag, and do whatever you can to help.