the guardian Fri 12 June 2009
"Goodbye, my childhood!" Emma Smith says, as her family leave Newquay in 1935, and she mourns her beloved rocks and sands and sea. But this is not just a vivid memoir of surfing games and scratchy clothes, of bathing huts and the tennis club: it is an account of her parents' woeful marriage and a remarkable portrait of her disappointed father. Theirs was the generation devastated by the first world war: her mother lost fiancés, her father always refused to talk but wore his DSO with pride. Her mother had driven an ambulance and mistrusted poetry. Her father recited Omar Khayyam and believed he should have beeen a famous artist, but worked in a bank to support his family. Every year his entry to the Royal Academy's summer exhibition was returned. Through agonising anecdotes, Smith describes the marital mismatch and anatomises the quest for status and respectability that threatened to crush their spirits. And the sense of dread swells, as the children play on the beach in the shadow of their parents' war, while their own, we know, is just a few years off.