The pace and commotion of modern life renders it all the more crucial that we grasp those increasingly infrequent opportunities to draw breath and rest awhile.
Where I would take issue with the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, who asked what is this life if full of care / we have no time to stand and stare is that sitting works just as well.
And where better to do it than on a bench in the fresh air?
We are so accustomed to lounging on a sofa, whether it be at home, watching mindless television, or in a coffee shop, spending money we haven’t got and aggravating our caffeine levels. Why not do the same in the great outdoors?
One answer might be that the provision of facilities to do that is not always plentiful.
But we cannot claim that excuse in Folkestone.
The town is blessed with more than its fair share, especially on the lovely Leas, once dubbed indisputably the finest marine promenade in the world, where there are exactly one hundred wooden benches between the Step Short Arch and the Metropole Steps (seventy three alone between the Bandstand and the further of the large hotels (now apartments)). I would be surprised to learn if any other coastal resort had as many.
So, what has sitting on a bench ever done for us?
Let me count the ways.
To “rest our legs”.
To pause and just breathe.
To think or meditate.
To be quiet and let time pass.
To eat lunch.
To read a book or newspaper (ok, or a tablet/phone).
To admire the view (and what a view!).
To watch the world go by.
To “people watch”.
To “sun bathe”.
To escape from conflict (at work or at home).
To grieve over disappointment or heartache.
To explore first love (within “reason” of course!).
Or a combination of any of the above.
And then there are less conventional reasons:
To drink or take drugs.
To “hide” with a lover.
To beg from passers by.
I am sure you can think of others (conventional or otherwise).
The value placed on the view afforded by benches is no better illustrated than on the plaques that grieving families have had affixed to commemorate the lives of loved ones who have passed away.
Arguably, these benches are a more life-affirming tribute than a concrete slab in a crematorium, though they have their place too, of course.
Benches are a visible and practical demonstration of a bygone age in a hectic world. Celebratory and consolatory in equal measure.
And, as we have seen above, they can serve so many purposes that nothing else can quite deliver.
Whilst this post has focused on the wooden benches that festoon the Leas, especially at the West End, there are others at the eastern end that sit beneath the Step Short Arch and speak movingly of Folkestone’s critical role in war.
I may not have picked the best weather (at least in Folkestone) in which to urge readers who live within reasonable travelling distance of The Leas to rush outside and “take a pew” in the outdoors.
But wherever you may be, try to take whatever opportunity you can to “sit and stare”. Aside from improving your mental wellbeing, you might just finish that book.
Or at least your lunch.