Earlier this week, as I sat in the quiet cafe, music playing quietly enough for me to ignore it and, on the yellow formica table top in front of me, a hot chocolate cooling from molten lava temperature, I paused in my reading to look up and consider the question that has stumped philosophers for centuries...
Is there anything more comforting and more guaranteed to give you a feeling of wellbeing than sea-cold toes thawing in warm dry socks while you drink hot chocolate?
Some serious consideration of other comforting things - the first chilly night under a winter duvet, a hug from someone you genuinely want a hug from, soup and toast, a cup of tea after a night on the tiles - I have to tell you, dear readers, that no, there is nothing more comforting than that.
With one of the eternal mysteries of life solved, I returned to split my attention between the second book of the day and that hot chocolate, upon which the crest of whipped cream was slowly, tantalisingly, melting down the side of a mug so big, I could have put my head in it.
I'm not long back from a quick break to the sea where I did little else other than watch the waves, eat, walk, sleep. Repeat for 2 days. I spent some time picking up pebbles and examining them. I spent even more time reading and writing (took 6 books with me and read 5, leaving Shuggie Bain for a time when I can deal with desperate poverty and lost lives, i.e. not yet). It was bliss and I came back feeling both well fed and well rested.
I did, despite my age and the fact everyone else over 40 on the beach were wearing sensible stout boots and walking shoes, paddle barefoot in the shallows. Why would you not? Yes, it might have been so cold I could barely feel my feet after 5 minutes and, on 1 occasion, actually raining, but I hadn't gone all that way to not get my feet wet.
If anything, I just wondered at the people in the stout boots. Did they not want to recapture that feeling of childish glee, that abrupt sucking in of breath that comes when the foaming waves carry themselves over your toes and you realise the water temperature is closer to ice than bath?
Their dogs weren't so inhibited and bounced soggily up to me hoping I was carrying biscuits or would throw the salt water dripping ball for them. Some just wanted a pat and 1 enthusiastic retriever (is there any other sort?) wanted to pause a foot away from me to give himself a vigorous shake. The owner was mortified.
I just laughed and mopped up the worst with my scarf. That scarf did a lot of standing in for a towel over the 2 days.
Going through the photos, I realise I mostly took closeups of rocks and pebbles because I find them fascinating and have promised myself to, one day, properly get to grips with geology. No fossil finds, but lots of lovely glittering lines of quartz running like galaxies through the rock.
I've kept a couple of little videos of the sea on my phone to return to when times get stressful. Which they will. I'm learning to take those times as part of the ebb and flow of life (I do this at the age of 45? Truly I am the enlightened one!) and not to let the stress overwhelm. Let it flow, man, it'll pass.
And whilst it was tempting to burst back home and insist to N that we "move there instantly and run a little B&B and I will run a craft shop as well and you will run your garden design business and it will all be splendid", I resisted. I think sometimes he takes these flights of fancy seriously and then frets that he'll come home one day and the house will be for sale. Maybe, if I was 25 years ago but still the me I am now, I'd take them seriously too.
For now, they are daydreams occasioned by being in a nice place and having the usual irksome details of daily life (who's turn is it to cook, who did the last lot of laundry, did you feed the cats already, why are your shoes there?) left behind.
For 48 hours, I could allow myself to focus on nothing but the sea and the tides. I embraced that lovely Italian idea of far niente, pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness. Something we don't do enough of as adults. I saw no news, no social media and no emails. I did gaze for a long time at the sea, and the long bluing horizon.
So I'll fold those impossible daydreams away with the post-holiday washing, put them on the shelves with the strange rocks, and not think of them again until I'm back there. Or somewhere else with cobbledy streets, pastel coloured houses and a pub serving the best seafood I've eaten in a long time.
And for the next week, whenever I turn out of a pair of socks or my bag or a coat pocket, and a small gift of sand sprinkles the carpet, I'll allow myself a moment or two of unfolding.