It was the summer solstice this week. It was also, for three days only in the north of England, summer.
So let me whisk you back eighteen months, to a crisp and clear January day when I took myself off to walk for a couple of hours or so, looking upwards rather than at my surroundings. Skyscape succeeded skyscape. These changing skies perfectly illustrate this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: transient.
Sun, sea, sand. The basic requirements for a day at the seaside, if you’re nearly two, or even a bit older.
On Monday, I was in London, i/c William. But at the last moment, Tom got an unexpected day off. The sun was shining – and how- and London was hot and sticky. So we packed buckets and spades, towels, sun cream and sunhats …. and set off for Whitstable.
It’s a picturesque little town with a harbour, fishing boats and a reputation since Roman times for having jolly fine oysters. It had sun. It had sea. What it turned out not to have was sand. Here is the beach.
William didn’t mind. Stones are fun. Paddling’s fun, even when the stones beneath are jagged and a bit uncomfortable. Chasing seagulls is fun. Looking for crabs and tiny fish is fun.
We took a break for lunch. Miraculously, the tide had gone out and a sandy shore line had appeared. More paddling, this time rather more comfortable. More fish, crab and seagull hunting.
Then we went home. Guess who went to sleep in the car?
Here’s our journey, courtesy of Billy Shiel’s boat. We pass one of the most densely populated housing estates in Europe – but despite having to jostle for a tiny space to call home, this community is not socially well-integrated . Kittiwakes don’t live with puffins. Cormorants won’t talk to guillemots. Grey seals loll indolently beneath the cliffs, doing as little as possible till hunger forces them into the sea to hunt. The stench is intolerable.
We land on Inner Farne, taking our hats as per instructions. This is why. Arctic terns nest all over the island and they have young to protect. We are the enemy, as they make clear, as they hurtle towards us, piercing our hats and hands with their dagger-like beaks. I nurse a war-wound on my finger.
We decide puffins are less bellicose. They waddle about among the undergrowth, occasionally pottering down into their burrows.
Puffin at rest.
Watching from a burrow
Then it’s time to explore further. The cliffs are cordoned off, but there, immediately beyond the fencing are birds in their hundreds, caring for their young. They’re close enough to touch. We don’t though. Being so close we can see every detail of their (usually ramshackle) nests, their plumage, the young unfledged birds, and this is privilege enough.
A cormorant and young.
An adult cormorant spreads its glossy wings
You can’t spot the kittiwake young in this shot, but they’re tucked underneath, honest.
A razorbill protects her young.
A cormorant nest – with lots of other nests nearby.
Constructing these walls is an ancient art which seems in no danger of dying out: younger generations continue to learn the skills needed. Large stones are carefully jigsawed together into 5′ to 7′ high walls. Here are some instructions:
‘Gather and sort the stone by size in a type that complements and harmonises with the landscape such as limestone, grit stone or sandstone. Make foundations level and about a yard wide. Large stones go at the bottom butting against each other. All other stones must make contact with others and have the weight back into the wall and the face facing. With each layer of stone fill in void spaces with smaller stones to ‘bind’ the wall. The wall should taper like a flat topped ‘ A’, this slope is called the batter. ‘Throughs’ are the large heavy stones laid across the wall at intervals for extra strength. Topping stones as the name suggests are the icing on the cake also called coping, cap or comb stones. Cheeks or Heads are the end stones. A Cripple hole is a rectangular opening at the base of a wall built to permit the passage of sheep. Also known as a hogg hole, lonky or lunky hole, sheep run, sheep smoose, smout hole, thawl or thirl hole. Smoot hole is to allow Rabbits and Hare to move through or even small streams.’
A few months ago, I joined a writing group, a U3A (University of the Third Age) writing group. It’s turned out to be the best fun. We’re quite a mixed bunch. Most of the group write fiction, and a couple have novels on the go. I don’t. Paul can turn out a haiku at a moment’s notice, and John’s turning his life story into a hefty memoir.
Imaginative and inventive, Sheila leads us in a range of exercises that are both fun and challenging. Who know that a discarded shopping list in a supermarket trolley could take our minds in such different directions?
At the beginning of every session, we write. Just write, maybe using prompts Sheila has devised. This is what Paul came up with the other week. What better day to give it a wider audience than UK Election Day 2017?
How deep your pockets?
Empty, though, of words
But filled with promises unfulfilled
And crammed with oily silver
Slipped there from your greasy palm.
Who do you have in your pocket, politician?
Surely a hedge-fund manager
And a city banker or two?
Maybe some chums from school;
An expense claim form?
For fake responsibilities
Carried out in fake locations
By numerous fake relations?
Tomorrow’s speech there too?
To massage the masses,
Written in a back room
By the spinners of dreams for the working classes?
I’ve found this most recent post from my daughter the hardest of all to read, because we’ve seen at first hand the boys’ anger and fear over their mother’s cancer. I doubt if I could have found it in me to reblog her thoughts if we hadn’t been in Bolton this last weekend.
We were there because Ellie wanted to be at her annual professional conference overnight. Voice overs work in the main alone, so theirs is less a conference more a knees-up and a chance to bond. Her colleagues have been unendingly supportive and helpful since Phil’s death, and she spent the weekend being hugged and loved.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the boys were doing their own thing. Twin Number One got invited for a sleepover. Twin Number Two wasn’t, but elected to come shopping and bake a cake with me instead. Then he too found himself off playing footie with his mates and being invited to spend the night at a friend’s house.
Suddenly, we were only babysitting the dog, who required a long, energetic and healthy walk on Sunday.
Perhaps it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Ellie was happy. She had a much needed break. The twins were happy. They had time away from each other, and they could see their mum was OK.
It’s chemotherapy again on Wednesday. But it’s the LAST ONE. However bad it might be, it’s THE LAST ONE. Then there’s radiotherapy, which will tire her out. But that’s the LAST TREATMENT. She’s booked a family holiday for August. Perhaps they can dare to hope that this is the year when cancer finally pushes off and leaves them alone.
My relentless positivity is waning. The dark thoughts are setting in, and becoming far harder to shake off than the last few eyelashes which have long been sobbed into a snotty tissue. I have two children who miss their father, but I miss him too, and if it weren’t for them, perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered to fight this at all. In fact, I think I resent the fact that I can’t just say fuck it and join him, wherever he is. Because I do have his beloved children, though, and no family nearby to bring them up, I don’t have a choice. But, Christ, it’s hard – especially when the two children you’re doing it for are not helping you to row upstream, but are standing on the riverbank, chucking rocks at you as you try to do it alone.
They’re eleven. Nearly twelve. And they’re about as much…