Only yesterday a thick fog clung to the shore, out of which a single curlew leapt into life, peeping his call as he flew over. Nose to the sand, I ran in pursuit of life as is my custom but I could feel the damp on my back and a sadness on the silent sea. The oystercatcher nodded but he was all alone as well; the heron, once again, a miserable wretch fishing lanquidly, all interest lost, between the rocks. All of us wet from that jungly drizzle, there was much melancholy then. And yet this morning, as once again day dawned, a golden sun warmed and filled the dunes with light the colour of Lucozade. A new haircut, a favourite trip out, the arrival of some special soap, the chance to paint some more – such tiny bits of grace but all the more delightful for their inconsequentiality: these are in my mind as we trudge home and I chance upon a dead tennis ball with which to tease poor Barnaby. Happy are we who take each day in our stride, leaning hard and looking out to sea, towards the east, no matter what the tide brings: ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo’.
A misty morning was brightened by two wild things thrown into our beach path. First, a perfect mackerel, ejected by Neptune for our consideration; in their souls the boys would have loved to eat it but are well trained enough simply to admire. The sea being so calm, it is surprising that the waves had found strength enough to wash it up, which makes me wonder if it had jumped out of the path of a pursuing seal, driven from the rocks off shore. Glistening and mottled with blue and pink, it was reflected in a splendid shaft of sky gleaming in the east on an otherwise monochrome and moody day. The heron sat on the shingle not far away, a few feet from the water. As we approached he stiffened, extended his neck in disappointment and flew across in front of us, off over the dunes. We always think of Uncle Jonny when we see this lovely bird, as he fills Jonny’s place upon the rocks in a very special and mysterious way: such meetings are charged with meaning. If this was his mackerel he seems not to have cared, for when we returned the poor fish was still there, waiting for a passing gull. So it all goes, lives in a landscape, plans and routines cruelly cut short.
Pink-footed geese flew across us this morning, moving from Inner Farne on to the land beyond the dunes. It seems like yesterday that we all stood in almost exactly the same sunny spot on the shoreline as they squawked their way in the other direction, off to I cannot imagine where. We waved them goodbye and hoped we would see them again – nothing being certain in this uncertain world. Much has transpired since we saw them last; much remains the same.
Those whose faces are turned always towards the sun’s rising See the living light on its path approaching, As over the glittering sea where in the tide’s rising and falling The sea beasts bask, on the Isles of Farne. Aidan and Cuthbert saw God’s feet walking Each day towards all who on world’s shores await his coming. That we too, hand in hand, have received the unending morning.
I turn towards Barnaby and then towards Newman, running into them, nudging their necks as I jump in greeting. It is warmer than spring and hotter than August today. The circle is turning, too.
In the midst of twenty-four hours of death and cruelty elsewhere in the world, we enjoyed some peace this morning. I ruin the quiet by barking for joy as we see the moon in the blue sky, the calm sea lapping at St Cuthbert’s cell in the distance and even further away, the castles of Bamburgh and Lindisfarne. Only a snapshot; a poor thing but our own. The tide will be high by the time we return this afternoon, so there will be no shells to collect. Even here the shadows are long, betraying more than just the time of year, it would appear.
While embracing life and all it offers means the world to me, every evening I reach a point where I simply long to be allowed to rest. My urgent demand is for the big bed to be put down in the kitchen so that, even if Newman is too asleep to move next door and unready to turn in, I can contemplate the day’s doings as I drift into sleep. Perhaps it is the time of year, but I feel more than usually touched by things just now. Is it any wonder when you think about the week of contrasts I have shared: the gentle tearfulness of Durufle’s Requiem; memories of a Black Country town which, forty years ago, changed a perspective on life forever; Britten’s 2nd String Quartet, which leaves one with so many unanswered questions; the inexpressible excitement of a Michigan home match; the incomprehensibility of yet another little soul abandoned to his fate in an act of cruelty which doesn’t make any sense to someone who has known nothing but love; a cherry cake, wonderfully fragrant, newly taken from the range; the kitchen floor washed carefully, as I moved helpfully about; the warmth exuded by the sun-drenched score of Lawrence of Arabia – I have watched, listened and learned but, most usefully, I have clung close while others sustained these impressions. For this is what I do. I have felt the emotions nestling in my fur. I am very full of words this week. Yet it is pictures that haunt us. There was a scowling man, swathed in ammunition – what could possibly be in his heart? A white lion clutching a meal of chicken-filled pumpkin; the disgraced Rasputin, a tiger who attacked and killed his keeper; the magnificent stallion, cursed by gypsies, a white giant throwing an industrial backdrop into relief, shot by his terrifying master. Yet this morning the sun was warm on our backs, the sea calm and the tide low and so it is natural to revive one’s spirits, find the strength to endure and soon give thanks for the lore we live by.
Yesterday we learned that one of our oldest friends on the beach had died. He was a great pal of Uncle Jonny – two old blokes together they used to be, trundling slowly and breathlessly (in Mac’s case) along with thirty years of life experience between them. His loved ones told us that his breath quietly forsook him as he lay before them one afternoon; the spirit moved him away but he too now has a grave in the garden and an everlasting presence in their hearts. Ours too, indeed. We will always remember his enormously furry feet and smiling, shining face as he shuffled towards us, against all odds it must be said, long after Jonny had gone. As it happens, today I move into another phase of my own life, a little older but a little sadder.
My enthusiasm and determination to get to the dinner bowl just now were not appreciated. But I simply cannot help stamping my feet, like a seagull turning up worms, in ecstatic expectation of the meal placed before me and for which I must wait, even when it is on the ground, staring up at me. I might as well be on the front line. Yesterday we were mightily roused by the number-crunching commentary from the Michigan-Akron game, which the Wolverines won by 4 points but the heavy work they made of that encounter embarrassed them and they took little pleasure from the win. One couldn’t imagine an England player feeling the same. Listening to the drama unfold brought back the old Bob Ufer days, when the perceptible joy of his account of an away game more than made up for lack of a ticket. Participation is so exciting but perhaps even more so at some remove: is that a paradox? Ball games used to feature centrally in our routines, like the Saturday game in an Ann Arbor fall, but all we can do is remember what fun they were, since I too must forgo them on Barnaby’s account. How I would love the opportunity to throw myself at a ball; to challenge myself to outdo my speed and accuracy next Saturday, just like the Wolverines. But, because we are loyal to Barnaby, I will not have the chance to do so. Wolverines are fearsome beasts I hear, in a world where fears have mostly been conquered and legends have been laid to rest and putting two goals past Crystal Palace is treated as a miracle. I shall be hunkering down again tomorrow morning, after early training, desperate to get at ’em. That is my way.