The beached margent of the sea

IMG00337-20140207-0834Those who read my little blog will have picked up on the fact that Uncle Jonny regularly makes himself known to us in our everyday lives. When it comes to rainbows, or the heron, Uncle Jonny cheerfully presents himself to us: we are grateful for his prayerful presence which never fails to cheer.  Yesterday morning, in a clear, quiet dawn, we saw him on the shore gazing thoughtfully into a promising pool and, before my glorious greeting forced him to cover his ears and shift further off, we managed to take a grainy picture of him, watching and waiting on the shore. The sea, gentle and friendly, watched us at a respectful distance.  Though once again all together in this wonderful peace, we were actually pondering all the more powerfully the awful fate of the those in the west of this country who, by contrast, are desperately dealing on a daily basis with the wild waters, fallen and falling and due to fall again; driven down and over and across and past and up through the very ground on which they live. The waters have brought unprecedented destruction to all those affected by them and we who watch what is happening from the other end of the country wonder what the future can possibly hold.  Frightened by this unremitting metereological punishment, the words Titania speaks to Oberon about the effects of nature turned upside down seem strangely prescient to me. The winds, she says:

As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

That Uncle Jonny is our old friend-made-heron is not nearly so weird as the weather now afflicting so many poor folk, domesticated beasts and wild ones. Perhaps St Columba, who  especially loves the grey heron, will cast his eye across the water and make the storms subside. Uncle Jonny bring a rainbow, please.

That was the storm that was

IMG_1075After the terrible storm last Thursday – which brought to the country the worst tidal surge since 1953 – we have enjoyed quiet and increasingly warm weather. Up here in the extreme north east we’ve been lucky. Warnings in place, we boys still went out for a run on the beach as the winds gathered their forces around mid-morning; it was bright and clear, the tide was still out and the sand swept low as we charged headlong into it, delighted to be out at all as an outing certainly wasn’t expected, the forecast being so dramatic.  As if on cue, once we were back, everything deteriorated quickly and, by tea-time, when these pictures were taken, the sea was out to get at us and all down the eastern side of the country coastal folk were hanging on for grim death waiting for the high tide to power their way.

IMG_1066As we looked out over the harbour, by the lifeboat station where our heroic crew were keeping watch, the North Sea was crashing over a non-existent harbour wall. We watched in horror as one by one the boatmen’s huts – such folly to have left them unstored against the winter – broke free of their footings, electrical cables springing dangerously free from the wall and into the watery air. Like cardboard boxes they swayed hither and yon at the whim of the waves. A steady stream of witnesses, cameras in hand, gingerly ventured down the steep harbour approach, safe in the knowledge there was no possibility of Neptune capturing them there.

IMG_1070From the Farnes, from where the Longstone light shone bright, the National Trust wardens had already tweeted that all the baby seals had been swept into the sea from the smaller islands usually safe from rising tides. Looking towards Bamburgh, all we could see were massive rollers pressed right up against the dunes: all land, all sand lost to the tempest. But there was no rain, no rain at all.

As quickly as the storm had risen, it was gone. The following morning, cleaving to normality, we innocently made our way through the dunes towards our little path to the beach. It was gone! All that lay before us was a twenty-foot drop, which I would have embraced athletically had not Kemo Sabe anticipated the possibility of a problem and held me fast on the lead. And that was just the beginning of it:  twenty foot of beach had been lost, marin grass was strewn like hay, feet deep all along, and access was completely denied. People in the village had not seen a storm like it. ‘Twas a rough day. But no one was flooded, the lifeboat crew did not have to set out, the harbour walls withstood the force of the sea and, for some strange reason, in the pictures that we took, the sun appeared to shine, even though it was dark and growing ever darker.

No morn, no noon . . .

2013 002The weather up here has been appalling, ever since yesterday afternoon when the squally wind got up and bursts of violent rain began to hit us, both driving from the north – the worst direction of all. This is an epic storm.  In keeping with the pathetic fallacy, turbulence is everywhere: the cat flap blocked overnight; a cold blast driven through our kitchen where warmth from the range is usually constant; the morning run abandoned perforce; that feeling of impending doom pervading everything. Out on the islands, the wardens are worried about the safety of the baby seals, so mountainous are the seas which are obscuring land. With neither electricity nor running water on Inner Farne life is always harsh for the National Trust workers but in conditions like these it is frightening, as the fear within tightens its grasp on the guts and the claustrophobia of helplessness intensifies. Sometimes they are stranded out there for weeks at a time, reduced to a few bars of chocolate to get them through. Here, battling as we do against the elements in our own little House of Shaws, dismissed in half a sentence by the BBC radio forecast, we focus on a private need for fortitude and patience, that most mature of virtues. Somewhere deep within the bushes, our little sparrow friends are holding fast with locked knees, longing no doubt to feed once again on the various provisions they expect to find. Where do the chunky wood pigeon hunker down, so proprietorial and stately? Unable to move the world on one jot, or extend a life one day by worry, we all busy ourselves by leaning hard and cuddling up. Good that the feeders – with their nuts, nyjer seeds and fat balls – are swinging in waiting. Good that the bread has been crumbed, ready to be put out when the wind abates. Good that more logs were delivered and despatched into the store early yesterday morning, before the chaos came – it was never predicted by anyone. Good that we are warm and dry and the new roof has passed its first test; that we have a full mixer bin and the butcher will have new jellies for us today. Good to have decided to stay put, there being strength in numbers, when all one can think of is the past and the future seems so uncertain. In circumstances like these, everywhere else seems so far away from our little corner of the world but while they are here with us, there is nothing to fear. As someone famous once wrote:

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Without bad weather, we would never be able to enjoy a fire!

All is calm, all is bright

28.10.13That was our experience upon waking in our warm beds this morning and indeed upon our run towards Bamburgh, where the particular peace was almost palpable, as this picture portrays. Whatever the south of the country had been going though, we had had none of it. In fact the night had been sprinkled with gorgeous stars, the air clear and quiet, and the dawning – well, you can see what it was like.  Yet the BBC tells us that from Cornwall to East Anglia there are no trains; that at least two unfortunates have been killed by falling trees; that there has been flooding, damage to houses, lives lost at sea and in freak explosions. It is all true and it has mattered: what doesn’t matter is whether the wind and rain was slightly more or less intense than the experts suggested they might be; or indeed whether all this has more or less significance because it affected the south rather than the north. For now that the calm after the storm is beginning to descend, we hear the twittering in the eaves, and gossipy sparrows are complaining about whose suffering is more worthy, and indeed whether the soft southerners shouldn’t toughen up and take things in their stride a bit more, as we do up here  – where the wind rages fiercely frequently and no one further south neither knows nor cares. What use, I ponder, is such kibitzing? Today a nice Hungarian lady, carrying her first baby inside her, visited the house; she was full of warmth and interest in an old man’s needs even though he was as yet a stranger and a foreigner to one born a thousand miles away upon the plains. What a joy! Cockney and Scot, Magyar and Northumbrian (not at all the same as Geordie, mind!): just like the Dickens Dogs and me – pulling together, into the wind, trying our best to get where we have to go; prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

Here I eventually see and ponder the passing in front of Inner Farne of the Trinity House vessel, Galatea, setting off for a day’s work cleaning buoys around the islands and Lindisfarne, the Holy Island.  Isn’t it peaceful (except for me – sorry!)?

A message for my readers

IMG00239-20130715-0742Yesterday was a big day for me: I had more visitors to the blog than ever before! Being an innocent in this business, it is always exciting to see if anyone has read – let alone liked or commented on – anything I’ve put out there and I’m very pleased to get any response at all. This little spaniel writes for his own delight, in order to get ideas straight inside his little blue and white head; if other readers find my musings worth a look, that’s just wonderful; especially wondrous to see are the various flags of my readers’ homelands and wondering just what someone in Brazil or Slovenia has made of my life in this isolated corner of England. IMG00199-20120927-0800Whether it’s a shipwrecked squid or a sun fallen from the skies, questions of life and death abound, crossing continents and making some sort of universal sense.  Every day is different; expressing every thought a challenge, wondering whether the thread will lead me from the labyrinth or face to face with the Minotaur itself.

DSC00557Those who know about these things predict a really massive storm later this weekend, though it may not strike our bit of the country too hard. Right now it is calm and bright, but that means nothing as clouds transform themselves in a trice and darkness deepens inexplicably, like the descent of melancholy in the middle of a song. Upstairs there is still an atmosphere of flux, and I cling in comfort to those who need me as a buoy in the sea of mutability; more than sea creatures are life’s flotsam and jetsam, it would seem. There is an extra hour tonight – which thrills me as I love my Boggis Bed – but as yet I cannot understand quite why this should be so. More questions I would ask:

1  Why do some people that we meet find it so hard to smile and say hello?

2  When you see people walking without a dog, where has it gone?

3  Why am I sure that everything will be all right?

Save our sardines

IMG00279-20131011-0752By this morning the wind had at last lost some of its power, after about thirty-six hours of terrible intensity. From listening to the weather forecasters on the radio, who view the country from upside down and who just referred to it casually, you wouldn’t understand what we in the north east have been going through. At least it didn’t rain that much.  As it was the sparrows had to huddle in secret on boughs bent to breaking for hours upon hours, all possibility of reaching the fat balls, nyjer seeds or nuts being out of the question as their tiny frames on their even tinier legs stiffened in the blast. We only ventured out once to see what the gods of the wind had been doing, when the sun came out and a Jonny rainbow arching in completeness over the islands drew us like a magnet as we doubled over against the force from the north west.  By chance we hit upon low tide – great joy – and a harvest of jolly whelk shells, all unlooked for. Then the sky blackened, rain began, and all joy was swept away, like the dead seal rolled up to the dunes.

(Evelyn Simak: WikiCommons)
(Evelyn Simak: WikiCommons)

First thing today the tide was frightening high and still encroaching but we carefully made our way along what remained of the narrow strip of beach, towards and over the rocks, dodging the water as it drew up to our ankles, foaming like beer drawn freshly to the lips. The sea foam gathered in enormous billowing puddles on and around the horrid pool, wobbling like living flesh.  A tiny fish flapped fearfully on the shore, abandoned by a careless wave.  It swung energetically back and forth, almost knocking itself out in its fervour. We picked it up and threw it back, hoping he would find enough depth and strength to swim to safety. Gentle little soul, so innocent, so fragile! One from so many such, selected for particularity. The least of these and one to care about. We think about the seals out there and how things are: whether they can rest yet, or at all, knowing as they now know, what the sea can do. A desperate cry from near the look-out post convinces us that someone is warning us to go no further. Turning round we see overhead a mighty skua in the midst of others, fighting with his fellows for a fish.  We stare and wonder.