Monday, April 19, 2021

Ripples on the sand

The beach this evening was all silhouettes; the tide ebbing as a westering sun cast shadows on the pools and rippled sand. A young couple walked hand in hand, paddling barefoot in the shallows. Oscar was having none of that, running instead over the silver streams that mirage the two-mile stretch to Rickets Head.

I've walked this way a hundred times. When our older boys were small, we'd come here day after day, them never tiring of the want to splash and dig. Back then it sometimes felt too open, too windswept—and too much a place where movement was needed, rather than the standing around and building of castles and dams that comes with little ones in wellies.

It's different now. Oscar wants nothing other than his ball: throw and return; throw and return... such ease in the way he runs, so swift he outpaces his quarry.  Whippets, I read the other day,  are the fastest accelerating dogs. I can believe it, as he sets off for the umpteenth time, his chase instinct stronger than any distracting scent or passing pooch. 

My youngest son—who's now in his teens—was obsessed with mechanical contraptions as a child. Try as I might, he took no interest in landscape or nature. Even camping, which he liked, was all about process not place; no sooner had we pitched the tent than he'd snuggle down and watch videos on the Ipad—preferably of trains. The cottage beach, as he's always called it, was—and still is—one of his few exceptions to the rule.

Which is pleasing, as we're relocating here full time, and walks like this will be part of the daily ebb and flow. To live within minutes of such a fabulous spot is a joy and privilege—for it to also be your favourite, must double the pleasure. Or in my case, triple it, for this stretch of sand and pebbles is redolent of memories I treasure; of times that will never come again. 

Or at least, not quite.

This evening as I walked back to the car there was a family near the breakwater which borders the road. Two toddlers in oversize anoraks and blue welly boots stomped in the puddles—they built piles of pebbles and ran in circles together as their mum and dad (mid-thirties I'd guess) watched with collars turned up. 

'I must have a hundred photos of mine doing the same,' I said. 'In this very spot too'.

'So it's not just us', they replied smiling.

We got to talking about parenting boys that are close in age, the companionship they have, the hardship they bring—and the joys too... I spoke of the times we'd spent on this beach, the pattern of our days determined by the sea...  

'We never planned to have two so close,' she said. 

'Neither did we,' I replied. 'Our first was conceived with IVF, the second a complete surprise... '  And from the look on her face I knew what she'd say next. 

'We were the same!' 

Her husband chipped in, ' We were told we'd not have children without treatment—or at least it was very unlikely. Then before we knew it we had two...'  

'Buy one, get one free,' I quipped, explaining that in our day there was no NHS funded fertility service.

Oscar began scratching at my pockets for his ball. 'It was nice to meet you,' they said, as I put him on the lead. 

'You've taken me back,' I replied, shaking my head in disbelief... 

By now, the sun was almost to the sea, the air chilling in the way that spring evenings do.  I climbed the bank of stones and wondered how imperceptibly slower my movements will become each year. At the top I paused; there were new silhouettes on the sand—night fishermen, casting lines from the shore.  

The tide here is a long time turning.


  1. Days at the beach! Your post brought back many happy memories to me of time spent in the sun with my kids. Even a cheap plastic pool in the backyard created moments of great fun and imagination. My kids have planned a family holiday in August on a farm with a pond to splash in and lots of land to explore. My 5 children, 2 daughters-in-law, 3 granddaughters and 3 grandsons - what a treat for me!

  2. That first photograph is amazing, It's like a Camel band Prog Rock record sleeve.

  3. Hari OM
    Ah, then mention of looking at property a wee bit back is coming to fruition, it seems... While the shoreline here by The Hutch is all shingle, it is not so far away that we have a beach that resembles Ricketts Head and I fully grasp the feel of your walk from my experience of Ettrick Bay. The perfect place for pups to play... and little peeps!

    As a retired medic, I can't tell you how many times I have heard the story of second babes appearing immediately following an IVF-induced first birth and recent studies have shown this to be much more common than you'd think (at an avg of 20% of those who have experienced ART procedures). How serendiptous to have met this couple in the place you are to now call home to spark the warmth of memories and gratitude for them. YAM xx

  4. I enjoyed reading this - brought back memories of Cornish beach holidays when my two daughters were young. How quickly time passes by.

  5. Life is both incredibly random and yet as predictable as the tides. Beautiful post.

  6. Endless cycles of nature and man. There are even tracks of the footprints of Neolithic children running along in the sand, not sure where but I think the Severn Estuary. Lovely post.

  7. I too have moments when I am overwhelmed by missing the small children that I used to take to the beach (we have been occasionally as grown ups but its not the same).

  8. Beaches are great and your word pictures of that beach easily conjures up the windswept stretches of sand of my own youth. However the best part of your tale is the human link part at the end. It makes it easy in a way to imagine that your own children might one day raise theirs on or near such a beach.

  9. Beautifully written and a beautiful beach encounter - bringing back happy memories of times you can no longer fully grasp.

  10. that first photo is like an organic poached egg x lovely

  11. Dear Mark,

    Such a delightful post which we have enjoyed reading very much.

    Time and tide are changing for you but, from what you write, there is a sense that all will indeed be well. What great good fortune you have to be able to live in a place of such beauty and which holds such treasured memories for you. And, rather than those walks on the beach being moments snatched in holidays you will be able to take them in all seasons whenever the mood takes you. How perfect is that!

    And, what a strange coincidence to come across a family with such similar experiences to your own. It serves to remind one that one never knows the difficulties faced by individuals unless one enters into a conversation. "Only connect" as Forster so eloquently wrote.

  12. Dear Mark,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Oscar is a beautiful creature. It must be such a blessing to live so close to the sea. I hope that the relocation and the sea will bring you peace and serenity and no doubt, Oscar will get plenty of exercise from his walk too.

    I think that some of us go to the edge of the sea to lose our native reserve (the ability to exchange stories with a stranger we meet could be one example), to find refuge or to be far away from what the poet, Edward Thomas called ‘the parochialism of humanity’.

    I've started reading your book, Counting Steps, from the beginning. It's beautifully written and your sentences move like the caressing fresh breeze of the spring. I am enjoying it.

    Best wishes, ASD