Big yellow machines
Crawl over the shingle
Like an armoured division
On a seaside day out;
A Tonka Toy D-Day
Securing the beachhead
Ten tonnes at a time.
Shifting and shaping
Loading and levelling
Leaving their track-treads
Ribbed in the stones;
Shoving the longshore drift
Yet as they labour
Grey-green waves gather
Freighted with foam
And the weight of the world;
Breaking in thunder
Laughing at diesel
Hydraulics and steel.
Haul down the standard
Hand in our weapons
Know when we’re beaten
Withdraw from the field.
Or dig in deeper
Shore up our defences
Think of our loved ones
And fight to the end?
A couple of weeks ago, I took a ride to Seaford on the Sussex coast, where the local authorities are engaged in one of their periodic attempts to redistribute the beach shingle, which the sea relentlessly transports from west to east in a process known as longshore drift. Even as the phalanx of heavy machinery toiled, a powerful westerly drove huge waves against the beach, underscoring the ultimate futility of the endeavour. I was a boy once, so I enjoyed watching it all and wanted to write about it: it took me until yesterday to make the election connection. N.
It does not speak to me, this sea. I find
No wisdom in the suck and swish of sand,
No music in the whining of the wind,
No conversation where it meets the land.
It is a thing half-known: a childhood friend
And playmate; now a stranger, grown apart.
I never dreamed those summer days would end,
Or guessed at this indifference in my heart.
Some men it calls to sail away: the weight
Of water and the world pull them. To go
Down to the sea in ships was not my fate:
The landsman’s life’s the only one I know.
I’ll breathe salt air and open up my ears
To catch a voice that calls across the years.
Back from three weeks on the beach in Brittany with notebooks stuffed with ideas, my head bursting with plans, and the car full of sand, seashells and baguette crumbs. The unmistakeable signs of a good, and much-needed, holiday. I started this piece the day after we arrived; I’ll post the follow-up I wrote a couple of weeks later in due course. N.
Il fait du brouillard
The blinded lighthouse
Calls out in the gloom
Its foghorn telling the misty minutes
Like a doleful speaking clock.
There’s a Hebridean sting of salt
In the sea-smoke wrapped around the headland
Like a scarf; and the summer beaches
Are veiled and secret, empty, Arctic white.
The gulls and waders could tell me
Where I am; beneath the sky-cloak
They chatter heedless, brash and jeering,
Safe in their local knowledge.
Not that I’m asking. A dog, the dunes
And the distant booming of the surf
On the reefs far out are all the signs I need:
I am here. Now. And all is well.
There is a beach –
Long, quiet, silver in the sun –
Where, for a while,
I can be
At summer’s end
To spend three seasons
Where I left
Holidays are upon us, so gonecycling will be – well, gone cycling – very shortly. Thank you all so much for your comments, support and encouragement. Looking forward to catching up with you soon.