It was the beach that drew us on a particular Thursday, whilst staying at Grandma’s house during school’s half term break. A trip out to keep two energetic boys occupied, to busy their minds, to stretch their legs, and to offer respite. Just a week before their Granda had passed away, an immense loss that they, all of us in fact, were still processing. Yet there they were, immersed in a week which on the surface looked like just another holiday week staying over at their grandparent’s house. Except that it wasn’t a normal week at all.

In the background adults were grieving, tearing up at the oddest of moments, and pausing mid conversation, falling deep into thought. We were being especially strong for the boys though, and their Grandma too. Whether it was working none of us knew, but on the surface we were all doing okay, and we moved through the week with the minimum of fuss towards a weekend departure; knowing we’d be back again for the day of all days, less than a week later.

Roker Lighthouse.

On that day though, not for aforementioned reasons, it wasn’t a typical beach day. Their Mam was to stay behind to work from Grandma’s dining room table, as I had done the day before. Beyond that, it was the weather that could and did challenge our trip out to see the sea. Cloudy, possible sun, and a strong possibility of rain later on was the outlook. The offer though to tempt us out was pebble speckled golden sand, lots of it, a harbour with a petite lighthouse, and a modest sea front selection of cafes.

Heading across the road after parking, our fists were already clenched in our pockets and eyes squinting, as the cool coastal wind made its presence felt. Along the promenade we ventured with a handful of the hardiest dog walkers, each with at least one hound in need of a stretch. Down on the shore itself, a terrier like specimen shocked us as it played vigorously in the cold sea, rocking back and forth as it scampered to chase and escape the fast rolling waves.

Tracking along in search of a lunch stop, the marina to the south stopped us in our tracks, forcing an about turn. Previously going with the flow, we then faced into the wind and walked on in search of lunch; a necessary element to ensure the afternoon would have any longevity at all. Passing a meagre cafe offering, it soon became clear that we’d have to adopt the traditional sea side fish and chip format for our food stop, although on that day and in that weather, even that would be something of a challenge.

Eventually we found ourselves sat in a beach hut eating our tasty scran, as I think they say in those parts, each with a single hand buried still in a pocket to keep it warm, the other used of course to wield the chip stabbing wooden forks. If only those huts hadn’t faced north I thought, exactly where the wind was coming from. Still, after a belly full of grub we were fuelled and cooled and ready to take on the beach, regardless of the weather. (So long as it didn’t rain!) So along the front we ventured and down onto the stoney sands, to enjoy the intermittent sunshine.

A smile that says it all.

In no time at all, shouts from the boys were the only thing that surpassed the volume of the wind, as they looked to experience everything that beach had to offer. Rock climbing was first on their agenda, and who could blame them, clambering up huge boulders stacked haphazardly against the sea wall. Smooth, dark stone surfaces facing this way and that, hiding black holes large enough to swallow an unsuspecting leg whole.

Down on the flats, damp and firm underfoot from the morning’s high tide, the golden sand made its presence felt. Desiccating winds coursing left to right across the beach front were constantly drying and lifting the grains, sending them airborne in dreamy ribbons that created streamlined fins on the leeward side of every stone, shell or sea worn stick. As the boys played I walked on a while into the wind, enjoying the sun’s warmth on my face that somehow made its way through, until I reached the pier wall that offered itself up as a shield. There I stayed awhile, leant against the wall watching passers by, my boys in the sandy distance playing happily together for a change.

On my return I realised the youngest of my lads had created some kind of desert scenario for himself, although he was in live-time crawling and dragging himself across the beach using sticks for climbing hooks. His whole face was covered by a neck scarf like some kind of adventurer up against the weather, but it wasn’t to stop his hair, shoes and most of his clothes filling up with sand, as I later discovered. I could see he was getting in a messy state of course, but in the moments I drew near I could picture the play he was making, dragging himself most likely up a Sahara sand dune in a raging storm. So I let him be, not wanting to break that magic.

Adventure is in the mind and heart.

Although chilled, we rattled around that beach for a good while, not knowing when we’d next get an opportunity. I also knew that every moment out in the salty fresh air where worries could blow themselves away, and where innocent fun could still be enjoyed, were our moments to have and to treasure. So we played and spent time together yes, but also had time to ourselves throwing stones into the sea, digging holes, searching for sea glass or just staring at the sea spray flying up behind the pier’s lighthouse.

Now, as I record those moments on the sand, I see smiles and hear shouts as the boys wrestled and experienced some of nature’s seaside elements. Real grins appear as I remember asking them to pose before a seaward rainbow, a rainbow that heralded the shower that would send us packing to the car.

Above all, in a time underpinned with grief and sadness, I know that we all captured an afternoon in time that, despite the wider picture, was unique, irreplaceable, happy, thought provoking and priceless. A valuable moment of respite.

Gary Webb. February 2023.

2 thoughts on “Respite.

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