A Little Life.

I am a small person
living at the edge of a harsh, grey sea.
The world does not ask my opinion.
Few people remember that I am here.
Years roll by with the waves
and the world turns, unnoticed.
The sun comes up.
The clouds roll out.
People come and go,
doing much as others did before them.
Out there, over the horizon
hordes of them scramble,
going somewhere,
streaming through life.
Moving, doing, building.
Spoiling, taking, ravaging.
Times move on
but as I look out
across the wind blown strand
where my scant life plays out,
setting my face to the wind,
there is a kind of peace.
Losses and gains,
failures and achievements
are shown for what they are.
Little changes.
Something endures.

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Storm surge. January 13th 2017

Do not take me for granted.
Do not presume.
Do not toy with me
for I will take you down.
I will prevail.

Do not think that I am benign
simply because I allow you
to dangle your children’s toes
in a soft summer wave.
My force is waiting to strike
and I will unleash it against you
at a time of my choosing.
I am not your friend.

Hidden in my depths
is the power to destroy.
The power of unconsidered hate.
The flash of resentment
long withheld.
A whip sharp bitterness
hides in the sting of my waves,
lashing out at random,
showering venom.
I do as I please.
I take.
I destroy.

Remember my words
as you parade your folly
in the gentle heat
of a long summer day.
You are there
on borrowed time,
bought by my indulgence.
I am waiting for you.
I will come.

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Seagoing Crows

We have carrion crows in the bay here and they are by far the most fascinating birds that I share the beach with when I walk my dog. They are sharply aware, careful but unafraid, eyeballing me as they strut past, puffing out their chest and lifting their feet high. They will only rarely allow themselves to be interrupted, using a minimum of effort to keep their distance. They clearly regard themselves as more than my equal, and in these circumstances they are absolutely right. They know exactly who they are and what they can do and they have worked out long ago that I am clumsy and inept in their world by comparison. Their look tells me that, frankly, they have never met a human being who is their equal and certainly not this one. A few hops or a casual flap of a wing are usually enough to deal with me and if they are concerned they will just soar lazily upwards for a few yards. If I stand still and look straight at them they are happy to stare me out. There is nothing like facing the stark, bright eye of a crow- one of the most intelligent of all birds- to put you in your place. You know that you have met your match.

Life is relatively easy on the beach for them as there is plenty of food along the tide line, where both the corpses of sea life and the discarded remains of holiday packed lunches end up. There is not too much competition- seagulls are all mouth and easily fooled. All the crow needs is a quick eye and the wit to get their claws and beak into what they find fast. They have to be ready for anything. I have watched them rip apart and eat a range of things, from a sparkling fresh cuttlefish to a soggy pizza, dumped at the edge of the sea, still in its open box. It doesn’t pay to be choosy.

A beach crow has worked out early in life that dogs may be quicker on their feet than them but they are no threat and quite easy to deal with. When a dog interrupts their meal they will simply take a few flaps back to stand and wait, knowing that someone else will often sort things out for them by calling the dog away. As payback for occasional losses I have seen them knowingly tease one of my dogs all the way down the long stretch of sand, making her run and bark, staying just out of reach, occupying their mind and having fun- just seeing what would happen and testing their power.

There is no undignified squabbling to mar a crow’s life as they do not live in bad tempered flocks like many seabirds. They walk their walk almost alone, independent minded and practical, above such things. We could learn a lot from them.

At present their conservation status is classed as “least concern”. I am not surprised as they are well able to look after themselves. Long may that continue.

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I am not old.

I am not old,
although I will be old,
and sooner than I can possibly imagine.
I stare at the prospect
from the safety of middle age,
pretending that my life
is only half over.

I am not old,
but I have seen those who are
as they make their way ahead of me.
I have seen their wisdom.
I have seen their strength.
I have seen them belittled.
I have seen them suffer.

They have listened to things
that we will never hear,
been to places that we will never know,
held themselves fast against a rip tide.
They have watched and waited
as their world dwindled away
into the twilight of the past.

We are standing on their shoulders,
walking the road that they paved,
while they keep their secrets.
They are our future-
the future we dare not talk of.
They are ourselves.
We owe them.
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Short Story: Never Alone.

It began as a presence. There was nothing to see or hear, nothing to feel even, yet she knew that it was there. She was being watched. When other people were around her she found it harder to sense, but as soon as she was alone again it was there. Watching. Listening. For a time she could shake it off by turning her head to reassure herself that there was nothing there, and she could carry on with what she was doing, but slowly the conviction grew in her that the presence was waiting for a response. It wanted her to say something. She told nobody, if her mind was wandering then it was best kept to herself, so she went to work, cooked, met friends, did the school run, slept, and told herself that nothing was wrong. After all, if she could see nothing, hear nothing, what could possibly be wrong? She would get over it.

Strangely, when the presence turned into a pale shadow on the kitchen wall and she could see it for the first time it was almost a relief. There was something there after all. She was not losing her mind. It was real. She simply turned her head after switching the kettle on, as she had done so many times before and instead of seeing nothing, this time she found herself looking at a shadow. It was not being made by sunlight from the window and there were no electric lights switched on in the middle of the day. There was no reason for it to be there……other than force of will. The question was, whose?

The shadow began to prey on her mind. Every time she went into the kitchen she could look at nothing else. It had to go. She waited until she was sure that she would be alone in the house for a few hours, locked the doors, then fetched the pot of white emulsion paint from the cupboard under the stairs and started to paint furiously. Three coats were not enough to erase the shadow. After five coats she realised that she was wasting her time, any number of coats would not be enough. If anything the shadow had darkened, gained power and confidence. The only thing that had changed was the smell of paint filling the kitchen- they would be asking about that when they all came home. For the first time she was truly afraid.

From that moment on the shadow didn’t just stay in the kitchen. It moved around the house with her, settling onto a wall close by her, waiting. She never saw it move, it just remained with her wherever she was. Nobody else in the house mentioned it. She kept watching their faces to see if they showed any sign that they could see it, afraid to ask. Either they would say that they could, and a torrent of pent up feelings and emotions would be unleashed, or they would say that they couldn’t and wonder what was the matter with her. Whichever it might be she didn’t want to hear it. This was something which she had to deal with alone. It belonged to her.

As the weeks passed the shadow darkened and its edges became clearer, more distinct. She got into the habit of drinking her coffee in front of it while she watched to see if she could catch this process happening, trying to guess what it might be. It was something, she was sure of that now. Whichever wall it settled on, whatever the time of day, the shape was the same but the depth of the darkness in it no longer changed. It was now the deep, velvet black of a hole in space, reflecting nothing and drawing her in towards it. As she went about her daily life it held out a promise of glorious, unending, dangerous emptiness- it knew that she would come when called. It became an escape that she reached towards, a chasm that she would be thankful to fall into. It became her friend.

After many hours of sitting and looking into the darkness she finally decided that she must talk to it. It took a long time to gather enough courage- what if it answered?- but one early morning, at first light, she managed, very quietly, to say something. It was the obvious question.
“What do you want?”
She would never know whether the voice that she heard next came from the depths of the shadow or from inside her own head. Perhaps it didn’t matter. Perhaps it was the same thing.
“Your forgiveness.”
It was not the answer that she had expected.
“Forgiveness? For what?”
“For leaving you alone. For letting you down.”
She watched as the shadow slowly formed itself into a familiar, beloved shape- why had she not recognised it before?
“I am angry.”
“I know.”
Fear clutched at her heart. This was what she had longed for more than anything else, but it shouldn’t be happening. Jonathan shouldn’t be here. This should not be happening. She waited in silence, hands shaking. The shadow spoke again, the voice familiar, reassuring.
“I will always be with you.”
“No. You died.”
She spat the words out, channeling her fear into a shard of rage that reached deep into the darkness of the shadow.
“You died!”

“Mum? Are you OK? I heard shouting.”
She turned away from the shadow to see her daughter standing at the door.
“It’s nothing. Go back to bed.”
“Is it dad?”
She nodded, unable to speak.
“Oh mum…….”
“I’m fine.”
“Mum- look at me- dad will always be with us- so long as we remember him. He’s not gone.”
As she heard the words of the shadow repeated and reinforced by the warmth of a hug the tears that she had been unable to cry finally came. When she released herself and looked back at the wall the shadow was gone.