One of the small pleasures of living next to a beach in summer is exploring the ideas that the visitors leave behind them when they go home. Those who spend time on the sand like to leave their mark. It might be a simple sandcastle, decorated with seagull feathers, a pond with large stones placed neatly around the edge, a small boat lying beached on the sand with two rows of seats, or any number of other building works. Each of them has a story. Games have been played, arguments have been thrashed out, choices have been made. All this effort is then abandoned to the elements as the beach empties. Sometimes destruction happens quickly as high tide drives people off the beach. A valiant last stand is made as children protect their property, making ditches and sandbanks to delay the inevitable, and shrieking with joy as their work crumbles before a greater force than their own. Sometimes though, if low tide comes at the end of a long summer afternoon, you can make your way through the remains of a summer fantasy and admire the remnants of the human imagination. A still, earthbound dinosaur with a swirling tail and a row of white stones along his curved back, a citadel of carefully placed matching sandcastles linked by a low wall, or a long channel cut out of the sand which is waiting for the sea to flood down it. Often it is simply a name. Rebecca. Jason. Louise. A marker which is all that is left of someone who has gone on their way, leaving only their fragile imprint in the sand. It is a gesture that says I matter. I was here, my presence counted for something and it is all the more poignant because the gesture was made in the full knowledge that it will not last. Nothing is forever. A whole life may be nothing more than a fragile mark on the sand.
All of this I have seen many times, but once in a while my daily walk will be transformed by something special. I once found a single sandcastle with a turreted top which had been emptied out of a bucket and stood proudly in the early morning sun in the middle of an empty beach. Once a bit of old iron post which stands at the foot of the cliffs- something I have walked past hundreds of times- had been tranformed into something new by someone who wanted to be playful with a wooden plank and a few bits of stone. Just because they could. Two of the loveliest things I ever found had both been made by the same person. I know that without having seen them being put together as they shared the imprint of a single eye just as clearly as two Henry Moores ever could. If that person who made them had been to Art college I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, they showed a real eye for form, balance and colour, but at the same time they could have been made by someone who was enjoying a rare chance to exercise a talent which they would never have the chance to develop, a single burst of what might have been. I looked at them for some time, wishing that I could tell the maker how much I liked them and wondering if they would be astonished by my interest.
I am writing this in Autumn. During the next part of the year the things I find will have been sculpted by nature and thrown together by blasts of salt wind and the power of the North Sea, rather than human beings. Scraps of life transformed into arrangements and juxtapositions which are just as unique and surprising as those made by the summer visitors. The world turns and we turn with it.