Gazing absentmindedly from the safety of the rain lashed picture window of the old hotel perched on the carboniferous limestone headland – its loo unchanged for forty years – I ponder the five mile arc of Atlantic scoured beach indiscreetly described as one of the finest in Britain.
My eye settles on the figure of a young boy, surefootedly and single-mindedly, picking his way over the wet-black, jet-black, sea spray spattered rocks. Never extending his reach he sticks closely to the wet face. Upward ever upward he climbs, rope-less with no regard for his descent, he pauses to look at the sea – through eyes the colour of mine – his whole life before him.
‘I have been taught the script of the stones and I know the tongue of the wave’
I see the boy again, navigating his way through the large winter surf. Serious as he sculpts deep furrows into the smooth, grey faces of the mountainous swells – rolling over paths trodden by St Cenydd and Iestyn ap Gwrgan – his mind as empty as the bleak, wreck lined shore. Stones, bones, sea lettuce, laver weed, goose barnacle, dog whelk, grebe, merganser, ouzel , shearwater.
I call out to him but my words are carried away on the wind. He cannot hear me.
‘The sea was in dialogue with things lost, returned, and lost once more’
Leper stone, holm, mere, goat hole, culver hole, bolt hole. The Red Lady of Paviland – another boy. Wesley, Le Breos, Buckland. Ora Pro Nobis Sancte Maria. The bare ribs of the Helvetia and the frozen bones of Edgar Evans.
My boys and I, running through the sun dappled wood. Spindle tree, juniper, primrose, wood anemone, butchers broom, ash, oak, such elm, dogwood. The oniony smell of ramsons, stinking hellebore and blue gromwell. Our feral feet bare on the damp, cold-shaded sand, stopping at the rope swing before emerging into the bright summer light and ozone heavy air of the open dunes. The lusty, warm, westering wind whips a skein of sand across our brown faces, before seeking refuge in the children’s hair and pockets to return as memories on sheets and sofas. Cuckoo flower, bee orchid, carline thistle, squinancywort, sea lavender, knapweed, wigeon, lapwing, turnstone, dunlin, fulmar.
‘Tell me about the burrowing bees daddy’ my youngest asks. ‘Andrena fulva, the solitary mining bee’ I say as we kneel in the couch grass. Sandwort, saltwort, creeping fescue, hairy hawkbit. Will you pass this story on my son? Shoveler, shelduck, nightjar, chiffchaff, redpoll, siskin.
Tumbling gracelessly from the steep, sheep-trodden track to the sound of the family’s laughter. Struggling to disrobe before a three year old plunges into the deep icy blue of the superstitiously bottomless rock pool, the ancient home of doubloons, moidores and the dowry of Catherine of Breganza.
The young man next to me sleeps as we drive over the common; its two Bronze Age barrows destroyed by the small airfield used to welcome the Douglas and Zeta Joneses. I turn from the be-ponied yellow gorse to his exhausted sleeping face. Half child half man, his features changing like the timbre of his voice. I notice the leaves, feathers and twigs spilling from his pockets – an obsessively secreted treasure. I notice the dried food encrusted on his t-shirt and jeans. Thin and frail, the sticks and stones of ignorant bullies could easily break his bones. I wipe the tears from my eyes to concentrate on the winding road. There is a camber ahead and my eldest son is a precious cargo. Estranged from me now, this past year, I wonder if you recall this day. I speak to you but you do not answer.
‘And though you probe and pry with analytic eye, you cannot find the centre where we dance, where we play, where life is still asleep under the closed flower, under the smooth shell of eggs, in the cupped nest, that mock the faded blue of your remoter heaven’
Stars stand watch over the castles, dolmen, stones and bones of the hill. The wood is quiet, the restless sea as calm as our sleeping children. We savour the cold summer evening under woolly hats and rugs cradling our goodnight whisky next to an open fire.
Katherine says that our love and happiness comes from inside us and that we make it ourselves. I think about this as I look down at the warm woolly socks hiding her carefully de-sanded, city-girl feet.