Monday, 31 May 2010

Facing up to my adult responsibilities

One of the envelopes waiting in the mail mountain is about the Naughty Driver course I have to attend.

Dig says I am foolish. I should have my day in court and escape on a technicality.

1980s epic courtroom drama would be good. Grit, nuclear-fuelled power shoulders and plastic puffed up hair reveals the surprise witness! Let me now uncover the sinister webs of lies and deceit! I stare, bouffant, steeled vengeance. My witness nervously ropes her hair. The wooden panelled courtroom holds breath. Is it he who hid the CD case under the toilet waste pipe? Stare. IS IT HE? Tick tock tick tock. Hear the seconds: the sword of truth and justice falls.

The other way is more likely. An elderly bloke sporting an official-looking badge peers sternly at me. I have done something naughty. I am aged four. I cower, trembling, burst into tears. Pee dribbles into my sock. He is only the usher.

Anyway, I do not have a good defence, I tell Dig. I could not argue it through. Hopelessness would show on my face.

The nub of the problem is, that the conviction is for Holding a Mobile Phone Whilst Driving.

That is nonsense. I was doing no such thing. I have never done that. I am the irritating cow that flicks the finger at you if she sees you doing that while you spin your 90mph Audi to the M1. You look pathetic, driving your car like it's negotiating triangles while you wheeeewheeewheee in first gear clamping a mobile phone to your punk hair-do. You should stop.

And anyone who knows me, knows I could not possibly be on the phone. Because I am phobic about phones. Over a phone, I cannot see your face. I do not know if you despise me. Your mouth only does the talking. I need to see your eyes. They might not smile. Even Dig falls into that category. With him, Skype only and full video access to his hotel room. The only person who can make me hang on a phone is Oo. And that is because of her bezzymate status and the fact that she does most of the talking while I go off to make a cup of tea.

Phone? Clearly not. I was speeding. 36 in a 30 zone. Downhill, enjoying the company of my children, radio playing. Which I accept is no great defence. No defence in court. I cannot be convicted for phone holding, because, Your Honour, I was speeding at the time. It is a bit like saying I could not possibly have stabbed the bystander with a poison-tipped parasol, because right at that moment I was busy, bludgeoning the old lady to death with a cudgel.

It is too late for court. I already accepted a Naughty Driver course. Now I must be grown up about this and book the whensandwheres.

You can ask why I went for that route.

The points do not matter to me much, because I am not yet at 12 naughty crosses. I can have 12, can I? I already got six, expired.

The first time, four days after my mother died. I was a wreck. I probably was driver dangerous, swimming around in a blurry tear-filled head, sweeping floods from my face. My eyeballs alone would have needed the automatic washers and wipers. It was a 30 zone and what speed was I travelling? I can't recall. 39? 45? 2,740? Makes no difference.

The second time, an art exam. I was late, and stressed. It was all a blur. One minute I was lecturing Dig on how the correct mushy broccoli consistency can avoid killing your ggg toddlers, then half an hour on and an unmarked white van with a man and a hairdryer blipped me at 76 in a 70 zone.

I did get a NIPs after the smash up following the trip to the psychologist, but that doesn't count. They never prosecuted me. I reckon they thought about it and took pity on me: prosecution would be like violence committed upon the helpless and hopeless; like torturing a sick puppy about to die in your arms. And anyway, I had done them a favour. The other car in the mix was driven by one of their local crims, and it was me Lord, what brought them to book.

I'm taking the Naughty Driver course for all the wrong reasons. Of course they will already know those reasons and humiliate me with them when I get there.

I can humiliate myself, quicker and easier, so here goes. It will lift me out the house for an afternoon. Dig must stay at home to take the children. I get to be lectured at, hopefully by a nice-looking man with a firm chest and big hands.

And a friend of mine might be on the same course. The type of friend I so dearly wished I had misspent my school days with. We would have made a fantastic pair. She would have made me sup cider and cherryade from a tin can underneath the staffroom window. I would have made her shop-lift Bay City Roller fanzines. I would like that still. We could even make a day of it. We could meet up early, do our Naughty Driver course, then hang around the precinct. Good day out, and much better than court.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Post holiday blues

Coming home is hard. I like it. And I loathe it.

I like it, because now I am not surrounded by other people's stuff. I am surrounded by my own stuff. I can walk about naked, scatter papers, pile up books into interesting skyscraper designs, and I can leave stuff on the arms of the sofa pretending I will clear it up later. I can make a mess, and I get to sit in it.

But I loathe coming home because there is everymess everywhere, and 90% of it is not mine.

And I really hate what happens when I put something down. Like a colander. When I go back looking for the colander, it is in the garden holding up a ton of soil and six plastic dinosaurs having a fight. That, I really hate.

Then there is all the other stuff I come back to, and I hate.

I hate being responsible. The home ed thing. Dates and times and meets and events. Who is going where? Who is doing what? What did I book? Where is the diary? Day after day after week after month. School is a great idea.

I hate the pointless boring work I do, even when I only do an hour a week. Typesetting for a client who never pays on time. Cleaning up for authors who write like shit. I wish I could be paid for doing stuff I like. Walking in fields. Reading history books. Drinking beer. Eating. Talking to the kids about life and art and storybooks and battlefields of Plantagenet England. Maybe I could earn money that way. I could write a book about home ed. Only no-one would want to buy the bastard. And everyone else does the home ed thing better than me. They display smiling, engaged, knowledgeable, bright kids, delighted to discover a new mathematical formula that explains the orbit of Planet Jupiter. I drag home three urban terrorists. With scars.

I hate being easily distracted. I wish I could stay on a project and complete it. I never accomplish anything.

I hate housework. It is pointless, futile, boring, never ending and why does no-one ever clear the laundry pile except me? I tried leaving it, to see what would happen. You can guess. We would rather wrap ourselves in duct tape and cereal boxes than take the pragmatic approach to switching on the Hotpoint.

I hate how time disappears. I hate that it feels like midday then I realise it is 5pm. I wish I could be in control of time. I would put extra hours everywhere. In the cupboards. Behind the sofa. There'd always be extra hours when I needed them.

I hate ill health. I hate thinking up several ways in which Dig is going to die. Then some more ways in which I am going to die. Slowly.

I hate dealing with money and remembering that I forgot to deal with money before we went away.

I hate bad news. Murderdeathkillfaminewar news. Why can't everyone just be nice.

I hate how the mailbox fills with 125 different messages that I have won a zillion pounds. I really hate that because it is a cruel miserly mean-spirited trick. If I had a zillion pounds I would hire someone to do the laundry.

I hate not having a husband. I really hate that. More than anything. My insides are filled with green bitter bile and snarling anguish and pain and loss and emptiness and misery. I just look like I'm laughing.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

And when we get home, we're eating pasta for tea.

We arrived home, all alive.

There. That should be my diary entry for today.

I should leave it there.

No, really, I should.

We arrived home from holiday, and we were all alive.

OK then.

We arrived home and on the journey decided that the following steps were logical and sensible solutions to the dreadful conditions created by this dysfunctional family when they are all strapped together in a tin box and the story CD has ended.

1. The children are going into care.

2. Me and Dig are going to divorce.

3. One of the children, we will push off a cliff. Just for the heck of it. We do not know which one. We do not care.

4. We will sell the car and rip up the cash in front of the remaining kid faces just to show it was NEVER AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE CAR.

5. We will demolish the family home. The explosion will be cathartic and that will solve the argument about the bedrooms. Forever.

6. I will saw myself into bits with a blunt hacksaw blade.

7. I will attack Dig with a kitchen table and a lampshade, bury his body, dig him up again, and push him off a cliff.

8. He will do the same to me.

9. Then we will turn to the kids and say THERE. SEE WHAT BAD THINGS HAPPEN WHEN PEOPLE FIGHT?

10. Tomorrow everyone will forget about the four-hour screaming fistfight over godknowswhat and your sister will forgive you the bleeding claw marks down her face.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The last day

The gritlets do what they want today. All day. Hours of without-a-care-in-the-world beach stuff.

Beaches are boring. Not for the first hour. Maybe two. The first hour is fun!

I can do geology and rock smashing and pond poking.

Two hours, maybe, with some walking.

Three hours, and I get a little tired. I want a cup of tea. I need to pee. There is a lot of water coming at me. In waves.

Then there is wind. The sun is out and it is hot. The sun has gone in and it is cold. The weather. It is oppressing me. We could do other stuff. I am bored and pissed off and need to pee and I want to go home and drink a cup of tea.

Then I have to fight with myself. I am horrible. I am miserable and selfish and mean spirited. Surely I cannot begrudge my poor children what they might reflect in years to come makes for a happy holiday? The only happy holiday they ever ever got with mummy and daddy! (By the way, where is daddy? Is he at the cottage sending emails? Shut up about that. Horrible unkind cruel wife-type woman.)

Godhelpme. I have been here four hours.

Right. Well that is proof. I can repress it no longer. I knew this would come. The knowledge that I actually enjoyed being up here with the ruddy weird family and the windswept land. And we had to give up the trips to Edinburgh, Belsay, the dragon heads at Wallington Hall, the visit across the moors to the elderly aunt, the ritual crawl through the hypocaust at Corstopitum, the trek up to Housesteads, the journey down to Blyth - all so we could come to the beach and dig holes. This is evidence that we shouldn't be leaving tomorrow at all, homewardbound for Buckinghamshire. We should be in residence for longer. Somewhere close to a beach. With mobile phone access. Then I could tip the little grits out onto the beach, supply the phone, and run off, pee, and drink tea.

Except life never works out the way that is satisfying. We have to go home. Then we all get split up again. Dig must go to Hong Kong. Shark has a sailing thing going on somewhere. Tiger is heartbroken for a horse, and Squirrel probably wants to go to Suffolk because she hears tellings of fairy dust washing down from the trees. Me, I will kick my self-pitying arse about the house and move the furniture. Then there is other stuff that upsets and offends and outrages me and scares me and provides very little in the way of pleasure or reward. I must do that stuff too. We cannot live life like we are on holiday for ever. Although I will plot for it.

Anyway, here is today, the last day, when we visit cousins who breathe horses, stare into rock pools, make castles, dig holes in the sand, eat pizza takeaway, and pack up the car. To go home.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Proof that we can get a life lesson out of anything

You see? Grit is not alone. Not only her then, who stashes gigantic bees under her bonnet, each of which annoyingly zuzz zzuzz zuzzz away at her brain, until she is driven to thrash the recalcitrant little grits across stubborn fields in their reluctant pursuit of the elusive life force called an education.

Sometimes that propelling field walk energy is provided by Dig.

Dig saw a programme on TV. Probably in 2004 while lying sleepless and jetlagged at 3am on a hotel bed in Asia, while a satellite BBC station happened in front of his blinkless eyes, but seen it he has, and he is determined to find it.

The Howick hut. This fantastic bit of reconstructed archaeology is located close by a beach in coastal Northumberland, balanced at the edge of a cliff, by the side of a track, up from the path, and opposite a field that contains a pissed off bull. I recommend it.

Prising the gritlets out of bed this morning however, I detect some resistance. They whine how they need to recover, what with the enforced march around the shutupshop that is Lindisfarne.

Shark says she needs to construct a sandy dolphin. Squirrel says she want to dig a big hole. Tiger just makes a lot of noise which sounds like hhhmmmppphhhhaawwwwooooo.

Nonsense, we say. We have to do this. Daddy Dig has a bee the size of a bison kicking around in his head and we're not going home until it's placated.

So let's make the best of it. Tiger, shut up about the horse. You can sit on a horse tomorrow with the horse cousin. Now, let's turn this into a life lesson. All the better to be made while we zigzag over farm tracks, avoid bulls, scramble over cliff tops and get rained on. Be quiet about the dolphin. We promise tomorrow, OK? Now, shut up. Let us go and make words of wisdom while we tour the Howick hut and play at hunting antelope. No. You can do the beach later.

Listen, noisy gritlets. It is not what you do, that is important. It is how you respond to the challenges you face. Shut up. In fact, if an activity pulls together your brain, emotional soul, both legs, your heart, your hand-eye co-ordination, say all of your being, then that is a good activity, and one from which you can learn, and grow, and benefit! Embrace the new experience! Live it and learn through it! And will you shut up about the damn horse.

Anyway, once you begin the three-mile hike, we know you will participate fully, utterly, and become completely involved and absorbed. And Squirrel, stop going on and on and on about the bloody bull.

Now enough, already, with the back chat. Because when we meant the whole body experience, actually, we did not mean the mouth.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Welcome to Holy Island, Lindisfarne

The road disappears, the tarmac's under the tide.

The Priory ruin is roofless, the wall's fallen down.

The cafe is closed, the van's shuttered up.

The shop empties at noon, the door sends you away.

The tourists have departed, the shuttle bus stopped.

The castle toilets are locked, the key back in the drawer.

The flowers aren't in bloom, the gardeners have left.

The lime kilns discarded, the gate stays shut, bolted.

The island's cut off.

The gospels are gone.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Directions to Mesolithic rock art, Northumberland

1. Head out of the tourist office in feverish joy and anticipation, clutching a photograph to your bosom. (1 min)

2. Jump into the car excitedly and drive around enthusiastically searching for some woodland and a rock. Say it doesn't matter that we don't have a map. I have an A level in geography, and that is just as good. (1 hour)

3. Screech to a halt near some woodland on the basis that it is on an incline like in the photograph, and you are sure you saw some rock near it, and there is a path. (30 secs)

4. Force everyone out the car shouting Come on! Let's find rock art! (30 sec for the shouting, 10 minutes to lever everyone out the car where it is nice and cosy warm)

5. Follow the path up the hill. (1 min)

6. Cajole everyone to start walking across a field in the direction you saw some rock. (20 minutes, with a lot of sulking)

7. Merge onto the rocks and have a big argument about who is allowed to climb the rocks, who saw the rocks first, and whose turn it is to see the rocks next. (20 min)

8. Shout Shut up everybody. Now go and look for rock art. Prod everyone to clamber about all the rocks in different directions. No one knows what they are looking for because you left the photo in the car. Just describe it by waving your arms about. Remind everyone that you have an A level in Art therefore are qualified to be leader of the Mesolithic art expedition. (30 mins)

9. Decide it is the wrong rock. Never mind. Look on the bright side! It must be the rock over the hill. Set off across the field with the dead trees and continue in that direction until the path runs out. (1 hour)

10. Climb over the gate. It is just a ruddy gate. Do not look at the rotting sheep carcass on the other side. Yes, I am sure this is nothing unsafe and there is not really a panther on the prowl. (10 mins)

11. Continue across the field for quite a long way. Wonder about giving up when you find the chewed remains of more skeletons, piles of feathers, broken eggshells, and general wild carnage. Laugh it off. Tell everyone the rock is just over here. (Seems like eternity)

12. Become mildly diverted by a bog. (15 mins)

13. Turn right at the bog. Cross the next field where you are spooked by horses. You wonder if they are flesh eating horses and had a part to play in the dismemberment of the sheep. (Move very quickly across that field, actually)

14. Find more rocks! Run at them, shouting We've found the Mesolithic art! (5 mins)

15. Decide they are the wrong rocks. However, by now, because the mood is turning ugly and there is likely to be a rebellion, claim that if you were a Mesolithic hunter gatherer, these are the very rocks you would choose to carve pictures! (40 mins, and some false laughing to deflect the rising tide of resentment and the questioning of the authority of Mummy Grit as equipped to be leader of the rock art expedition)

16. Decide to take the quickest route back to the car before there is real trouble. (1 hour)

17. Phew! Thank goodness! Climb back into the car. Drive back to the last village where you saw a Post Office and public toilets. (20 mins plus an argument about who uses the toilet first)

18. Nonchalantly stroll into the Post Office, hiding the real intention: to pump the old woman for information. She surely must know the location of the finest Mesolithic art in all England! What do you mean, you've never heard of it? But it is around here! She must be keeping it secret. Consider tying her to a chair and torturing her with letters and stamps until she confesses. Buy some scones instead and leave slowly, sulking, before she calls the police. Put the scones in the bin outside when you actually read the label and discover they are made with animal fat. What is it with these people? Can't they just stop chewing on raw dead meat for an afternoon? (1 hour, 15 minutes)

19. Get back in the car. Declare everything is hopeless. But we are not bloody well giving up. Stare, wildly. Frighten the children slightly. Point to some hills. Shout SHUT UP. Now let's drive back around the other side of that field! (30 mins)

20. ROCKS! SEE ROCKS! Jump out the car. Force everyone up the world's steepest hill. STOP WHINING. I know your legs ache. So do mine. Think of the rewards! Soon you will see rock! Carved thousands and thousands of years ago by our ancestors! (45 minutes, plus time to lie down half way up hill and wish for defibrillator)

21. Discover this is the wrong rock. Shout RIGHT. THAT'S IT. I AM SICK AND TIRED OF LOOKING FOR A BLOODY ROCK. But I am not giving up. Get back in the car. We will drive around a bit more. Come down off that rock and stop arguing. Thank you for your co-operation. I have a chocolate bar. (1 hour)

22. Drive along a long, long road into the middle of nowhere. Suddenly see rocks again. Shout I WANT TO SEE THOSE ROCKS. Jump out of the car while it is still moving. Hear the sound of children laughing in shock. They do not realise you are actually a driven woman and you are going to find those rocks or gnaw off your own legs. (And who cares how long it takes? This is Mesolithic art we're talking about)


24. Spend an hour gazing at the lovely ancient fantastic amazing rock art, before setting off, past that hill, over that stream, through that wood, past those sheep. (timeless)

25. Scramble up that cliff.

26. Find the primitive animal carvings. Are they deer? goats? horses? Are they Stone age? Modern? Who cares? After a ten hour search I'm claiming them for the Mesoliths.

(Now you seriously did not hope to discover the actual location of the fantastic rock art and stone carvings, did you? Not bloody likely. You can have the full Grit experience matey, and put in the legwork.)

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Farne Islands. Where Grit takes to orthinology like a duck to water

Forget the updown salty seaboat heaving over the waters to the Farne Islands.

Forget the face whipping from the wild wind and the spray from the cold crashing sea.

Forget the grey-steel Rambo eyes of the six footer men in the birdwatching group, tooled up with massive lengths of camera lenses that look as sinister and as spooky slung across semi-bared chests and shoulders as the missile launchers and cannon of a fully equipped artillery force.

Forget all that, and the sight of Donkey Grit, lurching and staggering about onboard and off, carrying the food and drink requirements of six outward-bound healthy people on a full-day sea and land tour of Inner Farne and Staple Island.

Forget it all. Because here, at the start of the Holiday Bird Fun Day, is only one topic of conversation.

How cute are puffins? Are they cute? Are they the cutest cute birds you ever saw in your life? They are cute cute cute! How can they be so cute, dammit!

Consequently, we have 840 pictures of puffins in various states of puffinness. We have puffins standing up, sitting down, taking off, landing, falling over drunk in a ditch. We have puffins face on, side on, in angled shots, backside forward, upside down and back-to-front blurred. We have puffins in crowds and puffins all alone, like Billy No Mates here. Don't speak to him. He apparently is Grumpty Puffin. You see? We have puffin names as well as puffin pictures.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are in heaven. Puffins come like a revelation. They expected puffins to be enormous, fierce, flipper stomping, evil creatures, like they are at home when they shove spears under their wings, sharpen their beaks, and hurl themselves across the front room in a full frontal charge. But here they are cute! LOOK HOW CUTE THEY ARE.

Grit is almost driven mad by the endless cuteness.

Be grateful then, because you get a shag on Grit's phone camera. I deliberately stand next to Rambo and his eight-metre triple-extending telephoto wizard wand. Then I whip out my trusty clapped out Sony Ericsson with the dodgy battery and loose connection and upstage him with a tilted sealine and a shag on one leg.

I think it's a shag. Don't push me. It could be a cormorant. I don't think it's a razorbill. Or a gillything. I know it's not an eider duck, because I've spent two days laughing at their old lady ooo-ooo-oooing.

I admit. Birds are not my strong point. And I am not really an ornigotholist. I am here because Dig made a vow to the bird-turned heads of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. Because I am good, kind, supportive Grit, I am determined to keep the vow pure and see it through to the bitter end. Anyway, when I fail on the next one, I can plead But you got puffins!

So I am here all day long, fulfilling this vow, sacrificing myself to Bird Homage. And we do see a lot of birds. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. And different types. Some are not shags and puffins but fat white ones. I bet if I wanted to, I could have this orgithinology thing nailed.

Then there are are some right vicious ones as well. Arctic Terns.

Do not go near this little bastard.

I am sure the National Trust wardens deliberately encourage the little beggars to camp right on the pedestrian walkways where there is NO ESCAPE. I bet they even make nests for them. I bet they hide and lure the crazed zomboid terns to come and lay their little eggs on their National Trust nests right in the middle of the path.

Then out creep the wardens, put National Trust rope all around the psycho terns and watch the ensuing mayhem from a safe distance while they shout Hahahaha! Stupid visitor! Do not walk near the nesting Arctic Terns! They are very protective and may DIVEBOMB you!

Look at that beak. Imagine it plunging into your brain at seventy miles an hour. It is like a spear penetrating the top of your head.

I doubt they are even nesting. Nesting is merely a ploy while they work out who they will kill next by skewering to DEATH.

Of course those warped orthingologists are completely besotted with the little bastards and think being stabbed on the head is all cute and fun and notroubleatall! You won't get the truth from them. I read on one blog, 'Arctic terns are very nervous'. Are you insane? Nervous? They are bloody well not. They are killers. Grit does the sensible thing and hides in the toilet.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. Puffins may be cute but you need to find out the truth about those avian tern homicidal psychos. When I get you home, I'm putting on Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Now, just to calm me down and bring me back to sanity after the Holiday Bird Fun Day, here is a picture of a fantastically cute Tiger drawing a picture of a puffin. I think it might be number 873. The one called Pufferhuff.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Family strategy

We are mustering our forces. We are planning the week, preparing for the visits, locating maps. We have tracked down telephone numbers, alerted the relatives, acquired an Aunty Dee with her overnight baggage, and begun the whispered conversations about What do the doctors say? and How long?

As we step through the day, picking up lost connections, retreading the family tracks of loyalties, shared histories, remembrances, responsibilities, we have made vows.

We have promised Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that whatever comes, in the morning, strike us dead if we tell a lie, we will behold puffins. For that, we have stood in queues, handed cash, and hold seaboat tickets.

God help us now if there is some puffin disaster of which we are unaware. What if all the puffins of the Farne Islands are wiped out overnight? Forget the international wildlife crisis; the outrage and hand wringing that accompanies mass extinction. If the gritlets do not come eyeball to eyeball with real live puffins, I may as well end my life by jumping off a cliff.

So puffins are, for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, the highest priority, and our vows have been made. On the back of them, I am getting away with stuff. Rather, the gritlets are tolerating me and today allowing me, before the puffins are delivered, to speak geography, geology, ecology, history, and anything else I can grab hold of that I can reassure myself is vaguely educational.

Yes, because no matter what the circumstance - impending death, mayhem, misery, defiant family loyalty in the face of all, you name your choice of mishap - the home education thing never goes away.

But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are still young. I don't want them to be involved in all the minutia of family trauma yet. They can learn about that, and all the cupboards filled with bones, much later, when they're teenage old, know it all, and wise enough to shrug their shoulders and say So what? For now, we strange grown ups whisper.

Then I turn to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger and joke with them that I hope they're not treating this as a holiday. I hope they're treating Northumberland as they should: their extended learning experience in an outdoor learning environment.

So here is today's outdoor learning experience. Walks over cliffs, round seashores, through sand dunes, into rocky hollows. I am glad for it, not only for the wind in my face, but because their learning and enjoyment is a place of safety and protection for me too; here I can shield myself, be attentive, find occupation and purpose, set all my thinking, and occupy my gaze. I can laugh and nod approvingly to sand holes, burrows, and deep dug trenches. We can do millipede spotting, seashell pointing, seabird sighting, wave watching.

Then there are the rocks. Thank goodness for those. When the eider ducks have swum away, the seashells are pocketed, the millipedes escaped, and the tide come in, we can still crumble mudstone, grind sandstone, scrutinise limestone, and point out to sea, to the great dolerite lumps of the Whin Sill, after which all sills are named.

Perhaps right now I should feel guilty, or miserable, or evasive or defensive. Or all of them. Plunged back into a family world of duties and obligations, I'm not sure what to feel, nor what to say for the best. I could opt out, and say I think rocks are easier to deal with than people, and much easier to handle than families.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


We arrive in good time, stealing a march on dusk by at least two hours.

Victory is thanks to my cunning, so I claim the glory. A six-CD pack of Artemis Fowl. That, and insisting, No, you cannot have a half litre of apple juice to down in one go. The weewee process will snatch at least an hour from rock pooling time.

I am gracious enough to pass some of the honour to Dig. But he drives as usual, driven by invisible forces. Perhaps thoughts of what he needs to see unfold ahead of him. Or maybe thoughts of what he'd like to leave behind.

Our early arrival means enough time to locate the holiday cottage, dump the bags, claim the bedrooms, position the territorial toys, open all the cupboard doors, gather everyone to watch the water churn in the washbasins, exclaim in awe at the flushing mechanism on the toilet, then wrap ourselves in woollies, pull on wellington boots, and grab nets and spades to take advantage of Tide Out. We'll scour the rock hollows along the harbour and discover waving weeds, knobbed and knuckled pebbles, ground down fossils and living sea monsters.

Seahouses. It's very romantic. Come down to the shore and you can imagine a cluster of cottages, grey slate, warm brown weathered stone, new painted brick, red clay tiles. The houses angle against each other, rise and fall, overlook and shelter between each other. They link by steps and steep hills. Think of walking up then down, past the lobster pots with the fresh salt smells, towards the deep memories of smokehoused herring. The winding roads wrap you round and lead you on into square courtyards. Once enclosed, look for a way out, I challenge you. If you're brave enough, softly draw up the latch on the wooden door in the wall. It takes you through to Union Street, and you can slip away; you hope unnoticed.

Down at the harbour you'll see severe stone walls, bright fishing boats, the lines of huts bargaining for birdwatching sea trade. Out there on the horizon, both close enough and far away, are the dark volcanic rocks of the Farne Islands. The promise of puffins, arctic terns, razorbills, cormorants.

At sea level, here is the junction. Lapping salt water; flat pavements of naked limestone rock; twisted, wind and sea sculptured sandstone. Look back and up; you see weathered sandstone cliffs with their top footpaths winding away along the coast: one windswept path, tufty-topped by sticky up grass, looks to be over the cliff edge; the other surely leads to the gloriously imposing Bamburgh Castle.

Bumping and bobbing against the shoreline, are a chattering of eider ducks. They find out their own kind by a soft throaty oo-oooo-ooo. We laugh, because the noise they make sounds like an outing of elderly maiden aunts invited by accident to a sexy lingerie house party. The eider ducks never look round at us. They gather their kind together, as if for safety and consolation, and to exclaim at the shocking folly of us all.

Seahouses, the old cottages, stern cliffs, crackling seas; all romantic poetry if you want it. It's something else too, and that's a day trip out.

Seahouses is seaside time. It's little kids, scuffing trainers along the pavements, whining at the unfairness of life. It's dad, cajoling the toddler, doing his best to make a day of it. It's the bracing walk along the beach with the scruffy wet dog. It's the Newcastle bleached blond wearing neon pink tracksuit bottoms, sat on the municipal seats positioned between the public lavs and the traffic roundabout, having a quiet ciggie, maybe two; watching the tourists shuffle along the shopping street, pushing the buggy rhythmically back and forth to soothe the crying baby. It's the tawdry gift shop, where a pound can net you a fist full of plastic kitsch; a polar bear in a snowstorm. It's the five, maybe six fish and chip shops, swelling with trade come Sunday. It's the awkward, awful way of the shop displays; the way the goods are layered up, top to bottom, filling up the window void; a lost and forgotten place where a shrivelled cardboard box promising Magic Art is long abandoned next to a packet of bleached felt tips, once offered in rainbow colours. All could have stayed here since 1972, and no-one might have noticed. It goes on. It is. Seahouses is this too. You can be entranced by the place, or indifferent. After all, it's just more of ordinary life.

We stay for the week. Dig journeys to a new job in Hong Kong soon enough. I think he has not entirely given up his fantasy of finding a cottage here and living longer in North Northumberland. He'd be close to his birth history, of brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts. One day?

But don't ask me. I only half know his motives, so I'm not reliable. Really, we have been separated for years, on and off. All I know is that month after month he has been elsewhere, somewhere busy, preoccupied. He's required and requested all around this planet. He's always off to the next business which must be done; for that he's organised himself on shuttle from Singapore to Canada; to Brazil from Beijing. He's achieved all of that, and I am proud of him, truly, even though for me it's a one-sided life. I think it's earned me the right to fantasise that now he is here, he won't be too impatient with us all, and we can relax and enjoy his company. And while he's looking at another horizon, I can imagine possibilities for the future. Who's to say I'm wrong?

Anyway, I like to think Dig fits this place, here and now; maybe we can be an irritating ordinary family all together. There you go. Seasides make romantic dreamers of us all.