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.