Tuesday 20 September 2016

On the beach

I survived the first full week of teaching at The Institute. Early last week I remarked how a new timetable has scuppered my chance of hanging out with the ancients of Tramore each Monday afternoon. Monday looks to be busy but Wednesday is bonkers: wall-to-wall classes with no gap for lunch. That's okay with me, food at lunchtime tends to put me to sleep in the afternoon. But the maths of 18 contact hours in a 40 hour/9-5/M-F week means that if things are frantic on two days, there must be slack water elsewhere. Turns out that I have only one class on Fridays: 0900hrs Year 1 quantitative methods = QM1A = remedial maths. Now, a glass half empty sort of guy might crib about that and lament the fact that it scuppers a 3 day weekend but Dr Positive thinks it's fine. The weekend before last, I was down in Cork, and so missed the window for mowing our scrap of lawn down on the Waterford coast but did get a chance for a quick tramp along the beach at Benvoy to break the journey between Cork and Tramore. Win! I found a serviceable plastic fish-box at the tide line after a day of fresh on-shore winds.

Time and tide and growing grass wait for no man; and if you let things slide for more than two weeks, then mowing the lawn gets to be a real chore rather than a bit of light whole body exercise that leaves things tidier than before. Checking the weather forecast [sunny spells, no rain] and the tide-times [Low tide Dunmore East 1210hrs] the night before practically forced me to mitch off after class and head South. Accordingly, I loaded the lawn-mower into the Little Red Yaris before I left for work.

The timing was perfick, I unloaded the mower as the tide turned and was 8km along the coast at Annestown 12 minutes later. At Annestown, as for a lot of the much indented and heart-stoppingly beautiful Waterford coast, low tide is the key. For a couple of hours, twice a day, you can scramble round the headland at the East end of the beach-with-car-park and have a great sweep of strand all to yourself. As I came round the headland, a watery autumnal sun started to warm my shoulders and my spirits soared. With a job; the full use of my legs; free; warm; a cheese sandwich in my pocket for lunch; boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretching far away; who wouldn't be happy?  I tried to recall the lines:
But to be young was very heaven!
But Willie Wordsworth was wrong, dawn is greatly over-rated on the bliss-side which is often cold and dewy-damp and I can no longer pass for young. But who'd be young again? When I was young I was ignorant, unappreciative, in a hormonal turmoil, and my hair was far too long - eeeuuuw.

On the beach, I felt like all of the kids in e.e.cummings poem rolled into one:
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) 
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

It wasn't On The Beach by Nevil Shute, or anything like it. I read that book when I was 12 or 13 with almost as much care and attention as I devoured The Day of the Triffids [prev]. Triffids is a book that forces a consideration of what is essential in life and which of the planet-wasting things in the shops can be done without. Beach, set in a doomed Australia after a universally fatal Northern Nuclear war, is about having no regrets about a previously wasted life. In one scene towards The End, as the fallout sweeps remorselessly South to engulf them, they hold a final Grand Prix motor race.  The competitors have each managed to save a 25 lt drum of petrol to fuel their last race on earth. With nothing to lose, there are several fatalities. When/if we arrive in a bleak future full of privation, and short on food, I don't want to think about the half-eaten pizza that got thrown in the bin because we'd over-catered again. I don't want to regret buying tawdry knickknacks, plastic bottles and single-use kitchen gadgets. To avoid this future regret, I now make a point of eating food that is edible if not pretty; I don't mind sharing a lettuce leaf with caterpillars. I don't eat caterpillars . . . yet . . . but I don't bin a leaf because it's got a ragged hole in it.

Finally and more positively, I'll add that my couple of hours on the beach  - after Annestown, I trotted along Benvoy and then Knockmahon looking for a smooth round stone or two - were more richly appreciated because, by one accounting, I should have been by my desk at work in The Institute. It had, in Yevgeny Yevtushenko's evocative phrase, the taste of not bought but stolen apples. After the beach, the lawn; which looked much tidier after I'd given it an hour-long short-back-and-sides. The crab-apples are as red as plums, they'll be ready to pick in a week. Life is good.

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