They were watching me from the side of a steep bank that frames the inner edge of a huge surface of concrete which will soon be Eden North, replicating – but with differences – the internationally famous Eden Project in Cornwall.
The space used to be Bubbles swimming pool and, before that, was the renowned Super Swimming Stadium, the centre of so many children’s holidays before their parents discovered you could get more reliable sunshine than Morecambe’s on a suddenly affordable Spanish Costa Brava.
They all died a kind of death, then, the Victorian seaside towns… But some of us keep the faith, if only for that steaming mug of a ‘milky coffee’ in the depths of freezing winter, when we’ve finished the dog-walk.
The two young girls. I had seen them arrive a few minutes, before – with their mother. She looked the very picture of care-worn but caring. It’s a look you see a lot in poor seaside towns… Morecambe has been a long time in the doldrums, but there is a light on the horizon; one begun by Urban Splash’s refurbishment of the Midland Hotel – a surviving Art Deco masterpiece.
We had the first night of our honeymoon there, in 2010, a year after its opening. Bernie is from Morecambe… well, actually, Heysham, its sister town a few miles to the south. It’s pronounced Hee-sham, not Hay-sham. She’s very particular about that, so I thought I’d better include it! We both love Art Deco, and had followed the hotel’s rebirth with a great deal of pleasure.
The new Eden North promises to make a great difference to this once-proud resort. It can’t happen soon, enough. The Eden people know what we have never forgotten; that across the vastness of Morecambe Bay lies the whole vista of the Lake District…
It takes a seed of something to bring true life back to a place or a person who has become sad… in body, spirit, career, in their home, in their life… Sometimes, you don’t know you have the power to do this until you find yourself equipped – often in the most unexpected way.
I looked at the frustrated collie and I threw the cheap frisbee again. The wind was behind me and defeated what little aerodynamic soundness it had. You don’t get much from the seafront beach stop for three quid. It had been two, but I decided to add another two ‘tennis’ balls to the bag so that we had a spare in case Tess (the collie) lost one. Her frustration with Dad had begun when we got to North Beach for her usual ball or frisbee session of sandy madness and discovered that the ball and chucker were still in the back of the departing Toyota, now too far away towards Sainsbury’s and shopping to call back. “Perhaps a stone or two?” I had said, weakly, into the betrayed hazel eyes, knowing the result…
Now, twenty minutes and five hundred yards further south, the cheap frisbee was suddenly seized by the wind and carried along the vast concrete expanse in a motion that I can only describe as ‘skittering’. Round and round it turned, whilst travelling at increasing speed towards the grassy boundary – within sight of the Midland Hotel.
The collie’s interest was renewed by this magical motion and, howling, she sped after it, only to snap her strong jaws over its momentarily upended motion and break it in two.
You don’t get much from the beach shop for two quid.
The two young girls were now only yards away from me – and squealing with delight at Tess’s antics. I turned to look at their joyous faces – full of simple happiness – and asked if they’d like to have a go… but I could see the disappointment as they gazed on the distant plastic ruin, now in two bits and still being blown onto the distant grass.
The tennis balls! I had forgotten those…
“Would you like a go with Tess and a tennis ball?” I asked, looking up at an anxious Mum still on the promenade. I smiled and waved, showing her that her lovely kids were in safe hands.
“Could we?” asked the eldest girl.
“Of course,” I said, delving into the bag and extracting a new tennis ball. It was offered and taken.
“We’re on holiday,” said the eldest girl.
“I’m on holiday, too,” added her younger sister, looking very proud of the fact that they were in this adventure together.
“How about you take turns,” I said, gently.
The eldest bobbed her head. The youngest almost bowed hers. Tess trotted up to her new friends, tail wagging, mightily. Things were looking up… The girls stared adoringly at the collie.
When both girls had taken a turn, the eldest offered me back the ball.
“You can have a few more goes if you like?” I said.
And that’s when it happened… The elder sister looked across at her mum and turned back to me, saying, as she danced a step, “This is the best day ever…”
I can only say that I was broken at that moment; and fought to suppress the tears that formed, not wanting to spoil their fun. That such a simple act of kindness could have brought them so much joy was so very… unexpected.
I pretended to fumble with the ball and composed myself.
“How about we have one go each and three rounds of it all?” I asked.
“That would be nine chucks!” said the elder girl, laughing at the chance to show off her arithmetic.
Nine chucks later they looked up at their mother, who was moving slowly along the prom and waving at them. She looked happy with the turn of events, though she had kept her distance.
The youngest gave me back our ball. “Thank you!’ she beamed. “We’re off to the beach, now.”
I could see the excitement on their faces at this further delight. And then I remembered the small carrier bag by my ankles.
“Do you have your beach tennis balls?” I asked, conspiratorially.
Two earnest little heads shook, negatively.
“Better take these, then,” I winked, passing them the little white bag, with its two new balls. “Go now! Your mum is waiting!”
They danced off, but the eldest turned to wave, one final time, before they took their mother’s hands.
My own young grandchildren – two girls – live in Australia. One day when they visit, I hope to bring them to see the new Eden North Project; and point down to where the barren concrete was; on the best day, ever…
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.