#ShortWrytz : a little sand between the toes

You might not think it from the photo, but the rain was beating down when I took the shot. Tess’ pose gives a clue. She’s fed up, too…

It’s the end of August, for heaven’s sake. But Storm Francis is trying to exterminate everyone north of Birmingham…

For once, the photo is not about the collie… The subject is the faded ‘summer sign’ on the walls of the Mad Hatter cafe overlooking Heysham Beach. I’ve always been a sucker for these. They take me back to my ‘shell seeker’ childhood, when a trip on the train to the seaside was a rare and wonderful thing. Simple sentiments – like the sign – were gems of wisdom, and, having spotted them, my brother and I would run back to mum and dad to pass on the message…

They seemed simpler times…

The Mad Hatter cafe is closed. It gave up on the washed out summer about the middle of August. Some businesses can just tell when there’s not going to be a reprieve.

Other cafes higher up the street in the centre of Heysham village were open – one even letting dogs in for their owners to catch a socially-distanced hot tea and possibly a toasted tea cake, rather than die of hypothermia.

The rain never stopped, all afternoon… torrential; as the latest ‘summer’ beating from the dreaded Jet Stream conspired to drag every low-pressure system in the Atlantic over the north of England and Scotland to dump its load.

Driving home, tea and tea-cake keeping body and soul together, the weather man came on the radio. “I’m afraid the north-west of England is very wet,” he said, with genuine sympathy. They don’t often put that much emotion into the bulletins. Training, of course. Wouldn’t want us leaping off (wet) cliffs to end it all.

We made it home. I could barely see on the M6, there was so much spray. Tess, having spent the better part of two half-hours (either side of the cafe) running into the sea to retrieve her long distance floaty ball, was soaked with salt-water. Arriving at the house, I was still so wet I didn’t bother putting my supposedly waterproof coat back on. I just pulled the sullen collie to the outdoor tap and hosed her down in my jumper. There would be a hot shower, shortly… Once Bernie had stopped laughing at the state of us both.

The shell seekers would have had ‘crumpets for tea’. I think it’s Thai chicken soup… which, under the circumstances, will do nicely.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Agents of the Deluge

 

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I should have known, I tell myself – as the torrential rain comes at me sideways and immediately drenches my black corduroy trousers, that it was going to be one of those days. Note to self: cords and heavy rain do not a happy camper make…

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Not that I’m camping. It’s a normal, February, Saturday morning in South Lakeland and the rain has continued its assault on the inhabitants, as the above photo of the ‘unadopted’  lane that connects us with the main road through the village of Sedgwick shows.

Bernie and I have a deal on such mornings – when the shopping requires central Kendal and the dog (Tess) needs walking. She drives us the four miles to the edge of Kendal from where man and collie walk along the river while the warm car driver continues the journey. Two hours later we meet up at one of the few dog-friendly cafes in Kendal’s centre. Tess gets a good walk, regardless of the weather, and Bernie gets to shop in peace.

The only problem with this plan is that, regardless of the weather, I have to spend two hours outside in the raw, winter elements. No problem in summer, but in February… It can loosen one’s sanity, so to speak…

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And that’s where I am, now, on the riverbank; the bank of a very full river Kent… and me a very wet human. I took a selfie to prove it – but looked so glum I’ve blurred the face!

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Of late, I’ve noticed a few fellow bloggers doing things under the banner of ‘stream of consciousness’ prompts. Getting out of the warm car and into the deluge of that morning, I thought why don’t I photograph things as a stream of consciousness, and narrate it as presented? Give me something to focus on, other than my chattering teeth, and wet corduroy legs…

One positive thing about the selfie was it reminded me of the ‘still-suits’ that were used by the desert peoples in the book Dune, by Frank Herbert. In the series of wonderful novels that followed, the Fremen – the desert warriors – triumphed over the corrupt political empire that dominated the far-off solar system.

On Arrakis, also known as Dune, water is so precious that every drop is cherished.

Now, across the Lake District, everything is reversed: the threat to life is water. The continuous downpour is in danger of creating another flooded Kendal – only fifteen months after the devastation of 2015. But Cumbria isn’t just gushing water from every orifice, it’s also trying to wipe out local human life in a sea of mud… It’s a slight exaggeration, but good enough to propel my stream of consciousness morning…

As a child, when my weekly comic book was finished, I’d run out and be my favourite character. I’m sure we all did, in one form or another. That power of imagination, shared by all children, is a potent thing… So now, as an escape from the retelling of the misery of the following two hours, witness a change of space, time and eyes as we journey into Kendal in the present tense, stream-of-consciousness style…

We need some baddies – let’s call them the Agents of the Deluge!

Man and dog versus the Agents of the Deluge… It’s going to be tense…

While I’m framing our quest, Tess has been busy doing what dogs need to do at the start of a walk in the rain. Depositing the dog-poo in a nearby bin, I turn to collect her. She’s chasing the ducks. She knows I don’t like it but she’s been made to wear her winter coat, which she hates, so she waits till my back is turned and frightens the ducks back into the river. Butter wouldn’t melt, people say, when they see her… heh heh, sniggers dog, leaping off into the mud by the river… What a mess, and that’s just here! Just can’t wait for the park in Kendal, I think to myself, and ‘frisbee time’ in five inches of mud. Why do I feel bound by these promises?

We cross the main road using the underpass and arrive at the K Village – built on the site of the old K Shoes factory; long closed, asset-stripped and the bits moved to Somerset and the Far East.

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The locals said it would never work, a bijoux mall of ‘designer outlets’ – too small and too restricted. Looks like they were right. We count only four shops surviving – the number seems to lessen each week. It’s too early for a coffee (08:45), so we walk around the closed shops and pretend to be interested in shoes and ski-jackets. It’s empty, but dry… There is a huge game of Connect4 on offer, but Tess isn’t up to speed on it, yet… I live in hope, but I know that, now and in the future, she’s going to prefer ducks…

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The requisite fifteen minutes to opening time have passed. It’s 09:00. We head for the Costa Coffee, finding it ironic that the most signposted and visited ‘shop’ is on the outside of the complex… This retail malaise doesn’t affect all of Kendal. Shops in the centre of town are fine, but this liminal edge is just too far away to feel connected to the main people flow.

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And suddenly, there is that sign that means warmth and coffee… and in summer, a gentle consideration of the river Kent’s flow… but it’s not Summer and there’s a dog in tow,so we flee, wind-driven but with our refreshments, back into the centre, where we have our biscuits and latté, but not necessarily both.

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Frefreshed, we consider the remainder of the journey…

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Mine… Collies can’t have currants! She does get her own biscuits on such occasions, though, and decaf coffee, of course.

Leaving the centre by the main entrance, we notice that the Agents of the Deluge have planted one of their men to watch us. Tess is not fooled…

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Deep, breath… Now comes the extreme bit. We fight the driving rain across the old bridge and onto the riverside path.

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I let Tess off the lead and she heads for her favourite bits of the grassland – but they’re all covered in water… and mud, of course. I shudder, knowing what lies just ahead.

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The deal is this: when we get to the main quadrangle of the park’s centre, she gets twenty throws of the frisbee. It’s not really a frisbee, it’s an aerodynamic equivalent, with cut-aways that let it fly a long way and yet still be ‘tuggable’ when she retrieves it and wants me to fight to get it back.

She lives for these moments. Collies love chasing things…

For perhaps fifteen minutes, we throw and fetch across the edges of the park, taking care to avoid the newly-sprung marshland in the centre. Tess looks at me and I know she wants a really big chuck… If I can get it all the way across without it taking a dive..? I am quite good at this, having practised for most of her two years.

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As I draw my arm back to hurl the aero-frisbee, backhand, right across the park, a voluble crow, perched high in a nearby tree, and clearly an Agent of the Deluge, caws, cartoon style, a noise that sounds distinctly like “You’ll be sooooorrry!”

But it’s too late… the lilac disc leaves my drawn-back right hand with an audible howl. Caught on the breeze, it winds itself into the sky at the beginning of a truly amazing journey.

As the Collie hits the new lake in the middle of the park, there is a hiss of rising water that reminds one of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird speed trials on nearby Lake Coniston. Tess, maintaining her speed, disappears into a curtain of rapidly vapourising brown and frothy liquid, from which she emerges, seconds later, barking her ecstatic triumph to collect the frisbee which is hanging from the lowest branch of a distant bush…

Return journeys must have their second leg… Without hesitating, she ploughs back into the turgid brown water, intent on returning the way she went. Then she’s back…

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Standing before me, there is a slight pause, while she radiates love from those golden brown eyes, and then the shaking begins…

When she concludes, tail wagging, there remains a pebble-dash effect, covering a dog and a human to a remarkable degree.

Human plus dog nil, Agents of the Deluge one, I’d say…. We live, albeit muddily, to fight another day… The cafe owner is not amused. I talk about football to distract him. I don’t know anything about football, either…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017.