It’s too hot for thinking up blog posts. Summer is for reading… on the beach.
Well, maybe not the beach – not this year anyway. This year our motorhome trips have given way to hospital appointments as my husband awaits a major operation. We daren’t stray for too long in case another appointment arrives, requiring a timely response.
Until now, there’s been little time for reading anyway; I’ve been busy proofreading and re-editing my offerings for a forthcoming anthology to be published by our writing group, the Whittlesey Wordsmiths (https://whittleseywordsmiths.com/ ).
I have mentioned before that we will be self-publishing a collection of work written in response to our monthly writing challenges. One such ‘homework’, soon after I joined the group, was to write about a beach scene. The topic didn’t inspire me at all.
I think one of the things I’ve found most useful about belonging to a writing group – as well as the support – is the requirement to tackle topics that don’t initially inspire me. I have had to think harder to write about things I don’t really want to write about. My scope has broadened and, sometimes, I’ve been unexpectedly pleased with the result.
The beach assignment wasn’t such a result but, once I’d started, it wrote itself. We’d recently been to Crail, in Fife, Scotland, to visit the one school friend I’m still in contact with (unlike my husband, who still gets Christmas cards from most of his).
Crail’s campsite is literally beside the sea, which can be challenging since the weather there is rarely mild. Coming home from our last visit, we risked being blown off the Forth Road Bridge.
Those sea breezes might have been welcome this year, but in their absence – and my absence of inspiration for a blog post – I’m sharing the memory of Roome Bay in Crail that became my assignment.
So that you can put a face to the name, meet Pickle.
And this is Digger
Digger scampered onto the beach steps and turned to see if we were following. It was a pleasant morning – the wind had dropped overnight – and I was in no hurry. My husband would be dismantling the motorhome’s bed while the dogs were out of the way.
I held the rail at the top step and breathed in, savouring the shellfishy, seaweedy air. Reassured, the white terrier carried on down the steps, her feathered tail waving from side to side. Pickle, the old brown Staffie, overtook me to lumber down a step at a time, her tail stiffly aloft.
On the sand, the dogs ran together, like children glad to be back on a beach. Then Digger went off to pounce after things that scuttled while Pickle and I ambled in the warmth. This little bay was filled at high tide, so the sand was damp – unlikely to find its way into the skimpy pumps I’d forgotten to change. On our previous visits here, I’d often continue along the beach at low tide and creep up on the campsite from below; it was a shorter route than returning over the crag. Getting to the campsite from the beach wasn’t so much a climb as a clamber – like giant steps in the rock.
Pickle and I paused beside the middle flight of beach steps, where there was a ledge I could sit on. Once, Pickle would have leapt up beside me, but now she settled at my feet, glad of a rest. We watched clouds scudding across the seascape and listened to the rhythm of the waves. Digger skipped across stones towards the sea, pausing to investigate a chunk of driftwood or paddle through a pool left by the tide. On her way back, she stopped to roll in a pile of seaweed. I hoped it wasn’t too smelly; options for bathing her were limited in a motorhome.
Both terriers liked to roll in smelly patches, but these days Digger got there first, and Pickle would walk past, not deigning to appear interested. When the younger dog arrived, nearly three years ago, Pickle had taken on a new lease of life although, at eleven, arthritis was already slowing her down. Unlike my husband, she didn’t have the option of hip replacements. How would one explain to a dog that it mustn’t twist its new hip?
I remembered how she used to corner at speed when chasing a rabbit while the other dogs skidded like cartoon hounds. Digger was lively now, but she would collapse after our walk. She had neither the energy nor the staying power of Pickle in the days when she would barrel through the undergrowth like a small brown tank. We had once seen her leap from a sitting start on the ground through the open driver’s window of a Transit van.
I emptied sand from my shoe – it had sneaked in after all. I recalled distant holidays on sandy beaches with the children and Pickle’s predecessors. Beaches were sunnier then. Sand got into everything – food, clothes, towels, hair, fur… and the car! It worked itself into car carpets and upholstery, lurking in crannies as the vacuum passed over it. The children would welcome it as we unpacked – a reminder of their holiday. Maybe an aversion to sand is something that develops with age, like arthritis.
I stood to continue our walk, Pickle at my heels. Passing the final flight of steps, I headed for my campsite shortcut. Digger accompanied at a distance, skipping lightly over the stones that replaced sand at this end of the bay. Encountering the first stony stretch, I chose my steps carefully until I could relax onto the last flat patch of sand. Tomorrow I would come in trainers.
Like me, Pickle picked her way carefully over the stones. Where she had stepped out confidently two years ago, she now stumbled, her tail stiff and quivering. Her legs were thicker than Digger’s twiggy spindles, but they looked suddenly fragile. Breakable.
Calling the dogs, I retraced our route to the steps. Watching Pickle cross the stones, I almost turned a heel myself. Digger was first up the steps to the promenade, and already tearing around the grassy slope with a spaniel when Pickle and I began the circuitous footpath to join her.
Recognising the home stretch, the old dog picked up speed – trotting jauntily ahead with her companion jogging alongside.
My husband would spot us returning over the cliff face, and have the kettle on.
Later – on his new hips – he’d walk into Crail with us. He’d struggled with that walk on our last visit: determined – like Pickle – to master the pain. But there’s life in the old dogs yet.
Only, a different life, at a different pace.
Something shorter – I promise.
Semicolons maybe? if I can bear it.