Just a Walk on a Beach

On Friday afternoon, I bailed from the office a little bit early to drive my son down to Westport. There was a concert that evening and he had to be at the Town Hall Theatre for five for a sound check. Cool, eh? And what a super concert it was. Teenagers performing for their peers with all the talent and positivity one could possibly wish for.

So I dropped him off, bang on the five mark. I am nothing if not punctual. From there, I had no plan. The concert was  due to kick off at seven and I wanted to be there for that but what to do for the two hours in between? I had a rather romantic image of me sitting in a coffee shop reading my book. Lovely but that never really works for me. After the coffee is dispatched, I quickly start to feel like an economic blight on the coffee shop establishment, taking up a whole table, outstaying my imagined welcome. I know, I know, it’s just how I tend to go on. It’s a bit late for rehabilitation now. 

I also toyed with driving home, kicking back for a while, and then coming back for the concert. All well and good but with a 24 minute drive home and a 24 minute drive back, the kicking-back-time seemed fairly meagre.

This is where I might make you a wee bit jealous. Maybe not. 

“I know,” I said to myself, “I’ll go for a walk on the beach.”

Because I could, you see. It’s one of the many fringe benefits of living where I do, in the County of Mayo’. I don’t live on the sea, the crashing waves don’t wake me in the morning, the sea breezes don’t gently stir my net curtains. Hell, I don’t even have net curtains. The sea may not be right outside my front door but it’s not all that far away either. Far enough for a trip there to be a tiny excursion, close enough to make that entirely possible. 

So I went for a walk on the beach. Just that. Nothing’s going to happen in the rest of this post. I’m just going to write about my walk on the beach. I thought you should know, in case you might be expecting pirates or dog fights or gratuitous nudity or something. 

Just the walk, that’s all. 

The beach is about a  ten minutes drive from Westport. It’s a nice drive. Green, tree lined roads, nice houses, glimpses of the bay, a run past the base of Croagh Patrick and Murrisk Village and then the twisty lane down to the beach.

Even though the bay and the water had been seen, along the drive down, the first view of the beach is still a big surprise. Suddenly, around a bend, there’s a shock of brilliant sandy-pea-green water, a colour so unknown in my normal everyday routine. The sky is patches of blue with substantial grey/white clouds galloping across. The breeze through the open car window is tart and briny. 

It’s five thirty on a Friday. I should just be finishing up work. I park up. There are just three other cars. I walk down to the beach and none of the owners of the three cars are anywhere to be seen. This huge wild amazingly coloured beach is entirely mine. I set off walking. Twenty minutes out, twenty minutes back, and the drive back to Westport will see me right for the concert. Having made the quick calculation and checked the time, I can let it all go. I can just walk for a while. 

It’s a complete multi-sensory experience, when you’re on your own and you can open yourself up to it. How unusual to have your shoes sink gently into the ground beneath you. How furtive the little creatures who scuttle out of your way as you go. I walk along the line of the water, adjusting my route along the constantly invading advance of the waves. There is bladder wrack strewn around and perfectly rounded stones and shells glittering with some encrusted sandy mother-of-pearl. There is a boat mast out toward the horizon and some solitary crying bird on the wing. There is the mountain behind, dominant in the clear air. There is the solitude, the amazing exclusivity of it all. 

Half way along the beach and the rounded stones gather and run tight down to the water line. These are more difficult to walk quickly over. They press on the soles of the shoes and make you wave your arms about unsteadily as you go. 

Magically, as I approach this part, the receding tide seems to draw back a couple of foot more and a slender sandy causeway opens up between the stones and waves . I negotiate it, feeling unusually lucky. The final sweep of the waves keep trying to gain the pathway back and I have to step into the stones on every seventh or eight attempt but, apart from that, the new sandy path sees me right. I compare myself amusedly to Moses and how the Red Sea parted to let him and his posse through. I took a photo of the sandy path. That's it up top.

This little event solidifies an amorphous feeling of my being at exactly the right place at exactly the right time. A confirmation that I had done well today to eschew the temptations of the coffee shop and of home for this mini-adventure, this sensory dream. 

Getting back to the car park was a little bit like waking up. 

And, like I said, the concert was great. 

Younger Son Goes Away, Comes Back Again

Ten to midnight, Monday night. Driving in the car. Younger son is staring out of the side window, taking in the orange town as it slides by.

“I feel like I’m seeing everything for the last time,” he said.

It’s only the School Tour. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s going to be great. Barcelona, vibrant city, Gaudi, Picasso, Swimming Pools, Beaches, Theme Parks. Five days of comradely fun and adventure. It will be great. 

Except, at ten to midnight, Monday night, it’s not entirely great. There’s a potentially sleepless overnight trip on a bus, an early morning flight into the unknown and a full day of sightseeing and orientation in prospect, while home, with its cosy bed, recedes rapidly in the rear view mirror. 

The bus hasn’t arrived at the school yet. Students stand around sleepily in rucksacked conspiracies. There isn’t any opportunity for a demonstrative goodbye, that might play badly with the huddled masses. Not even an assist with the baggage. There must be no sign of weakness here. Younger son joins the cohort and is immediately assimilated within. Soaked up and enveloped in comradely anticipation and, suddenly, the worst is all over, the adventure has finally begun and it’s going to be fine. 

Time to go back home but who can go back home until the bus is seen to have arrived and the passengers are seen to be safely on board? But to wait and watch would be to possibly expose younger son to some gentle ribbing. Old dad refuses to go. That will not stand. Two quick tours of the town and there it is, the darkened bus, lapping against the edge of the pavement like a ship at a dock.

There is no need to wait anymore. The cohort have assembled, the transport arranged. 

Time to go home. 

An adjusted line from a well-known song occurs on the drive home. It gets posted on Social Media. People seem to understand.

“Samuel is flying tonight on a plane…”

The phone announces receipt of the text at 3.50am on Saturday morning. The bus is ten minutes out from the school. Time to go get him. The time he spent in the air, earlier, was a little odd. Flying is safe and everyday and unworrysome but, still, your kid is thousands of feet above the ground in a steel tube and things are always a little better when the website finally refreshes to say that the plane has arrived.

The parents all park their cars in the place where the bus needs to stop so that causes a momentary hiatus but it's easily enough solved. Teachers and students disembark and, despite the oddness of the hour, everyone is smiling and relaxed. Younger son is eight inches taller than when he left, resplendent in salmon coloured shorts and t-shirt. Baggage is rounded up and goodbyes are swapped. Is everyone okay for a lift? Yes, mum is on her way, she just slept through the text.

Home. Travel case abandoned in the hall. A quick face wash to remove the journey grime and straight to bed for a deep twelve hour sleep. 

The school tour is over. Respect to the teachers who herd our kids through this notable rite of passage. Respect to the kids who hesitantly go away and smilingly come back again. Respect to us parents, who are glad to see it all work out so nice and who won’t park in the bus spot next time.

Well, maybe not.


Saying Goodnight to Twitter

One evening last week, I actually ended up in a pub in Westport having a drink with some friends. This is highly unusual for me. Mostly, I’m at home, on the couch or here on the computer, tapping away. 

I don’t really do pubs or even (heaven help us) friends very much anymore. So, yeah, this was unusual and very very nice.

The conversation turned to Social Media and there was some interest from the four people there about how long I have been using Twitter and how, once upon a time, it had been quite an integral part of my life. 

One of the people was one of those type of people who we all know, a great guy but somebody with no interest or understanding whatsoever about the meaning or value of any Social Media of any description. I can understand this completely, if I'd never got into them, I don't think I would understand them either. Hell, I probably still don't. Anyway, faced with this online disdain, I nimbly sashayed into my default 'Peter the Apostle' position and started to actively deny the depth of my own acquaintance with Facebook and Twitter. 

“I hardly ever…”

“Doesn’t really matter to me…”

“Never heard of ‘im guv’nor.”

That type of thing. 

It’s hard to defend Social Media usage to non-believers. It's so much easier to play it down and get back to the news of the day as smoothly as possible.

As Jack Nicholson said in ‘Terms of Endearment’, “I was that close to a clean getaway,” when one final question was dropped in.

“What do you do on Twitter.”

“Sorry?”

“I mean, what do you actually do?”

I thought about it a bit before I answered.

“I don’t do a quarter of what I used to do, that’s for sure. Mostly I just read people’s tweets, I say one or two things myself, and I reply to things here and there. Oh, and I say ‘Goodnight’. That’s the thing I do most these days.”

The rather terse silence that followed told me that I had probably revealed a little too much for comfort.

“You..?”

“Say goodnight, yeah.” 

Now that I’d said it a second time, I realised with even greater clarity how stupid it sounded. 

“How…  how does that work?”

How it works is like this;

I rarely tweet or do Facebook stuff from my phone. Generally I do these things late in the evenings when I’m on my computer at home. I enjoy leaving both windows open and peeping in from time to time to see what people are saying and doing. Sometime after midnight, when I’m turning my computer off for the night, I tend to send a tweet that says ‘G’night’ then I go to bed. I’ve been doing it for a while. There’s no great intent or logic to it. 

What keeps me doing it, night after night, is that some people, somewhere, usually says goodnight back. Not very many, it’s not a deluge of goodnight wishes. Often it’s two or three people. Sometimes it’s only one. Occasionally, but not too often, it’s nobody at all. That’s okay. People are busy. People are asleep.

What also keeps me doing it, is the reaction of some people when I have neglected to do it for a while and then suddenly come back to it. People who I really don’t know much about have expressed pleasure that I have started to do it again after the hiatus. 

Not a lot of people will get this reference and certainly even less will care but, when I say it like that, ‘G’night’, I am channelling somebody from my tellybox. For more years than I can count, the American TV Show ‘Survivor’ has been a constant family viewing pleasure. At the end of each ‘Tribal Council’, near the end of the show, Jeff, the presenter, says ‘G’night’ to the participants as they grab their symbolic torches and head off into the dark and back to their camp. So that’s why I say it that way; ‘G’night’. 

It’s nothing, really, this 'G'night' thing, it’s just another tiny connection to the wide world. 

But, oddly enough, it’s become a bigger thing as it’s gone on and on. There’s only one reason for this. All the other aspects of Twitter have  got that much smaller. There were times when I would tweet an awful lot more than I do now. There seemed to be a loose cohort of people who would casually interact and subtly give support and a sort of virtual companionship. Doubtless these cohorts still exist all over Twitter but I think when you’ve been a part of one and it eventually fades (as they always inevitably will) it is hard to find another to match it. 

So my Twitter has become a lesser thing in my life than it used to be. That’s no harm. I miss certain people and I miss chatting casually to them but there are other people and they are precious too. I guess I’ve just moved on a bit and I think that’s a good thing. So, where once, a simple ‘G’night’ was a tiny element of an often alarming flow of tweets, it may now comprise 50% or even sometimes the entirety of my day’s contributions to the medium. 

So I’ll keep doing it, for now at least, and I’ll keep smiling whenever a night-time wish drifts back to me from across the ether. And (a small confession) some nights, when no reply materialises, I may sit for a little longer than is seemly to see if one might come in.

We are all odd, in our way. 

We may as well embrace it.