In later life pictures of the massive tsunami that engulfed Malaysia and reached right across the Indian Ocean to the coast of South Africa, reminded me of the childhood floods we’d had in Cleveleys.
The rush for sandbags, the opening of all the doors so that the invading water would carry on its sweet way, the clutching of my pet rabbits and holding them in my arms on top of the coal bunker in our backyard. All these memories come surging back.
“Ah ya sure everythin’s on ya list?” said my grandmother, And don’t forget Dewhursts and mek sure ‘Arry serve ya, not t’other one that give ya bad sausages!”
It could’ve been a Tuesday or a Wednesday morning I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Shopping list orders varied little from day to day as rationing was still on, except that Mondays were always milk tokens.
Come to think of it, it must have Tuesday because I remember visiting the dairy yesterday and talking to Jimmy Fisher about Mathew’s goal on Saturday.
A glance at the list told me my first port of call would be the butchers to return the sausages that were off. Then down to the chemist for some cotton wool, granddad’s ears were bad again; up Nutter Road to get some brussel sprouts and then back home. I reckoned on forgetting the Home & Colonial, I knew there was some butter in the larder and I hated margarine so I wasn’t going to buy it. I could have it all done in an hour or so leaving me plenty of time to see her while she was still in.
I tried to visit her everyday, some were easily arranged others more difficult.
The shopping done, I made a fast exit out the back pantry; I didn’t want to get collared into cleaning out the pidgin loft. I’d done it at the weekend. Why couldn’t those bloody pidgins clean up their own mess? And whether or not they had a clean loft it didn’t improve their racing ability. Granddad hadn’t had a winner for over a year.
It was a clear, crisp winter’s morning and I knew that at eleven thirty she came in. I walked headlong into the whistling wind down Victoria Road and could hear her calling; her arms of fine silk flailing against the concrete wall that kept her imprisoned. Fifty yards away I could feel her, her cool spray like aftershave on my face. I struggled up the rise to the promenade and there she was.
Grey, black, green, blue and white battering the wall that kept her enclosed. She wrapped her mammoth body around the breakwaters positioned to lessen her destructive force.
I stood anchored to the spot, still and silent, leaning into the wind and stared out over the expanse. I took a quick slug from Toddie to keep the cold away. Thank God I was alone; no other bloody fool has come up today. I watched.
Occasionally she sank back, gathering strength, pausing. It was in those pauses. Short and deep, that she talked to me about things to come. Of hearts I’d break and of loves I’d loose. A fully grown woman and she talked to me, an eight year old child.
It was well into the afternoon when I left, or rather she left me. The wind had dropped and the golden sand stretched far out. The harsh winter sun was getting lower, shadows long, the mounds of sand left by the fishermen digging for worms looked like mountains in the low light of the setting sun. On the distant shoreline a lone Alsatian ran to and fro barking at her gentle ripples. She laughed and murmured softly to me, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“So will I,” I replied.
It was dark when I got home. The only light on was in the kitchen, I knew Nan would be there squeezing a last cup of tea from the pot and that Pop would be snoring peacefully in his armchair. “Good for his constitution,” he used to say. I’d have to wake him for the six o’ clock news on the wireless otherwise there be a riot.
“Ya Mam’s gone t’ theatre, said I’ve gota get ya tea.” As she heaped her third spoon of sugar into her well brewed tea, “It’s ont’ table and wake Pop he’ll be furious if he misses t’news!”
How did I know all this was going to happen?
I switched on the lounge light, stoked up the fire, woke Pop and sat down to my bread and dripping. I was into my third slice when Nan shuffled in with my cup of tea, I knew it would be weak but I smiled and thanked her.
The wireless cackled in the background, something about a General Nasser and the Suez Canal. Pop belched, “He’s gone and dunit now; wilt be a war again!” he said scratching his paunch.
I was miles away with my brain working overtime; Ma will be home late probably with a hangover so that means I’ll have to do the shopping again tomorrow. It was the Kenn Dodd Christmas season at the opera house and they always had a jar afterwards at Yate’s Wine Lodge.
Wednesdays were always hell. I’d have to cycle out to Stannah for the farm eggs, deliver Aunt Anne and Aunty Edna theirs. This used to really piss me off because they weren’t real aunties and they never gave me anything for delivering the eggs. It would be eleven o’clock I would have to go to the Home & Colonial to get the margarine that I conveniently forgotten today.
The new super-market was a twice weekly visit and with Christmas only three weeks away I knew I’d have a long list. A quick look at the Evening Gazette told me high tide was at eleven forty five, I had to be there. My mind was in turmoil. I said a quick goodnight to Nan and Pop and wandered off up the corridor to my room. As I closed the door I heard.
Pop say, “Ah dunno know what’s wrong with that lad?”
Little did they know.
“I need you,” I whispered, “I need you.”
“I know,” she replied, “so come and take me.”
“Ya what?” my voice cracking.
“Walk into me and over me, I’m yours,” she crooned.
And so I did. On that icy cold December evening she gently licked my feet, caressed my legs and folded her arms around my chest and whispered, “I’m yours, yours, yours……..yours.”
Many years have now passed. The things she spoke of I have felt. Different shores have welcomed me and kept me fed, watered and Toddie has nearly always been full, but in no bed anywhere have I found that woman.
When I returned home for my mother’s funeral I sat in the afternoon throwing pebbles in that forgotten beach far out into her swelling bosom.
“Yep,” I said.
“Why?” she growled as though I’d offended her, “I told you you’d travel far, on me and over me, What makes you return?”
“I needed to see you again.”
“Listen Cess you’re a child, a child of fantasy, you’ll find me across the world, in habours, inlets, coves in all guises, hot cold, warm, inviting, loving, destructive.”
“I know, I know,” I cried, “but I want you all.”