“God loves me”

They were fighting over handing out the leaflets in Birkenhead this morning. I avoided them on the way down to the market  where I went to Wards Fish to buy haddock for this evening and prawns for  tomorrows lunch.

On the way back up the hill and outside Asda a woman came walking towards me waving a handful of leaflets. I tried to smile nicely and walk on and I almost made it by when she said ‘It’s to save the NHS.’ I had anticipated that she was wanting to talk to me about God l so rather sheepishly I stepped back and took one from her.

Having been caught out I was off my guard and before I knew it an elderly man was in front of me pushing two more pieces of paper into my hands.

‘These are about some worth saving’ he reassured me as I walked on.

Yesterday we went for a walk through a wood in North Wales. It was muddy underfoot and the children weren’t happy. But there were bunches of snowdrops out and when the sun came out the first hints of Spring.

Wet days

After a few days heavy rain the water around the pier loses its usual green lit clarity and turns a murky, brackish brown, discoloured by the thick peat run off from the hills brought down by the swollen streams. Mackerel in the bay retreat from the flush of fresh water and can be hard to catch for a few days. The weather will also bring an increase in seaweed, washed in soggy piles on the beach, slowly, the damp, cold entrails, rot into slush.

Gobs of rain coming down hard on a Sunday afternoon.  The fire is lit but the log basket is empty and soon I will have to go outside into the wet to fetch more wood  for the fire. The rain is coming down so hard it seems to flatten the water, smoothing out the wave crests. The stream next to The Butter House has swollen and its torrent flushes the pier with fresh water.

The water for The Cottage comes from a well the pump for which is kept under lock and key at the bottom the orchard. Sucked from deep in the ground there is a smell to the water, peaty and rain washed, it perfumes your body after a shower.

Sat in The Cottage at high tide looking out over the bay. Grey cloud has fallen so the other side is almost lost in the haze. The water is so high it seems to lap at the bottom of the garden, grey and unyielding above the line of the green lawn. As the tide starts to go down the rocks in the bay break the surface and at first could almost be mistaken for a small whale sitting quietly just under the surface.

An inventory of what can be found under a large flat rock at low tide. Go down among the seaweed and rocks at a low tide. Wear thick boots  and once you are amongst the seaweed draped lifeless over the rocks start to carefully lift stones to see what might be there. Sometimes it maybe necessary to turn over a few before uncovering some of the life that moves in and out of the tidal reach.

Pipe fish – black, like small eels, three four inches long, hardly there, looking a stray smooth twig amongst the seaweed.  The first sign of life comes as you pick it up, carefully between a finger and thumb, the body arches and twists in surprise. It has a puggish snout and back in a white bucket of water you can see its fluttering gills and fins.

Broad-clawed Porcelain crabs – almost indistinguishable against the sand, about half an inch across with one claw almost as big again covered with a soft brown down.

Shore crabs – scuttling from seaweed to rock so you have to chase by lifting another rock and then another until at last it as trapped and cannot squeeze away anymore. But then there is the delicate operation of picking it up with your fingers kept away  from the flailing claws. Best to do it getting the shell at its widest point. If you catch a couple of pounds of them then you have enough to make into a soup.

A walk around the north side down from Finn McColl’s Seat along the road that runs the against coast and then turning back  along the old Horseshoe Road back to the top of the mountain. We had a wet picnic huddled by Glanroon Pier, watching the swell pull and twirl the kelp around the rocks, getting munched on by midges. A couple exploring the back roads of the peninsula had driven their car too far down the track that leads to the pier. They were stuck in the wet mud and slick stones, smoke burning from the rubber as they tried to force the way back up the hill. The path was too narrow for us to pass and they could not open the doors to get out. I stood watching in the wet knowing that I was going to have to offer to push but not being sure if I could make a difference. But there were some other walkers and one of them offered to help as well. So we bent to it, the tyres squealed through the mud and after three good pushes we were able to help the blue car back up the hill. Having finished I looked down and there was a spray of brown thick mud up my trousers, coat and touching my hat. The driver offered us a lift but we were on the walk and it was raining which would help to clean off the mud.

On the way we fell into a short conversation with an old man, black boots tied with odd laces, and a clean white shirt. He lived in one of the yellow houses that cling to edge of the hills over that side. Talking of pubs and Murphy’s and comparing the prices of Kilcrohane potatoes. He had his pint on a Saturday night in Paddy Arundel’s and we agreed ‘The smaller the pub the better the pint.’


There is no feckin’ weather like the present

The man took a hold of my arm and squeezed it hard.

‘There’s no feckin’ weather like the present. It may have been raining yesterday but if the sun is out tomorrow then what does it matter and if it’s raining today then all there is for it is to get wet with it and be damned for it.’

It was raining outside and the wind had taken a hold of the weather and it bore down on the ground.

He squeezed my arm again and then let go to take up his pint.

‘The weather here it can be as fickle as the fish are on a hot day in August. You’ve seen it come in on a day when there is not a cloud in the sky and it starts with a mist that rises up the bay and it comes in over Carberry Island and soon it is up here and the sky has gone and there is thick wet rain in the air.

‘And it is the weather that does it for people when they come here the first time. Arrive on a day when it is damp and thee is a breeze coming in off the water that is enough to force that dampness down the back of your collar then you’ll be buttoning up your coat to get back in you car and away from here. But come on a day when the sun hangs lear in the sky and you can see the light come in off the water then you’ll be stuck with the place and you won’t want to move no matter if the next day the rain is coming down like so many badly tuned pianos.’


Bait Ball

It started with half a dozen gannets wheeling over the centre of the bay but rather that circle for a few minutes before making their dive to the water they flew back up to the appropriate height and came straight back down again a quick white flash and splash. Black shapes heaved in the water around their dive-bombing. It was a school of about thirty porpoises and it was obvious that the gannets and the porpoises had come across a feast of mackerel and sprats. The number of gannets grew to a dozen and the porpoises rolled and turned in the sea heads surging up out of the water and then back down with a flick of the tail churning the water.  Some of them breached their whole body rising up out over the surface and slipping below the waves. The feasting lasted about ten minutes before the gannets separated and moved further up the bay followed by the porpoises showing themselves just by the arc of their dorsal fin cresting the waves.  They left behind with the remains a collection of cormorants that bobbed like so many black sticks in the water.

In a good year the days will dissolve into a blur of light, sea and air. Slow mornings waking up and testing the weather. Opening the curtains to see how the tide has shifted from the previous day and to check the scud and slip of clouds across the bay. Downstairs to open curtains and make tea ready for breakfast, either on the plastic green table and chairs outside the yellow door or on the table inside watching the rain and wind scuff at the concrete on the pier. The unpredictable cut of the weather makes making plans a nonsense and most days breakfast ends with our deciding to see how the weather plays out before we make a decision on what to do and of course that is no decision at all. There will be a chance to jump off the pier, to go crabbing or to root around the seaweed, book of wild seafood in hand to catch what lurks there. And if the weather and tide is right a chance to ride out to the point off Owen’s Island to see if there are mackerel about for lunch. At this point it clear there is no time for us to be going anywhere for lunch and so this meal is going to be had at the Cottage. There will be a small mental tick to make sure there is enough bread and perhaps some sausages to make do. If mackerel are caught then that is all to the better. Turning to the early afternoon then if it is dry a fire should be made on the beach.  There is always a vague hope that a child will bend to the task, but children turn so quickly into unyielding teenagers it is a hope that goes unanswered so there is a chase for driftwood to make up kindling and 10 minutes or so patiently spent with screwed up pages of yesterday’s Guardian and matches to get the fire alight. Once alight it needs to be carefully constructed to be capable of cooking food. We have a good grill now but this is not always enough and if the wind is on the beach there is a need to construct a wall of bricks around the fire so that sufficient heat is directed at the grill to cook the food.

Five days later we could see more than fifty gannets circling the sea just off Owen’s Island. I had not seen so many in the bay before. As one went down two or three others would follow and there would be a silent thump as each hit. Sometimes the movement of the fish under the surface caused them to swerve at the last moment careering off at an angle before breaking the surface. Moving closer we could see that after they went under there was another small eruption of glittering foam as they came up again shaking their feathers. After a moment on the surface they would pick up their wings and go back to their natural element the air pattering the water to get sufficient lift. Some of the mackerel we caught were the largest we have had out of the water at the Cottage. They had also been gorging themselves and their bodies were still and bloated with the sprats they had eaten. Some were vomited out as we removed the hooks. As we gutted them on the black rocks at the garden they seemed to deflate slightly as the knife moved up their belly and out with the guts would spill sprats that had been swallwed whole their skin maked with small abrasions made by the makerels teeth. We threw these sprats to the gulls along with the guts and there was of course an irony in the small fish being eaten twice in the same day.