Monday, August 01, 2016

The Blue Kite

There is an uncelebrated stretch of coastal road, somewhere in England, but nowhere in particular, along which I first walked half my life ago. Today, I feel the need to be here again.

A rectangular green field leads to the water’s edge. In the middle of it lies a bright blue, parachute-shaped kite. A faceless man struggles to get it airborne. A few seconds later, he tries again. He is foiled again but refuses to give up. A young girl waits, with equal patience and frustration, at his side. Her dress is the same colour as the kite. The choice was probably his.

I wander along the roadside overlooking the water. The tide is in but beginning to ebb (Figure 98.1). A few seagulls hover overhead. Alongside me, I notice a silver-coloured dog lead, twinkling in the sunlight. At one end of it is a white, short-haired terrier. It is eager, perhaps overeager, its eyes wide and tongue hanging out at the side. At the other end is an elderly man. He walks too slowly for the dog’s liking. Time passes too quickly for his own. A lone barbecue puffs away behind a striped canvas windbreak.

Figure 98.1

Copyright © 2016 Paul Spradbery

Beyond the field’s paved edge are some plush bistros. I count nine. Not one is more than a year old. Their terraces are empty. Further along, in embarrassing contrast, is a scruffy corner café. Lime green paint peels from its exterior woodwork. Inside, varnished chairs and tables are set in fixed rows. They look as old as I am. Most of the clientele are older still and mostly silent. On a polished shelf, behind the counter, is an old whisky bottle full of copper coins. Next to it sits a compact analogue radio. The muffled sound of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car miraculously conveys every human emotion in less than five minutes. I sit alone and anonymously, drink hot tea from a cup with a saucer, then up and leave without speaking to anyone. No one notices.

Turning another corner, the breeze drops. I begin the feel the sun’s warmth. The war memorial (Figure 98.2) is still decked with poppy wreaths from last November. A young boy pedals by on a small bicycle with crooked stabilizers. I climb the twenty-odd steps leading inland.

Figure 98.2

Copyright © 2016 Paul Spradbery

Next, Berkeley or Brackenhurst? It is no matter: I know that both short roads lead to the same junction. I choose Berkeley. On the other side of a black fence, four old-timers, cacooned from the world, play bowls (Figure 98.3). The timber-framed pavilion is lovingly preserved. Their friendship is no doubt the same.

Figure 98.3

Copyright © 2016 Paul Spradbery

Another right turn sets me on the way back to where I set out. Near the hilltop, there stands a tall, dark-haired man. Even in khaki overalls he appears dignified. He is replacing a wooden gatepost. Everything he does is thorough. I watch him check verticality over and over again with a well-used spirit level. Across the road is a car dealer’s forecourt. Coloured balloons are tied to second-hand cars. Opposite, a small, brick-built Baptist church bears an ‘All Welcome’ sign on its closed doors. A brown paper bag drifts in front of the gates like tumbleweed. An hour has passed.

Different individuals react to, and try to cope with, bitterly sad news in different ways. Here, today, this is mine. I am back at square one and feel a little more composed. The sun is lower. Above the field, that same blue kite now soars and flutters without effort (Figure 98.4). At a certain angle, its colour matches the clear summer sky. On the grass below, the young girl now holds the strings. Her father is elsewhere. His work is done.

Figure 98.4

Copyright © 2016 Paul Spradbery

The circuit is complete. Everything changes with time – and yet, the essence of this place will forever remain the same.

In dear memory of Len (1934-2016).

Copyright © 2016 Paul Spradbery