They gave me the beach back

They gave me the beach back

Some days the sandy beach stretches for about half a mile down to the distant blue sea, glistening in the sun, sitting high in a cloudless sky. Seagulls sweep and soar, at times descending at speed to a few inches from the water’s surface where they scavenge and fight with others for food. Sand dunes, at the beach’s edge, flutter and sway in the gentle breeze, seemingly wistful in their shape and form. A lone boat in full sail glides into the outer reaches of the harbour, making the only ripples in a calm sea. Sunbathers stretch out, parents build sandcastles and big fort-like constructions, dog walkers exercise their dogs, families picnic, and bathers paddle around in the shallow water, timidly inching deeper into the cool sea until they can’t delay the inevitable any longer and dive headlong into the water, splashing and swimming with vigor until their bodies adjust to a wet and chilly sensation.        

And then there are windy days when small white crests top the jagged-looking waves, and kite surfers race across the sea’s surface at speeds up to 40mph, changing direction at the end of their long stretches by jumping out of the water and twisting their board around 180° to head back from where they came, a feat they make easy but in reality breathtaking. Days when the wind is so strong that sand flurries swirl around, sometimes stinging your face. In winter these are bracing days, wrap up well days and days to prepare for watery eyes from the cold.

I love the beach at all times, summer and winter, sunny or not, and once I knew the beaches were open again, I headed off to West Wittering Beach, one of the UK’s best, and close to where I live. Familiar with the beach, I headed away from the popular area to round West Head to find an empty beach, peaceful and tranquil.

As I walked, I thought of Otto, one of the main characters in my novel, Otto and Frankie, due out in September. Here are the opening lines:    

The water is clear. Gentle waves lap on the sand, covering for a fleeting moment a broken white shell in their effervescentfoam, and I realise I’m standing on a beach, a beach I know and love, but I have no idea how I come to be in this place.It’s as though I’ve woken to find myself here, conveyed like in a sci-fi movie from one point in time to another, unaware of the journey: no sensation, no memory, no recollection of anything. A breeze on my face, a bright sun shining in the blue sky, a flat, clear sparkling sea, clean sand and emptiness – no people, no dogs, just an open space. Low tide, mud flats stretching for miles, and across the water an island, Hayling Island I think, gleaming in the still, morning light… More

‘This whole thing’s a bit of a bummer.’

That was how my 10 ½ year-old grandson from Australia described the pandemic. Quite sort of charming, I thought, compared to all the other descriptions akin to an apocalypse. The pandemic is grim, the world, especially the UK, should have been better prepared, but we’ll come through it, and the world will recover, and if we’re smart, it’ll be a better place. 

For climate deniers it poses a dilemma, finally trashing their false propaganda that man has not caused climate change. Why are the skies brighter? Why has environmental pollution fallen to levels not experienced for fifty years, and why does the air feel cleaner? Surely, it’s not because there are no polluting planes in the air or cars on the road?  

To have a world without planes and motor vehicles is not feasible, but we can learn, and stop polluting the world so much. A forty percent reduction in flying and use of motor vehicles, not immediately but over five to ten years, would make a significant contribution to reaching our goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Building a green economy, and by that, I mean developing a product, practice, and service that moves us away from a fossil-fuel driven economy to an environmentally friendly one will need investment and people. It’s investing in new jobs and a greener, sustainable future.   

Has the NHS reached its zenith? The whole nation applauds it and the people who work within it every Thursday. And rightly so. Sadly, it’s taken a pandemic where thousands have died to make politicians realise that never again can the NHS be allowed to be under resourced. It has reached its zenith at this time, dealing with the pandemic with devotion, professionalism, grit, and love. But resourced properly, the best is yet to come.     

And the same goes for all other key sectors and those that work within them. They’ve been under resourced and under rewarded, and that needs to be rectified as well. 

By being smart and empathetic to these needs we’ll come out of this crisis to a better, fairer, greener world. 

Introducing Otto

Otto Georgeson is one of the two main characters in my new book, Otto and Frankie. He’s fifty-five, an acclaimed author, a human-rights activist, and a much loved and respected man. He’s married to Holly and has two twin sons. Over his writing career, his books have sold well, received many brilliant reviews, and he’s won the Booker prize twice. Two of his books have been adapted for the big screen. But after his last book, he tired of writing and wanted to give something back. 

He put it like this, ‘I’d stopped writing novels a few years back, and after seeing the complete dereliction of care, compassion, and responsibility from the world’s leaders for the millions of refugees seeking sanctuary, I decided to take up their cause. I’d found my so-called status as a best-selling author useful: it opened doors. I’d lobby the world’s leaders, threatening to go public if they didn’t agree to help. Some did help, some said maybe, and others refused. I didn’t go public on them, but believed I’d made progress. Some lives would be saved.’

The day he found out his cancer had returned, and he had three months to live, he learned that Holly had been having an affair with the wife of his best friend. Shocked, distraught, and saddened, he decides to ignore Holly’s behaviour, focus on his work for refugees, and do whatever he can to find his long-lost daughter, Frankie.

More about Otto, Frankie and the other characters later. Otto and Frankie is out in September. 

Filling time

Who doesn’t find these times difficult? No one I know. But regardless of the virus, these few months were going to be an in-between time for me anyway. I finished a book last year, we went to Australia in January and early February, and when we returned, I’d planned to set about catching up on things I’d put off before, leaving them until I’d completed the book. Media pressure telling us to keep busy, motivated me to clear up my unattended tasks in record time, and with my new book, Otto and Frankie, not due to be published until September, I had to think about what I’d do next.

Although there was plenty of tidying up from winter, and spring/summer preparation to do in the garden, I was kind of relieved when an old rose arbour showed serious signs of imminent collapse. This was an immediate danger. The arbour roof was tiled, and should it have collapsed, which I was sure it would do at any moment, it would have crashed to the ground, smashing the stone path and crushing all the new green shoots in the nearby border – let alone slicing my wife’s or my or both our heads open should we have been close by at the time of its self-demolition. There was nothing for it but to take it down. The morning after I’d discovered its decline, relieved it hadn’t fallen down in the night, my wife and I started to take it apart. Apart from the fear of being buried under it, should it break away from its last remaining supports, we knew, in the current circumstances, we wouldn’t have been welcomed at A&E. We completed it without any damage to the garden and us, although until the tips reopen, its dismembered parts are stacked out of site.

I thought about starting on a new book but binned the idea quite soon after – I had no idea what I’d write about and found concentration hard in these troubled times. In the hope I’d find inspiration for a short story, I started revisiting my past writings. I found a small piece, no more than 600 to 700 words, that I’d written some years back for a local publication. It was about a man who found his lost father, and it inspired me to write The parents I did not meet

My version of Paul Simon’s classic song 50 ways to leave your lover, changed to 50 ways to stay in lockdown follows this post.

I’ll be posting more about Otto and Frankie, due out in September, later. In the meantime, follow the link.  

50 ways to stay in lockdown

The lyrics for Paul Simon’s iconic 70s song, Fifty ways to leave your lover, with a few changes relevant to the strange times we’re living in. 

50 ways to stay in lockdown

“The problem is all inside your head”, she said to me
“The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to stay home
There must be fifty ways to stay in lockdown”

She said, “it’s really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued
But I’ll repeat myself at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to stay in lockdown
Fifty ways to stay in lockdown”

You just bolt the door, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You do need to be coy, Roy
Just stay inside, Gus
Don’t hop on the bus 
You do need to discuss much
Just throw away the key, Lee
And you’re locked in, Bee

Ooh, slip in the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You do need to be coy, Roy
You just listen to me
Don’t hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t…

50 ways to leave your lover – Paul Simon original – 1975

“The problem is all inside your head”, she said to me
“The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover”

She said, “it’s really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued
But I’ll repeat myself at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover”

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

Ooh, slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
You just listen to me
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t…

Paul Simon

Goats take over a Welsh street.

When I saw this brilliant clip about goats roaming an empty street, devoid of cars and people, I cheered for the goats, but then thought what’s going to happen when we’re back to normal with many vehicles clogging and polluting the streets and people milling around. There have been many similar strories of wildlife moving into areas they’ve never dared venture before as a consequence of the Coranavirus lockdown, and they’ll be more.

Of course I want the lockdown to end as soon as it’s safe to do so, but at least the animals who have ventured into pastures new have had a good time. I wonder if after it’s over we’ll be more tolerant and understanding of wildlife wanting to move into what we believe are our spaces. Nature’s creeping back where mankind has resticted it. Maybe once the virus is behind us, we’ll reconsider our ravages of the natural world.

We’ll survive the Coronavirus crisis: but let’s not forget the climate crisis, and our fight to halt the planet’s destruction. Our efforts must go on, and not be pushed aside for another day.

The sun is shining, and the world will go on

Through my window I see a big bright sun shining out from a clear blue sky. Green shoots poke through the bare soil, warmed a little by the sun’s warmth after the wet and cold of winter. A few daffodils flutter in the chill breeze. Clumps of tulips look ready to open, and scattered clusters of blue-bell leaves strengthen and grow to shield their bell-like, deep violet blooms that smell so sweet, hanging one after the other from their arching stems. I wonder if the brown thrush guarding its eggs in a nest in a nearby bush has done its work and her chicks have hatched. I strain to see but cannot, and hope nature has been kind to the mother, and her offspring are fit and healthy. I will never know now, unable to return to the nest until this grim period passes, by then the chicks flown from the nest, and we are all able to roam freely again. I think of the pond down the road, suspecting it’s full of frogspawn; soon to release many tadpoles into this new, strange world. I ponder over these things a little linger and realise it’s spring, the season of renewal.

It’s difficult to get some perspective on life at the moment. It’s not comparable to anything we’ve known, but the world still rotates around the sun, the moon shows up every day, and nature moves on. Soon they’ll be leaves on the trees, plants will be in flower, lambs will run around the fields, and the days will get longer. There’s much to look forward to.

Humankind will solve this crisis. Ever since the first human being, some 2.8 million years ago, we’ve evolved and become more and more able to survive whatever obstacles have stood in our way. Imagine the first cave-dwellers with stone tools and how much the world has changed since then. Mankind has never been equipped with so many life-changing assets, like super intelligence, greater health and medicine, and technology – capable of driving cars, precise space landings, and an increasing number or surgical procedures – than we are today. We are the world’s most successful problem solvers. 

We will survive and go forward. We always have done, and always will do. To survive is part of our make up, it’s in our DNA and cannot be restrained. Right now, scientists are working on cures and vaccines for this virus, and economists all over the world are devising innovative solutions to the economic mayhem the virus has caused.  

Sadly coronavirus – COVID-19 – will take its toll, but we’ll beat it. Economies will crash, but they’ll be rebuilt, be it in unconventional ways that break all the rules. Those who suffer economically will be helped. Finally, the world will learn, it’s learnt from all disasters in the past, and more than likely be a better place.