High Summer on the Edge 2017

Not a breath of air.

Of course, that isn’t true, every living thing breathes the whole time that it lives; that’s more or less the point. But, as a metaphor for stillness it does the job. Without any further description, you can see leaves that usually dance with the lightest of zephyrs hanging from the birches as though frozen by a camera, the honeysuckle casting its fragrance in a  knot with nothing to waft it afield. The palms stand with their last blossoms Umber against a sky drained by the heat of everything but brightness, for it certainly is hot here above the sea.

The sea.  The cool sea… even in Summer it approaches tepid only in the pools left by an exceptionally low tide. It calls in whispers from below the Tamarisks that bloom pink gossamer on the edge of the precipice, the idle waters glittering through the twigs to beckon with depths of jade beneath the hypnotic dazzle.

Oh, to be again in that water where I spent my last pre-amorous innocence immersed hour after hour until my skin wrinkled to mimic the seaweed and my hair turned to hemp over shoulders of mahogany.

As, dripping salt, I clambered up the cliff I could smell the butter crisping things in the frying-pan over our Primus stove, a patented pump-up bomb of a cooker that added a redolence of kerosene to the dinner hour.  My own children are amused when I say I dressed then for dinner.  There was something delicious about the sundown tingle of clothes when one had worn none all day, a tingle that turned the twilight doubly cosy before the brief pre-sleep contact with the bedsheets.

Seemingly moments later, the song of the crickets in the wild grass outside had faded and, it was tomorrow.  I would kick off my covers, slide my feet into my sandals, tiptoe out to the pump and drink -how few children today know the taste of such water – and tiptoe again to take carrots and apples and cheese from the cupboard behind the house where the sun never reached – the cupboard with perforated panels that let in the air and, kept things cool before electricity brought refrigeration in its wake.  Stuffing my breakfast and luncheon into the bag with my goggles, my swim fins and my bone-handled knife, I ate on the climb, and was sliding down the barnacles  and into the kelped wetness while the house still slept.

My Nudist parents liked to swim in the afternoon.  My father was good, could dive well and with style and, would barge his burly form through the waves in a frothy crawl; my mother, ever careful of her glamour, performed with her head held high so that the raven hair piled on top should remain salt-free and lustrous, a languorous breast-stroke that would take her at leisure right across the bay.  I had no such skills; I simply kicked my rubber frog-feet and gurgled along, either on my back watching the birds, or under the water, weighed down by the biggest boulders I could hold; these would take me to the bottom where I would sit on the sand and smack them together, scaring the little fish and marvelling that I could strike sparks from the quartzite without air. Without air! I’d have to remember to drop the rocks and sprint for the surface, gasping and spluttering in the sunlight only to plunge again for another minute of silent blue.

Today, the paths have grown over with bramble and thorn at the cliff-edge and crumbled away  below. Tools, gauntlets and trousers would be needed on the slope.  On the drop, add ropes and, for safety a climbing companion which would destroy the magic of solitude. I could of course climb instead, up the cliff, get into a car and, drive to one of our beautiful and rightly popular public beaches… Ah, but I would have to wear drawers and, dodge the Surfing Young atop their fabulous boards, their hands and faces Teak from the sun over cola-fed bodies milk-white under their glistening wet-suits, bodies that will never know the sundown tingle anymore than will the suited divers cumbered with tanks of air that transform the depths into just another (albeit wondrous) location rather than, between one breath of air and the next, a portal on the miraculous. As I write, the trees are beginning to move, the birds to agitate. I too must move, for unlike those idle summers long ago, there is work to be done.

JXC Cadgwith