That’s it now, the gentleness of the old season has gone, the weak arm of autumn that had been holding a slack, frayed rope to summer’s end has lost its strength, snapped, and a new rope has been attached firmly to winter. The new rope is tightening, it is pulling winter towards us, or the other way around. Whichever it is, dig out the long socks, for we and winter shall be co-habiting before long.
This afternoon I lifted, shifted across the Irish Sea, and left the Atlantic shore once more for a while. I had a bit of everything in Portrush these last two weeks. There were days of sharp wind that could cut through any small crack in an undone zip. Days by the sea when a modern composition of clinking filled the air: a rope urgently tapping the flagpole of the boarded-up lifeguard hut, wires rattling inside lampposts, the banging of loosely bolted outhouse doors. Days when beach walkers shrank, bowed into the wind, hatted heads bent over scarf-knotted necks, people determined to enjoy the change in the season. There were days when noise of the coast re-asserted itself as the ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ that is said to drive lighthouse keepers to distraction was resurrected. This shall be the soundtrack to the town until year end and beyond. Yes, on some atypical winter’s day it might fall to a hush, forget to roar, and we’ll walk on the sand and feel an uneasy pleasure at our inability to identify what is absent, until someone says – ‘The sea has fallen silent, that’s what’s different,’ – and we shall breathe the sweetness of that silence for a day, then wake in the night to the sound of the revenant wind carrying the low moan of the churning sea back up the peninsula.
Always beauty. The black, bulbous, biblical clouds through which God almighty might, at any moment, bear down. The scoured strand, a skein of undyed linen pulled tight. The contrail of a westbound jet drawing a chalk mark through a strip of blue sky. The bottle-green sea scourging the promenade wall with the fury of the Hulk.
This is month the town is put to bed. The Helter Skelter is unpieced like Lego and loaded into the back of a long lorry. More boats are lifted from the harbour (only eight remain). Flower beds are dug up and trees blown bare. But the sea awakens. It is a hibernating animal that someone has poked and annoyed, wakened too early from a deep sleep, and now it’s all whipped up and irascible. It demands attention: Look at me, admire my strength. It grasps the land, pulls at the beach like an assailant tackling the unsuspecting to bring them down by the ankles. That I swam across that bay six weeks ago is a terrifying thought: now it’s transformed into something that would pull me down rather than buoy me up. It seems closer when it is rough, becomes a part of the town rather than the unconscious, immobile onlooker it was for much of the summer.