Seahouses

1.

Guillemots and kittiwakes and puffins and a grey starling. The squawks are deafening. Though when you've flown from West Africa to Northumberland, when you're this sharp and beautiful, I reckon you're allowed to make a bloody racket.

The boat rocks. We adjust. They tell us the lighthouse is now solar-powered, which worries me, frankly. I'm just a little in love with Grace Darling.

The sky is fifty shades of black. Islands come and go. Cuthbert may be the least cool name in the world but he sat over there on that spare grey howl of rock and he contemplated all the stuff I would love to contemplate if I dared. His ghost contemplates us as we pass but it decides not to bother waving.

Sometimes everything touches - the Whoo! of the first glimpse of the seals; the mum clinging on to her daughter to stop her falling overboard; the fact that a heroine at twenty-two died of TB at twenty-six. And sometimes nothing touches and there's no difference between life and death, you and me, sad tears and happy tears.

Those seals: they stare benignly. Their lumbering ugliness is beautiful. On land they move like I do on Monday mornings. In the sea they move like I used to on Saturday afternoons.

The boat rocks again. I want to stay here. Everything feels so true and so absolute. The punches of gale and rain and the uncertain strokes of survival are ferocious, kind, thoughtless.

2.

Back on sure. The soft, dark goths - she looks like Siouxsie, he looks like Siouxsie - are playing Krazee Golf. The old man next to me on the bench coughs up a sticky puddle of phlegm. The girl goth yips with glee as she lands a hole in one. The seagulls are, as usual, predatory and disapproving: I ordered fish on its own, no chips this time.

A father playing with his kids is absently carrying a putter and a London Review of Books calendar. The mother is texting. They live - I have no doubt - in North London. My daughters are so far away I know I can't rescue them and it hurts like seagulls pecking at my eyes.

I finish the fish, walk towards the castle, pulled by all the stuff that came before me, stopping on the beach just long enough to get burned.