The next morning the wind had backed from north-east to the north-west. I arrive at the Bay overdressed. The Dover Strait seas, so quick to anger, were placid and benign. The sun bounced off the cliffs and water. It was warm. A solitary dog-walker bemoaned his plastic leggings and ear-flapped hat.
The band of wave-dodging Black-headed gulls was gone, dispersed along the beach. Pied wagtails and over-wintering stone pipits flitted between shingle, mud and puddles.
The beach was swept clean, the wooden groynes scrubbed, shallot-skin sand and remnant concrete exposed. The shingle contours had gone mad, as if giants had been at play. Beside last autumn’s cliff-fall the foreshore was a brilliant-white chalk bed, the blue-grey flint cobbles now swept into a corner twenty feet high. On the concrete sea-wall a big chalk cobble had been lifted by the waves and left perched, an erratic left by the Arctic storm.
I’d seen two men fixing one of the groynes the previous week – welding in steel and bolting on new planks of greenheart. Just in time maybe. The shingle beneath the bay-end houses had been swept away. As I climbed over the groyne I saw makers mark of the menders, hidden at the bottom of the welded-in steel: a face and name.
The dunngage was meagre. The tangled mass of crab pots and rope swept in on yesterday’s high tide had been pitched four hundred yards further down the beach. Three ropes, blue, yellow with red flashes, and white had been tangled beyond redemption and half-buried under the dead-weight of shingle.
There were two pieces of salvable wood – a big pine block stained with grease and paint drops – and a worn groyne fragment of greenheart lethal and heavy like a jawbone, club.
Plastic bottles, a Sirop de Citron tin can, a tiny Laura Ashley label, ‘Made in Hong Kong’ printed on it, alone and separated forever from its host. Small tangles of seaweed and the fine, filigreed sea-plant that had blown into drifts two days before. And three bits of live sponge that looked uncannily like human ears, dirty yellkow and fleshy to the touch.
In the Bay the container boat that rocked and swayed at its anchorage in the falling evening light yesterday was rock-steady, dark against the glistening sea. The ferries plied back and forth undisturbed. A tug, tiny in the vastness, ventured out from Dover port and left a cloud of thick smoke drifting in the wind. France hazy in the strong light, snow-cloaked I imagined, double-ranked lorries backed up from Ashford to Maidenhead waiting to cross.
The promenade rails were gilded with fresh rust. The pavement etched with a waving line of tossed shingle marking the storm and tide’s height. Tons of the stuff thrown back onto the road and grass behind the prom.
The cove boats, nudged and buffeted into the seawall, were adorned with flint pebbles and polystyrene. One of 'Cynthia’s' gunwales broken on the concrete edge she’d been cajoled against by the highest rogue waves after being shaken from the safety of the slipway. Telltale wooden fragments, a brown shot gun shell, skate egg cases marking the line of maximum flood.
I worried at the mashed-up ropes looking for an end to start the unraveling. But without a knife it was a fool’s errand, the sun surprisingly hot and my clothes cumbersome and close. I took the two pieces of wood and walked slowly back up the hill, tits calling, a distant curlew’s cry, the thrum and drum of woodpeckers hammering out their territory, calling for a mate.
The garden hedge snow showed where last night’s badger had sought an opening and despite my best efforts found one; it’s tracks purposeful once in the garden going who knows where. Bluebell leaves pushed up through the melting crystals, water pooled and dripped from the front steps, catching the sun. Military jets, high up above the cloud-cover jarred the new-found peace.
I put one piece of driftwood on top of the other and took a picture, thinking the pine block would make a plinth when dried out.
Later I went back to the Bay with a knife to have a look at all that rope but the Bay’s fisherman was already there sorting out the mess of pots and cordage into useful piles of useful stuff. Damn.