“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea” (E.E.Cummings, 1958)
According to the NHS website, research suggests that there are 5 steps – 5 Ways to Wellbeing – that we can take to help improve our mental health and wellbeing, feel more positive and get the most out of life. These are Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Connect with Others and be Generous and Kind. During the months of ‘lockdown’ when our ‘normal’ activities have been restricted, it has been important, to me, to find alternative ways to achieve this.
In common with so many others, during these months of restriction on our movement and activities, I have been exploring (and learning) much closer to home than I probably would have done, had these unusual circumstances not been forced upon us. I have not been alone, over the past 4 months, in discovering local footpaths, woodland trails and stretches of coast line that I never knew were there. This has been a revelation to me: a gift of treasures found on my doorstep.
This activity has also led me to discovering (and re-discovering) a range of other precious and interesting local ‘treasures’.
I was lost and found
Saw my world spin round (Echo & The Bunny Men,1987))
I have continued to restrict my swimming to my local beach (although, as the restrictions in England continue to be ‘eased’ I think it will not be long before I resume my journey of swimming along the South Coast). Meeting up again with swimming friends has been a joy only surpassed by getting back into the sea again. It has been wonderful to, once again, be able to plan, swim and discuss afterwards, a range of local routes, challenges and distances in differing sea and weather conditions. I missed that – and the laughter.
I missed the laughter – and I have found it again.
I do, however, continue to find close, meaningful conversation difficult, while seated 2 metres from the other person. My ageing ears, the wind, the sound of the sea and the proximity of other people’s shouted conversations going on around me, result in me, very often, simply nodding and smiling politely – and hoping that my response is not inappropriate to the words that have just been offered to me!
So instead of sitting down for a ‘good old chinwag’ after a swim, I have, instead found myself studying my surroundings more closely, in the way that I did (and still do) on my walks.
I wrote previously (in I’ll Tell You What I Want What I Really Really Want) how, in the absence of the ability to swim, I took up walking, and how on these walks I discovered – and learned the names of – the wealth of wild flowers that bloom almost on my doorstep.
“I believe, that under ‘normal’ circumstances, I would never have noticed most of them, let alone have bothered to find out their names”.
I have continued this habit, of closely inspecting anything that blooms, when I go to the beach, or walk along the coast paths – and I have not been unrewarded. Everywhere I go there are new plants and flowers waiting for me to acquaint myself with them and to learn their names. I can’t wait to travel even further a-field to discover what floral delights lie in store for me along our South Coast.
Pebble Of The Day
The beach where I swim, at Clevedon, is a pebble beach, and, previously, while deep in conversation or post-swim debrief, I tended to take these for granted. However, during ‘lockdown’ my attention was drawn to pictures of #Pebble Of The Day on my Twitter feed. These were often pebbles whose features gave them the appearance of having a face. As a result, I started to look more closely at the pebbles on my local beach, and – having started – I cannot help but see a crowd of little faces looking back at me every time I visit.
Try it! You won’t be disappointed.
Strangers On The Shore
I have always, wherever I swim, completed a #2minutebeachclean before I go home. This campaign, started by the 2 Minute Foundation, is devoted to cleaning up our planet 2 minutes at a time and to raise awareness of the amount of plastic pollution in our seas.
Recently, amongst my usual haul of plastic bottle tops, cotton buds and other debris (including, worryingly an increasing number of disposable face masks) I came across (on separate occasions) these two little figures. I have no idea how long they might have been lost at sea but my research identified the little cowboy as being from a 1958 packet of Sugar Puffs and the US ‘Little People’ pilot from a 2013, American edition of a Fisher Price set.
I discovered that, in 1997 (Cacciottolo, 2014), a container filled with millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall and that these bits of plastic continue to wash up on Cornish beaches today – particularly after a storm. The project Lego Lost At Sea was established to track the Lego pieces, wherever they turn up in the world and it has grown into a project that tracks the provenance of all the little plastic toys that turn up during beach cleans – and the figures from cereal packets (such as my cowboy) quite often feature in their discoveries.
“It’s like a reward for picking up the rubbish” says Tracy Williams co-ordinator of the project. “However, plastic in the sea is not going to just decompose and go away it’s a deadly poison for birds and other aquatic life”. Williams documents the project – and her finds – on her Twitter account and her book Adrift: The Curious Tale of the Lego Lost at Sea, is scheduled for publication in May 2021.
Don’t be a Tosser
They say there’s wreckage washing up
All along the coast (Knopfler, 2006)
I have never – as I know others have – ever found any money or other valuables when I have been cleaning the beach or studying the pebbles. My ‘treasure’ has (so far) always been limited to plastic figures and smiling stones.
However, this week, on Clevedon Beach, soon after I had completed a swim, a young person combing the beach, found an old hand grenade lying amongst the pebbles!
Thinking it was a rock he had found, he threw it to see if it would break up and reveal a fossil – only to discover that it was a “live hand grenade” (Newton-Browne, 2020). Fortunately, nothing ‘went off’ and the Bomb Disposal Unit came and “transferred it to a safe location where it was destroyed”. Who knows for how many years that little explosive bundle has been rolling around in the sea and on to our shore?
Unexploded bombs are not the only hazard when ‘combing’ our beaches. There are plenty of other dangers amongst the litter left behind by humans and we need to stay safe. The advice is: Wear gloves. Don’t go around picking up strange objects. If you see something that you think might be dangerous, keep clear and inform the coastguard (mcsuk.org).
And most importantly, whoever you are, and wherever you are: Don’t Be A Tosser! Dispose of your rubbish and your waste responsibly. Leave only footprints.
“To myself I seem to have been only like a child playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in, now and then, finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell … whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me” (Isaac Newton, 1726)