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Saturday Sep 25, 2021

A LAZY PROMANADE

Posted in Walking Stories by Mike Hall
Malden

Not so much a walk but an observation.

A little after 7.30am and my radio softly wakens me into another Sunday morning. Sunday’s used to be enjoyable, the usual nudging and silent protesting from each other until one of us gave in and went to make the tea, to return and slurp whilst listening to Love songs on Radio 2. We snuggle into each other and let our minds reminisce on our love songs, which were many, and marvel on the celebrations of the Golden, Diamond weddings and newlyweds eager to tell the world that they are in love and just married. How those little things that were taken for granted are missed so much now they have been taken away for good.

The song that was playing was “I still have faith in you” one of the two new ABBA songs that had just been released. The words seemed so fitting, as though my wife was singing from her place in heaven to me to get on with life, she is with me and always will, and at the same time I could sing it back with equal meaning. It inspired me to get on with a little more spring in my step whilst shedding a tear.

Being of an age that enjoyed ABBA and to be honest still do, as I sat in the end of my lonely bed starring in the full length mirror on the wardrobe scratching what blokes scratch and I thought  “ABBA, they will be timeless for ever” unlike the ever greying beard on my face! Oh well, better scrub the shaver round my chops and get a wriggle on.

I opened up the curtains and Bam! The sun poured into the room, driving out the dark in more ways that just light. “That’s brilliant” I thought, for today I had arranged to my oldest and dearest friend, the reason for the beautiful life I had. He was the best friend whose sister I fell in love with and married. We had arranged to meet at Maldon, a sleepy town hugging to the sides of the Blackwater estuary in Essex. I haven’t been there before so it was one of those few places that my wife hadn’t been to.

As the weather was good, we had arranged to meet on the promenade; his chariot of choice was a lovingly restored triumph spitfire and was going on my motorbike. The phone rang to confirm arrangements and times and ensure that the picnic was organised. I hadn’t seen them for a while and we all are sharing the loss, for me, my wife, for him his big Sister, but it would be good to see each other and promenade along the estuary.

I clad my body with half a cow hide, fashioned and engineered into snazzy leathers and jumped into the saddle of my steed. Off I went to get fuel, but, oh, I have no indicators! Dam! After fuelling I returned home for a quick tinker, but the solution didn’t present itself willingly, wearing a cow hide in the sun isn’t cooling, in fact I could feel my boots filling up with sweat as the sun stewed me and my attempts to fix the bike.  

That’s it! Plan B, get back in the car, a quick phone call to re-adjust plans and a dash back in doors hastily stripping off clothes as I walked. To the observer, it must have looked like some steamy passionate activity was afoot. Clothes strewn all over the place, including the stairs, I was hot! Anyway in the car and off I was.

I arrived at Maldon’s Promenade Park, a large car park with loads of kiosks serving food and drink, loo’s and all sorts to entertain the family. This was my first time and on first look it seemed a nice place. I met up with my bestie and his partner, warm greetings were exchanged and silent thoughts of our mutual loss were exchanged and acknowledged.

We walked to a food kiosk at bought burger and chips tea and soft drinks, sat for a while and watched the boats on the estuary. Children ran about with buckets and nets eager with anticipation, attentive parents trying to calm their enthusiasm no doubt foreseeing the impending disappointment for not catching anything, only to have their recent purchases thrown to one side in a temper tantrum which of course will be soon forgotten once an ice-cream had been swapped the bucket and net.

barge

To my left, the quayside, with Thames barges moored, reminders of the trades that were plaid in former times but now repurposed into floating tourist attractions. Still beautiful in design and equally fit for purpose, sales aloft and blown taught by the gentle estuarial breeze. Happy voices and from younger folk whilst grandparents and older folk just sat enjoying the peace and serenity of sail in motion, no doubt, thinking of the life that was experienced by the seafarers who saw these mighty flat bottomed vessels as just a means to earn money and drink most of it away in the numerous shore side ale houses.

To my right, the estuary flows to the arms of the sea, the sea wall stretching out like a hand pointing seaward. On the end, a verdigris coloured monument of Byrhtnoth the Earldorman of Essex stands defiantly with sword raised high warding off the Viking invaders at the battle of Maldon. Nowadays he is just a backdrop for an endless stream of selfie takers that probably don’t even know what he was known for or the significance of his actions and sacrifice.

In front of my lies mud! Not any old mud but the mud famed for the Maldon Mud Race. An annual 500yd ish race across this mud in aid of charity, originally a challenge from a local pub back in the 70’s.  Hmmm I think I would give that ago for my wife’s charity, why not it’s just mud isn’t it, stinky sticky salty mud, what could possible go wrong hey!

A salt marsh meadow lies beyond with the occasional remains of timber framed vessels abandoned to nature, clinker boarding long gone, exposing its carcass rib cage to the gods above like open arms seeking salvation. Yonder match stalk men and women walk an embankment no doubt taking in the seas vapours on wind, whilst working off the Sunday dinner, it’s like I’m seeing a Lowry in motion.

I look back at my family taking the moments in and for one small moment we all seemed to be at peace, perhaps the sun on our faces, the wind in our hair and the melodic slurping’s of the ebbing tide was some divine intervention cuddling our emotions from a world that we know not of, who knows, if it was then thank you my sweetheart for once more filling our lives with love.

We got up from our vantage place and walked to the quayside on our left. I slowed behind my relatives to take pictures and noticed them hand in hand. Oh how I miss that, but at the same time, I smiled and blessed them in my thoughts, I have lost that, but they still have it and I enjoyed seeing that. A couple walked towards me, they were motorcyclists, clad in leather as I was a few hours ago, again hand in hand. I remembered all the fun my wife and I had on motorbikes; we courted on them and rode them all our lives until a couple of years ago. My wife’s knees couldn’t cope with the riding position for anything but short distances, shame really, she was a perfect pillion, knowing exactly how to roll with the bike only hanging on to me when I accelerated but lovingly at times with arms around me, giving me a gentle squeeze as she rested her head on my back. A little gesture that said I love you in so many ways.

I nodded to them as they passed, a code that motorcyclist do when the pass on the road, to acknowledge our mutual love of bikes.

bracelet

I carried on walking and snapping pictures absorbing the surroundings and suddenly chanced upon a lovely lady weaving bracelets. I stopped and looked her craftsmanship. They were woven by hand; I could see her just calmly weaving them effortlessly but beautifully. I paused and spied a purple one. My wife’s favourite colour,  I wear quite a few on my arm, all given to me by those I love as a symbol of unconditional friendship. I never put them on myself, always the person giving must place and tie the knot, and they will stay there until the break.

The lady approached me and said can I help, I said can I have a purple one please. She asked for my hand and held it in hers. Don’t ask me what happened, but I felt energy; she studied my hand for size so that she could select an appropriate size. After a few attempts the right size was found and she placed it on my arm. It felt like a friendship was being formed of sorts and the tradition of not putting them on my own wrist was maintained. I paid and thanked her and walked to catch up my relatives.

library

As I walked the quayside, I could see the barges close up; they are surprisingly big, sturdy, and wide in beam, built to survive the cruelness of the sea. They were moored now for the tide was retreating exposing the muddy underground of the estuary bed. Some barges were converted into tea rooms; one was for sale and others for pleasure cruises. Little caravans converted into book stalls adorned the quayside as did restaurants, and fisherman’s cottages, pubs and gardens filled with beautiful flowers. Your eyes were filled with choice as you meandered along the quayside.

We came to the end and stopped to look at our journey so far, different vistas filled our sight. The light and differing viewpoints exposed other things, so as to give you a fuller appreciation of your surroundings. We started to walk back walking towards the sea. I stopped to ask the bracelet lady if I could take a picture for my stories, she kindly obliged, picture was taken and I explained the significance of the bracelet its serendipitous discovery and my reasons for writing. We exchanged Facebook invitations and then thanked her and gave my blessings to her for her kindness.

We carried on walking stopping briefly at the car for a much welcomed cuppa and a homemade chocolate muffin laced with indulgent choc chips suspended in a moist rich chocolate sponge, decadence in a pleated case. It was like eating strawberries and cream with champagne on a sun warmed waterside meadow with friends just enjoying each other’s company in the silence of nature’s surroundings.

After our tea break we returned back to the sea wall walk, passing a sea water filled boating lake. An elderly gentleman sitting in the dappled shade of a willow, controlled a model sail boat, tacking fore and after across it’s scaled down ocean. The children with nets and buckets were catching crabs with surprising success much to the delight of the attending parent, gentle shrills of excitement were heard and occasional disappointment as the crab loosened its grip on the piece of bacon,  preferring its chances in the pool to that of a see through bucket emblazoned with a picture of a giant colourful crab staring back at it from the outside.

statue

I gazed forward on my slow walk to the statue at the end, selfie takers trying to be patient waiting in turn to take the pose. We reached the end, the estuary stretched ahead but this was as far as we could walk.

Pictures taken we returned back to along the sea wall to our cars. We stopped to stare and sit for a while and contrasted the eagerness of the passing masses to that of the tide ebbing away, repeating its journey day after day at a constant pace with no regard to us on the shore. I thought to myself, we come and go and the tide sees us all. It observes children growing into couples into families pushing children that eventually push their parents about until they are here no more, then they will sit on this wall and reflect like I am on the cycle of life. But the tide and time marches on as a constant and just slowly lets us repeat the process.

I look again at my family sitting on the wall with me and despite my grief, my sadness, my heartbreak and loneliness, I am a lucky man to have had so much in my life, been loved to extreme and loved in return, I am truly blessed and I am here, I gazed into the blue sky above and welcomed the warmth on my face from afar and reflected in words from the song from ABBA that awoke me this morning, “Do I have it in me” well yes my sweetheart, “I still have faith in you”.

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