free-writing from May 2018 about the Severn Bore

 

Arrival

Standing, I take one panning video of the river, left to right

Then sit at eye level with brambles, restricting my view

Like being in a cheap seat

At the theatre

Listening

Sounds of the Severn, small dancing waves

Running, apparently  towards the sea

But not for long

Pigeons coo, sparrows twitter their replies

Witnessing

A blister of waves bursts over the sandbank

Exposed to bright light

Sun glare blinding.

Hard to look

Retinas narrow to focus, see the distant

Church spire in Westbury, like a sharp needle

Piercing the skyline

Bright green grass on the other bank

Low clouds forming, chilly wind rising

Twinkling sparkling

Water on sand spits

Distance

The boats at Bullo, masts leaning

Distant dark shapes, sitting solid on sand

A seal? A surfer? A lump of wood?

A body?

A pool of water catches my eye on the bend

A wave? No, the riverbed is still dry near Awre

No incoming tide

Yet

Light

Lights on lights off

Clouds filter the sun – a sole surfer glides past

Sitting, he rides the river flow, to later return

On the cusp of the bore?

Colour

To the left the sandspit looks burnt umber now

With a chrome white line of foam

Defining it against the steely cold water

Then the sun blooms, the ochre colours break through mirrored

By wet sand pools

Patterns

To the right, the riverbed is like a sandy beach

Shadows of clouds drawing bar codes across it

My eyes scan it, while my ears register

The water getting louder

The black lump is still down there near bullo

The wind whips the water up

The bushes quiver towards the sea

Three more surfers enter

Surfers

From the opposite bank, two surfers carry boards

On their heads, the walk together

The other grips his tightly

Under his arm

Filming

Standing, I notice there are a couple of people on opposite bank

And the sandbank below the river bank at Newnham has wonderful ripples in it,

Each tiny crevice highlighted by the sun as it rises

The pigeons coo

There’s another black lump in the distance to the left of me

I keep glancing to my right

Checking out the bend where the bore

Will appear

Waiting

Nothing yet, on the left

A single duck naively (or knowingly)

Glides on the rivertide

The cliff ducks are wiser

They hangout behind the undercliff below Ruddle

Listen and watch when the wave approaches

As they fly out from behind the bushes

Quacking and flapping

If they don’t rise fast they run the risk

Of being battered against the cliff

Recent rockfall has left spliced slabs of red clay and tea green marl

Evidence of climate change

The ducks have learnt to survive

We have not done so well

Time

Is trapped here in stone

Breaking up in front of me

Rocks like squashed sandwiches

Compressed in a lunch bag

Separating them, I notice

Each layer is different

More waiting

Most the surfers are now out of sight, probably behind the cliff

With the ducks

The sun on my face is soothing

The clock chimes nine

The bore timetable lists the bore arrival as nine-o-seven

Time to pour my coffee

Time, it’s all about time

Waiting, passing

Dandelion clocks witness my flask

As it performs as a sundial

My body does too

The sun locates me in the world

On the ground, in the air, by this river

Two more surfers arrive

Lateness

Are they late, or the others early?

Or misinformed?

Another surfer arrives, whose board looks bigger than the others

It has a fin on it

He walks with a swagger

Still no wave

A tardy bore

Two more surfers come along

The first throws down his board

And runs back to the bank

He’s fetched another!

He leaves the first one, its blue, on the sand

He drags a golden board along and joins the other

Surfers gathered on the opposite bank

A white line is forming near the bend

On the west side

Four more surfers arrive, three with boards, one empty handed

The fourth lifts the blue one up under his arm

It looks heavy and hard to carry

Imminence

The white breaker edge has dissipated

The body of water is holding the shore behind the cliff

Out of sight

Four more surfers enter the shallow river, sitting on boards

Soon the wave will whip out from behind the cliff

There are no ducks

Yet

Arrival

As the wave gets closer I abandon my keyboard and stand to video

As I film, a skein of ducks flies out from behind the cliff

So predictable

Several surfers stand up, and stay up, for a while, all whooping and howling

The wild side of life let loose

My smile widens

The joyous relationship between humans and water never fails to delight

Afterswell

To surf safely you need to know and understand the river

It’s a social and cultural experience

As I film, my neighbour arrives (you may spot her ducking from the camera!)

As we talk, both keeping one eye on the tide, neither of us apologises when, intermittently, one points and comments on the waters progress

Our meeting here is incidental, our sole purpose is to see the bore

As the spectacle passes us by, the surfers tumble off one by one, then clamber out onto the banks on both sides

She points to the spire and tells me she was brought up by the river

Her mum worked at the thermometer factory in Newnham

A friend of theirs drowned in the river

Her mother used to sit by the river with colleagues as a young girl, having their lunchbreak

The river keeps flowing by

Getting deeper and deeper

All is well

As it always has been

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The Severn Bore on Christmas Day, Rudolph, Santa and Brexit too!

On the morning of Christmas Eve, she wandered down to the bank of the Severn to watch the bore as it formed on the bend between Awre and Arlingham. A fire was burning in the centre of the river, nearby a row of surfers stood to attention, clasping their boards, like herons waiting for their supper.

She had seen this sight many times before, but today was special, as she had the bank to herself. Most people only turn out to see four-star waves, the timetable for Christmas Eve was a humble two-star. As she so often did, she filmed the event on her mobile phone and posted it onto YouTube.

When the wave arrived there were eight or nine surfers riding it, by the time it had passed all but one had fallen off, whooping and yelping as they did so. One man left standing, silhouetted against a soft dawn sky as this busy day began.

Maybe it was one-star after all.

Christmas Eve is family time, with visitors, friends and lovers. By bedtime she went off to sleep quite quickly, but later was woken by a strange dream. One of those dreams that plays on one’s fears, when current affairs and children’s stories become peppered with time and space, creating strange collisions and collusions. In her dream, there were drones flying in the sky, trying to attack Santa and the reindeer. The reindeer fled and a woman tried to call them back, singing kulning songs. But they didn’t respond to her yearning call and Santa fell from the sky with a bump. He tried to get a back-up team of helpers, but because of Brexit, none could get their visa’s in time. Many had passport problems too, because travelling around had been pretty easy prior to the UK splitting from the EU. It was chaos and no-one seemed to be able to help.

She woke with a start, feeling very disturbed. She looked at her clock, it was 3.a.m. Children all over the country would wake up soon and find nothing. She turned to Twitter to see if there were any reports about drones. There’d been a few sightings, of both drones and Santa, but it’s hard to believe social media. Yet only days ago Gatwick Airport had been grounded and lots of travel disrupted because they thought drones were there. Which means even if the drone part about Santa’s story was only a dream, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t cause chaos. Fake news can gain as much attention as real news these days.

Comforted by the fact that it was unlikely to be true, she rolled over and went back to sleep.

Christmas morning! She raced down the stairs, put the kettle on, grabbed boots, scarf, coat and gloves, made tea and rushed out the door. Another two-star bore predicted but she needed to be reassured that the world had not gone badly wrong. She was early, and she stood in the wonderful silence of the dawn, a still, dull day. The ducks flew over her head, reminding her of the drone. She recalled that when she edited her video yesterday, she saw there was a drone in the footage, one she had not spotted in her viewfinder while filming. She shuddered as she recalled her dream of drones and Brexit.

With no-one to watch her, she decided to try kulning. She had often thought of doing this to call the bore in, but that seemed a bit silly. But here, now, she could try and call the reindeer in. She found a firm area of mud, one the surfers used to climb in and out of the riverbed, and waded and squelched to centre-river. There she stood, facing south. She took a deep breath and called…..ah ho kee, keee-oh-hoo-hoo, ah ho hee hoo, hee-oooooo-he-hoo….

Nothing happened. The riverbed remained dry in the centre, the waters flowed gently in both directions. Her heart sank, as did her feet, no reindeer, no bore.  She was covered in mud.

As she climbed out onto the bank she felt very sad. Maybe she got the time wrong? She checked her watch and yes, she had! It wasn’t due for another half hour! Typical! She decided to nip home and refresh her cup of tea and change her boots, as they were very sticky with river silt.

By the time she returned there were flames again on the sand spit and about five or six surfers. One was dressed as Santa, which always made her smile. As she set up her camera, she spotted lots of debris trapped around the timber frame of the old ferry crossing. Old pallets bobbed about, bumping into each other. Could they be the very same pallets from the sleigh that carried the presents? It was a brown grey day with very little colour, so the splash of red bobbing in the water caught her eye as she zoomed in. A big red plastic bucket, the kind that would hold reindeer food! She was back in her dream and anxiously looked up into the sky. No drones today. Phew.

She heard the bore approaching and wondered, with a wry smile, whether it had heard her singing. She turned her video on and tracked the wave as it passed, dropping off surfers as it did so – no good rides today. As she filmed, she captured the pallets and the buckets, hoping to seem them washed away. Large branches rushed past on the ride, not unlike antlers. She shuddered again. She decided that when she got home to edit, she would examine the footage for drones.

She attached all the cables and went to export the footage. Oh no! She had one still picture, that was all. She had not worn her glasses and had pressed the wrong button. She had no evidence to her story, no Santa, no bucket or pallets.

So she wrote this story instead, to record just how much life can get in the way of imagination, but can also add to it too. Did she really sing in the river?  Was there really a red bucket belonging to Rudolph in the river? Were those actually broken bits of Santa’s sleigh?

Who knows, but what we can be reassured of, is children everywhere today will enjoy their presents and hopefully, if the nightmare was not true, then Brexit won’t happen either. Ever.

Happy New Year!

(with homage to “T’was the night before Christmas” By Clement Clarke Moore)

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