Sunday, May 20, 2007

Old Hartley beach in Northumberland yesterday afternoon, and it really was a peaceful and still as the photograph suggests.

This month is the one year anniversary of Suzannes mothers death and three years since her father died and so yesterday morning we travelled up to the North East for a visit to Whitley Bay cemetry, a trip to Old Hartley beach, some shops (there always has to be shopping when the females are out of the house) and then a visit to her sisters for afternoon tea with friends where the theme was "bring food but it has to be home baked".

I only ate two things - a massive wodge of meat and potato pie that must have been at least three inches thich with a coating of gorgeous crispy pastry, and three slices of a sublime lemon merangue pie, and cream, with lashings of coffee - a nice way to spend a couple of hours before heading back down the motorway in the evening sun.

I don't go in for the cemetry thing, visits to place flowers and all that jazz, I haven't been back to my own parents final resting place since they were finally rested there, its not needed in my mind. But Suzannes family do it and they have a small plaque with their parents names engraved and an area to leave flowers and, as we noticed, one of the grandchildren to lay some pebbles and shells that they had picked off the beach.

When we arrived yesterday the sun was warm, the tide at its lowest ebb and the air still and calm, it really was a beautiful place to be as the graveyard is right on the seafront near the lighthouse and while Suzanne paid her respects I wandered around for a bit reading some of the headstones in the burial section and I realised why I don't really go for the whole graveyard business - its too upsetting.

Reading the headstones I mean, you wander the rows and rows and see lots of old folk who died after having had a good innings and you think nothing of it and then just as your defences are lowered you come across the stone of a ten year old girl who's epitaph bears parental pain but because she died thirty years ago its now neglected by those parents who are probably either dead themselves or too elderly to tend it and all you can do is stand there and shake your head at the tangible sadness on this beautiful day.

And yet there is also intrigue in there - the grave of a 60 year old who's family needed to add that he was a train driver and that he died tragically in 1998 gets you wondering if it was a train accident and you try and remember if there was a big rail accident in that year and you sort of remember that there was and is this the driver ?

Weirdest of all in this quiet corner of a quiet municipal graveyard in the north east of England is a chinese section with several graves decorated in beautiful chinese illustrations and lettering, and right next to that a whole phalanx of Italian graves dating back several decades.

But the one headstone that really got me thinking was a family plot with several names on it, and there in the middle was their 19 year old son "lost at sea" in 1942, a young kid who never came home to his parents, literally "lost" somewhere whilst serving his country in wartime - it just stops you up short on a lovely May afternoon and you stand and stare and wonder who this person was.

The reason for the visit to Old Hartley beach straight after the cemetry was that this time last year Suzanne and her five brothers and sisters took their mothers ashes here to scatter them on the rocks, the same rocks where she would take them on the short walk from their house when they were kids to spend whole days on the beach during their summer holidays and while we were there Suzanne showed Jodie how they would hunt for whelks, or as she pronounces them in her Geordie accent "Will-acks", you couldn't step on the rocks in those days without crushing hundreds of them and as kids they ate them raw off the beach, but yesterday all they could find was one small shell, and it was empty - how relieved me and Jodie were as we suspected that Suzanne would have demonstrated the winkling out of the shell and eating part if she'd found a big juicy one.

Our first visit of this year to the North East and we'll have to do it more often soon.