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Sunday, 15 September 2013

A promise I made.

A Promise

There was a murky, misty light coming from the moon as it briefly showed itself between the angry clouds drifting across its face, it was all that I had to see the numerous uneven well trodden ruts, but it was enough, my feet adequately found the well worn path along the cliff top. There were very few walkers out exercising their trusty four legged pals; a storm was brewing out there beyond the bay in the channel.

Rounding the corner of the path down onto the beach level I faced the inner regions of the bay where the eerie flat calm of the water was covered in scum and flotsam from the incoming tide, bobbing gently up and down it eventually deposited it self onto the flat greyish brown expanse of the sandy beach in front of me. A steep rise in the shingle from the waters edge and then a flat plateau that reached right up to the path, this rise in the shingle held back the water, but each small wave deposited all manner of debris that was now covered in the awful yellowish froth coming in from the channel. Not a pleasant sight for the holidaymakers, and that, along with the smell of what seemed like rotten fish that reached my nostrils made me walk just a little faster than usual, the legs that had served me well over the years started to ache as I neared the end of the path that took me to the stone makeshift jetty, it had hurriedly been built many years previous for the troops returning from the conflict across the channel. I was grateful for the smooth, flat tar-mack that had been laid that summer by the corporation.

Small fishing boats were huddled together as if sheltering from the impending battle with the elements, the lapping of the water slapped their sides between them with increasing vigour each minute, the storm out in the channel was getting closer and the once calm water was increasingly being disturbed as I neared the end of the pathway that skirted the little harbour.

The wind and rain was gusting over the crests of the small waves in front of me and they were now getting bigger in the bay, picking up and adding to the spray, it drifted in sheets of fine mist that resembled a net curtain blowing almost horizontal on the water.

Lightning lit up the distant horizon for a couple of seconds; there then followed a crack of thunder that nearly split my eardrums. Turning the corner, the raging waters of the channel in all their furry faced me, the wind, now full in my face, took my breath away and the full force of the storm wrapped itself around me trying to force me onto the pile of debris that it had by this time cast aside, unwanted it seemed, returning to the depths to collect more. There in front of me was the north-facing beach, stretching for what seemed miles into the distance. The dark brown sand reached the distant rocks in isolation out into the channel and I could see through the spray the reason for my appointment a few hundred yards away, the only living being out on the beach that night, bar for me, she waited, looking out into the channel, a figure standing firm against the buffeting wind, I had no illusion to know who stood there, braving the elements on steady legs as if rooted to the spot.

A few days previous to this sojourn out into the winter night the postman disturbed me while I was wading through a couple of toasted doorsteps soaked with butter and marmalade, a large brown envelope labelled ‘DO NOT BEND’ was irritatingly put in my hand when I opened the front door, a brown office type letter that was written by hand in a bold confident manner, not typed or franked as official mail. I was immediately curious, and discarded the remaining junk mail in the bin in the kitchen, proceeding to my little office to open this rather strange correspondence.

I remember tearing open the envelope with a little excitement that stemmed from curiosity, emptying the contents onto the desk, recognition brought on a prickly feeling at the back of my neck as I looked intently at the yellow ‘sticky note’ that was attached to one of the items, those words I think will be imprinted on my conscience for the rest of my life, the memories that they evoked I’m having difficulty describing,    “Remember Al’ when we were young, what you promised.” 

A sheet of music scribbled out in a hand that was unmistakably my own ‘I’LL WALK BESIDE YOU’ the last verse was underlined in red, something I hadn’t done.

Those words we had intently listened to as Josef Locke sung them to us with her little hand gripping mine so tightly all those years ago; My God yes, I remember! However could I forget? The fifty odd years had flown by, but I remember that evening as if it was only yesterday, and, without any doubt I remember the promise we made to each other.

The everyday existence of getting up, washing and shaving, working in the garden and tinkering in the workshop were forgotten; In that instance I was propelled back to the fifties, all the years that have been so full of wonderful things and events, seem to pail into an insignificant jumble in my mind as I remembered our promise to each other.
And I was amazed that she also had remembered that day!

The promise was to go back from where ever we were and sit together again on our bench up on the cliffs facing the channel in Ramsgate, watching the sun disappear over the horizon in our old age like that glorious sunny day all those years ago, to tell our story to each other of the life we had experienced, a life that had started out with so many days full of joy together. We both couldn’t believe that any life could be better than the experiences we had lived through at that time, and wondered what the future held, so we promised, swearing to remember and return to our bench up on the east cliff when and if we reached our seventy years.

I wonder now if others had the start in life that we had, the music that was centred round everything we did and the joy it gave us both, setting us up for a life so full of joy and laughter for the future the way it did. As we went our separate ways, which inevitably we had to, the feelings for each other has never lessened, through many loves over the years, two marriages and the arrival of children and grandchildren those teenage years have given me so much to live by, to honour your partner, to be honest with each other, to trust and show a kindness to others whoever they are and what ever they have done. Now, because I suppose the excitement of that promise that I made, I could not or ever want to renege on it. To see and perhaps hold her hand again gave rise to the exhilarated anticipation that resembled my youth, long ago forgotten, I desperately, desperately wanted to hear her story.  
Evidently she had confided in her daughter of our teenage years; nobody else knew of the past and it was only recently that she had thought it prudent to past on to her the desire she had, to honour the promise we made. Hence the envelope and its contents with her daughter’s phone number who co-incidentally lived quite close to me only a few miles down the coast.

I could see the resemblance from a distance, her desire to keep her mothers secret forced this clandestine meeting, to try to arrange for both of us the fulfilment of our promise to each other being certain the family would never understand. The human emotions I have often thought restrict the fulfilment of a full life, jealousy and mistrust, the domineering by one or other in a partnership often prevents so many of us from enjoying what each has to offer. I began to realise quite early on when a telephone conversation had to be cut short this was one of those occasions, but her daughter persevered finding common ground for us to meet. The ominous weather, with thunder and lightening and the lashing rain on a deserted beach brought on an ill-omened feeling as I approached, turning towards me I could see there were tears in her eyes, those eyes that replicated her mothers that spoke volumes to me when we were young, now told me, without saying a word that we had left it to late. She held what was obviously a heavy canvas bag for me to take.
“My mum’s life is in her journals Alan, she wanted you to have them, her way I suppose of keeping her promise. I know you will treasure them.”
She turned away leaving me alone with her mothers life in my hands, I have never felt so empty, so let down and sad as I did in that moment, a sense of extraordinary loss completely engulfed my entire being as I watched her disappear round the headland in the distance.

I returned to shut myself away from the turmoil of life around me, and it was a couple of weeks before I could bring myself to open the journals I now had in my possession, a whole life was spread out on the desk in front of me. Beautifully and painstakingly written in long hand with pen and ink, numerous photographs of motherhood and family life with captions of the circumstances at the time they were taken. Stories of days out and the happy times, of sad times and confusion but all culminating in a sense of humour that had seen her through the bad times, the wicked sense of humour that I remembered her by.
No fame or fortune had blessed either of us it seemed, a normal life had passed, but what a life, so full of appreciation for the world around her, that character of the young girl I knew had never been dented it seemed, and as each year passed every episode had been so full of wonder of the creations around her she was seeing, marvelling at the beauty we have all of us been blessed with.

Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Oh, Alan, that was so sad :o( I was hoping you'd meet your friend all the time I was reading it.

    Love the mention of the doorsteps though - it brought back memories of when I was a kid :o) *Sliced bread or a doorstep ?* my Mum would say :o) Happy days :o)

    1. I am sure Pat that different parts of the country have their own particular anecdotes; I suppose it gives us the characteristic of our origin to others. My mothers little sayings have brought a smile to young faces on many an occasion and the particularly rich language our parents used to explain certain actions and items have been replaced by the unnecessary swearing of today. (Now, that is sad!)

      Brenda Blethyn’s ‘Mixed Fancies;’ her hilarious memoir of growing up in Ramsgate on ‘The Plains of Waterloo’ is a classic example, reminding me of many of my parents sayings of that time, not only an incredible read, but also the representation of the history of all the hardship they endured giving us those wonderful memories of childhood.