Saturday, 27 October 2012

"O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark..."

With apologies to T.S. Eliot - only a roundabout way of saying these are the last few hours of British Summer Time; the clocks go back an hour at 2 a.m. tomorrow.

There's an elegiac post from Fr Anthony Chadwick on his always highly readable, intelligent and thoughtful blog  [here], writing about the end of the sailing year. Further west, my father-in-law, despite a heart transplant a decade or so ago, continues to be a keen yachtsman and will probably, he tells me, having given up on the Irish Sea for the winter, keep sailing around Milford Haven at least for a week or two until the weather finally closes in, and his boat will be lifted out of the water until the Spring.
I was reminded by this of an Edwardian essay by 'Q' (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) called 'Laying up the Boat'  Even confirmed land-lubbers (who haven't sailed or even been out in a boat much since their school-days, apart from a bit of mackerel fishing off the Dorset coast) can feel the romance of the sea...
"There arrives a day towards the end of October - or with luck we may tide over into November - when the wind in the mainsail suddenly takes a winter force, and we begin to talk of laying up the boat. Hitherto we have kept a silent compact and ignored all change in the season. We have watched the blue afternoons shortening, fading through lilac into grey, and let pass their scarcely perceptible warnings. One afternoon a few kittiwakes appeared. A week later the swallows fell to stringing themselves like beads along the coastguard's telephone- wire on the hill. They vanished, and we pretended not to miss them. When our hands grew chill with steering we rubbed them by stealth or stuck them nonchalantly in our pockets. But this vicious unmistakable winter gust breaks the spell. We take one look around the harbour, at the desolate buoys awash and tossing; we cast another seaward at the thick weather through which, in a week at latest, will come looming the earliest of the Baltic merchantmen, our November visitors bluff vessels with red-painted channels, green deckhouses, white top-strakes, wooden davits overhanging astern, and the Danish flag fluttering aloft in the haze. Then we find speech; and with us, as with the swallows, the move into winter quarters is not long delayed when once it comes into discussion. We have dis- sembled too long; and know, as we go through, the form of debating it, that our date must be the next spring-tides........."                                                                                ".........So, as we near the beach where she is to lie, a sense of proud exclusiveness mingles with our high regret. Astern the jetty-  men and stevedores are wrangling over their latest job; trains  are shunting, cranes working, trucks discharging their cargoes amid clouds of dust. We and we only assist at the passing of a  goddess. Euergetes rests on his oars, the tow-rope slackens,  she glides into the deep shadow of the shore, and with a soft  grating noise ah, the eloquence of it ! takes ground. Silently  we carry her chain out and noose it about a monster elm ; silently we slip the legs under her channels, lift and make fast her stern  moorings, lash the tiller for the last time, tie the coverings over  cabin top and well ; anxiously, with closed lips, praetermitting  no due rite. An hour, perhaps, passes, and November darkness  has settled on the river ere we push off our boat, in a last farewell  committing her our treasure 'locked up, not lost to a winter  over which Jove shall reign genially                                                             Et fratres Helenae, lucida sidera.                                                                                 As we thread our dim way homeward among the riding-lights  flickering on the black water, the last pale vision of her alone  and lightless follows and reminds me of the dull winter ahead,  the short days, the long nights. She is haunting me yet as I  land on the wet slip strewn with dead leaves to the tide's edge.  She follows me up the hill, and even to my library door.  I throw it open, and lo! a bright fire burning, and, smiling  over against the blaze of it, cheerful, companionable, my books have been awaiting me." 
'Q' - included in  From a Cornish Window (1906)

The first movement of the 4th Symphony of Arnold Bax, a work dominated by a vision of the sea and its moods - the opening always reminds me of the tide rapidly coming in to a particular cove on the North Cornish coast..

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