It's Springtime at last on the stretch of coast where I live, and that has made all the difference.
Only a week ago, searing north-easterly gales were trying to blow me back into my north-east facing home every time I tried to go outside. Sheep and their new-born lambs were being dug - some of them dead - from unseasonably and unreasonably late snowdrifts. Since then, the gales have eased gradually until, this weekend, the sea is smooth like spun silk. The air is cool and pure: escaping from the traffic fumes and endless noise of local shopping towns, getting out of the car and into the sea air feels as good as drinking cool, iced water on a summer afternoon. There's hot coffee and a croissant and a harbour view. It's early, and the café isn't busy...
The sea is aquamarine and perfect as small boats begin to explore once more, lowered back into the harbour for the season after the ravages of the kind of winter that flings hailstones in your face and casts huge breakers across the seafront. The wakes left behind as the boats venture across the bay write a story of summer on the blank canvas of a season still to come. Seagulls wheel above, their cries a freewheeling optimistic arc of brighter days. Leaves and flowers, which have hesitated so long in huddled buds, brighten gardens and hedges in a fast-forward acceleration, the frames following one another by the hour in ways you imagine you shouldn't really be able to see unaided.
And into this perfect landscape come the tourists. They barrel down the half-awake seafronts in gleaming Volvo 4x4s, unloading mini-Boden-clad young whose eyes are glazed with excitement and healthy snacks. They execute a dawn raid on the Bucket and Spade emporia, all primary coloured and shiny with a turning windmill to mark their sandcastled territory. They commandeer entire corners of seaside cafés, talking loudly about cousin Geoffrey who's doing his Consultant exams next week, which are so terribly hard that he only needs 30% to pass, or darling Harriet who got an Excellent at Teeny-Yoga last term. Beside me, darling Harriet is blowing bubbles noisily in her glass of milk, and emitting occasional and high-pitched squeals. It's time, perhaps, to move.
Along the coast, life is beginning again. Mr Whippy and Mr Softee are back, selling ice-creams with a sprinkle of suggestive innuendo to anyone who approaches them.
The amusement park has opened again. Late into the night, the coloured lights flash and the sound of excited screaming can be heard above the music, echoing across the beach, as people delight in terrifying themselves on the Big Dipper or the plummeting Freak-Out. Beneath the blue perfection and the manufactured screams lie hidden depths: the waters along the northern coast are cold and treacherous. There are harbour porpoises gently breaking the surfaces of spring, but beneath them untold dangers lie beyond, alongside the cliff-edge crags. Tragedy is there, as inevitable as a hidden undertow of current, beneath the newly-glossed seaside fairytale.
From my favourite clifftop vantage point, I can see the peninsula of what is finally beginning to feel like my home-town. It's an ever-changing view, but today it's calm: I can see the snow-topped haziness of Islay in the distance, far beyond. There are ordered ranks of seaside apartments beyond the terraced houses, which speak of an older, Victorian town. The serious walkers are a contrast to the holiday weekenders, all Berghaus and North Face and good, sound walking shoes. Even their dogs are purposeful, not sniffing skittishly at every passing trace, but trotting efficiently to heel. There are tribes of cyclists too: the serious cyclists who venture out in clubs, with racing bikes and their lycra uniforms, who think they go as fast as any car and therefore cycle five or six abreast along the road, creating road rage in some and muscle-envy in others. They laugh in the spokes of the recreational cyclists, who stick to the cycle paths and do not take things quite as seriously.
As spring begins, there are stories yet to tell. Sandcastles will be built, then swept away as tides rise and the day-trippers drive home. The crowds will come and go, as light will follow dark. Cliff edges will be vantage points or threats, offering the angle for a stunning summer landscape or the embodiment of implied or real despair. The summer fireworks will glitter in darkened skies and the lights of summer will extinguish in a coloured blast...
The rollercoaster clattering across the slatted track is an embodied sound of passing time. Beside it, the impersonal, blue silk water is indifferent to our screams of fear or joy. To who we are, what stories we have to tell. Our seasons move; the tides break. Life goes on.