A late summer afternoon from youth. I am lounging in the stone curve of the back garden wall looking at the weather. Although the sun is hazed slightly, the air retains a solid wearying heat. Situated half-way up a hill, two miles from the beach I can trace the road downwards to the matted flat turfland of the burrows and beyond, to the shimmering blur of beach and sea; to the distant imagined sound of cries and yells, of pleasure unadulterated.


The regular glint of car windows tells me that the beach is busy. Cars line the whole mile and a half length of the pebble ridge two, three, sometimes four deep. I can imagine the crowded strip of perfectly flat brown-golden sand, the shrieks above the roar of the waves, windbreakers protecting domestic spaces.

We are down there often enough, but not today. I'm sitting watching the land laid out before me, like studying a full-size map. The hot air is quietly absorbent when the sky darkens imperceptibly and I hear the first rumble of far-away thunder.

The first trickle of cars drive up the hill and past the back garden wall about ten minutes later. They have been stuffed quickly with colourful beachware and people that didn't bother to wait for the rain. The sooners. As the thunder continues, drawing slightly closer, the trickle turns to a stream and a traffic jam begins to form, growing longer down the hill below me. In the stuffy heat each car has its windows wide open and I look at each beach-weathered driver as they pass. Every minute or so there is another rumble to remind them why they have left. As the traffic jam grows longer and longer I run upstairs to the first floor bay window where I can spy on the cars further away with my father's telescope.

The queue is almost back to the beach now, and I trace it's line slowly backwards with the knurled aluminium positioning wheels of the rickety telescope. At the beach, and against a looming grey-blue backdrop, I see sun-burned people scrambling over the pebble ridge, heading for their cars. Almost half are now departed and the rest have hardly to move before they hit the traffic jam - the longest I have ever seen.

I run down stairs again to sit on the back-garden wall and watch as car after car inches its way up the steep hill. Every now and then there is another rumble of thunder. Now closer, now further away. But no rain. In the close heat I can hear the frustrated conversations of people in their cars. People in their swimming trunks and costumes; the men bare-chested, the women bare thied.

But the rain doesn't come. For an hour and half I watch the traffic until at last it begins to flow more easily; finally able to continue up the hill without stopping. I go upstairs once again to the telescope and see that, apart from maybe 10 cars, the beach is empty. In under two hours the beach has gone from full to empty. It is only four o'clock. There is a slight wind in the air now, the thunder has grown distant, bored of the sound of it's own voice maybe. And there is still no rain.

Over the next couple of hours the air freshens, grey-blue turns first back to blue and then in the evening is dappled with fluffy grey-pink; the heat of the day has almost dissipated. The rain never comes. Summer, threatening to end, is the same once more.


March 2005