Jonny McCambridge: Lockdown, like a grey day, can’t last forever

Some days are to be enjoyed; some are to be endured.

By Jonny McCambridge
Wednesday, 17th June 2020, 7:56 am
Inventing games on the beach
Inventing games on the beach

Lockdown has ensured that there has been an abundance of the latter recently, with the social restrictions choking and smothering our desire to move freely, like hair blocking a sinkhole.

Perhaps having less to do, less to enjoy, becomes an unwanted habit, and you have to make a choice to shake off what has formed and hardened through inaction, to force yourself to remember how it was before.

That is what I am thinking this Saturday morning, how easy it is to allow a day to slip past with no part of yourself left in it to remember it by. The potential of a weekend day is like freshly-made dough, without effort it is nothing. It has to be stretched and teased before it will rise.

Breakfast is a tetchy affair. A bowl of Coco Pops is overturned onto the rug and few words are exchanged. The coffee in the pot tastes a little metallic. Afterwards we settle into our familiar lockdown routines of reading and watching TV. Tedium rolls down through the house like fog.

I am downstairs and my wife is upstairs when she sends me a text.

‘Can we please just do something today?’

Within an hour we’re all in the car and heading towards the seaside town, our first family day out in months. As the restrictions have eased the thought process has moved on slightly, from what we are allowed to do, to what we need to do.

I look out the car window and see that there is no definition in the sky, just a creamy void. A ubiquitous, sickly, grey mass that seems so permanent that it is difficult to imagine the sun will ever return.

I’m surprised by how busy the car park is in the seaside town, and I have to drive around for a few minutes before I find a space. As we stretch our legs I tell my son that there is a mountain above us, but I’m not sure he believes me because he can’t see it. It is cloaked in cloud. Perhaps to prove it is actually there we walk towards the winding, rocky path in the forest which takes us uphill. Soon the severity of the gradient has left us slightly out of breath.

Smells that I have not experienced in some time fill my nostrils, the fresh, damp and peppery scents of the vegetation. We pause beside a fast-bubbling brook, enjoying the lick of the water on the smooth, shining stones.

It’s only when we emerge from the cover of the trees that we notice that the sky has changed, now there are pockets of blue amid the pale, scaly clouds.

‘The sun is fighting with the clouds to see who will be the winner,’ my son says.

We have gone high enough and decide to walk back towards the town. As we descend the path I spot a cardboard Starbucks cup, brightly coloured, discarded on the verge. I walk on a little further, but my peace has been disturbed and I can’t get it out of my mind. I turn and go back and pick up the cup.

My son is fascinated by the diversion and begins to direct me towards other items of litter. He doesn’t pick them up himself but seems to enjoy watching me do it. A Coke can, an empty beer bottle, various plastic wrappers. By the time we return to the bottom of the track I have collected two armfuls of waste.

We walk past the shops in the seaside town. It is the first time we have been together in a high street since the pandemic began. I feel the uncertainty among the visitors, some people stray onto the road to avoid close contact while others yank at children and pensioners when they feel someone is moving too close.

We stop to buy coffee and ice cream and find an empty metal bench. I tell my son off for dripping ice cream onto his clothes. My wife tells me off for dripping coffee onto mine. The ice cream melts, the coffee grows tepid.

Several huge and haughty seagulls patrol the promenade. They appear flawlessly white until one waddles closer and I see the tawny edge to its feathers. My son hides behind me and I don’t really blame him because these birds look as if they could pluck an eyeball out of a head.

Next we go to the beach where the sand is wet and dull like clay. There is a lot of space and not many people, so we can run around. We play racing games until my t-shirt is sticky and clings to my bulging stomach.

New games are extemporised. Little streams become huge torrents in our imagination and we have to traverse them by dancing across the stones which are covered in a skin of slimy green seaweed. We collect shells, scratch messages onto the sand with sticks and throw stones into the water.

We stay on the beach for such a long time that in the end the clouds become wispy and the sun forces its way through. The new lustre reveals previously disguised colours all around us. The ochre and rust of the leaves, the pallid yellow and dirty shale shades in the expanse of sand.

The tide is coming in, the grimy water washing just a little bit further up the shore each time, staining the glassy particles of sand.

The day is well advanced when we eventually agree that it is time to leave. The three of us hold hands as we trundle wearily back towards the car. There is sand inside my socks and I can feel the strength of the early evening sun warming my forearms.

‘Can we get chips on the way home?’ my son asks.

‘Yes we can.’

We walk a few more steps.

‘Is lockdown over now?’

‘Well, not exactly, there are still some things that we can’t do.’

We walk a few more steps.

‘Well, I’m glad that we can go to the beach.’

‘Me too.’

We walk a few more steps. I notice my son is looking upwards.

‘The sun beat the clouds today daddy, didn’t it?’

‘It did usually does in the end.’

—— ——

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe