Thursday, January 17, 2008

Missing the solstice – eastern promenade – Thames, London
Saturday December 22, 2007:

In the dark heart of the night,
Beyond the pain of yearning,
A soft and gentle light shines bright,
The wheel is turning.


My plan had been to greet the actual point of the solstice on the river bank. Too excited by the ritual with the boys in the woods to sleep, I stayed up most of the night. At four , I woke from a fitful doze and got up and got ready to go.

Five minutes from the river, I rang my companion to alert her to what time I would be getting to the Prospect of Whitby, the pub hard by the little beach we were going to. She did not answer. I left the cab and waited in the shadows for her to appear, ringing from time to time, growing more and more concerned for her safety each time she could not be raised.


All was quiet by the pub. I could smell the dank slightly rotting smell of the river not very far away. I did not know what I would do if she did not turn up. I began to cry.


It was eight minutes past six, the exact time of the solstice. I fumbled for the phone, and as I dialled, a bird began to sing over to my right. I listened to its liquid joy and was moved, my tears falling fast because it seemed that he was singing to lift my spirits and I was very touched to hear him.

Somehow, the tears pouring down my face brought release. I allowed them, and my inconsolable sobs. Like a small child who has lost her mother, I cried, and cried and cried

As I wept, my mind turned over the alternatives open to me right now. Should I Stay? Should I try to find the beach? Should I go home? Should I ring a friend who also lived near and get him to come and get me?

Mid text, my phone buzzed and it was my companion, apologising for oversleeping and explaining that she had a bad cough and had not slept. We agreed to still meet and I leant back against the pub’s wall to wait.

From time to time a van rumbled by. Once a lone jogger panted past, I stepped further into the shadows so that he would not see me, glad that I was dressed in black.

At last there she was. WE hurried down onto the dark shore and cast a circle. Peeling off my gloves, I reached down and picked up a big stone. I cradled it in my hand, exploring its greasy surface with my cold and numb fingers.

Tensing my muscles, I flung it violently into the river, tossing after it, my sadness. It plopped satisfyingly into the water and was lost for ever. I reached down and picked up another and flung it and my addictions after it. Another stone followed and then another and another. Behind them went my grief, my self-hatred and depression. My companion began to toss what she no longer wanted with stones she picked up into the water. Eventually, we were still.

We sang to the river our song of the light returning and then waited quietly while the city sang back to us in its rumbling and sirens. The river surreptitiously crept closer and we shuffled back, then began to sing of the birth of the sun as we picked our way carefully across the rubble that was the beach, taking our circle with us for a walk along the river bank.

We moved back onto the streets, keeping close to the river. A robin began to sing high up to my left. His cascading song was soon answered by another and I raised my face to their song as we walked through the archway made by their rippling music.

We moved on, through a park, past a man and his dog out for a pre dawn walk. We stood by a rail to listen to the tumbling of the water in the weir.

My companion relayed the story of Joan Peterson, the Witch of Wopping. I listened, wrapped in the atmosphere she span as we walked along. The tall concrete blocks of new builds stood side by side with old warehouses, edging the wharfs. All was silent bar the occasional bird and the distant hiss of tyres on tarmac. The river sometimes at our side, sometimes behind the buildings flowed on eastwards as we walked to wards the dawn.


WE stopped to lean against a rail and listen to the river. The dark buildings lightened as the sky changed. We came in the end to a look out point on the river which curved away on both sides, and rippled under the boards upon which we stood. At this point, the river was almost circling us.

My companion described the scene. The light in the sky was pink. Slithers of gold edged their way between the tall walls of the watching buildings, the sky showed blue in patches, cloudy in other parts. The river gave back the colours as it shimmered beneath us. We waited and the sun came up. The night had ended. Our work done, we gave thanks for the beauty of the day, we opened our circle and moved purposefully through squares, past fountains and across streets, heading for the great tower of Canary Warf and breakfast.

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