Up early and the sky is a muddle of whites and blues above the white villas cum flats opposite. A summer morning, but with that tinge of damp in the air that nearly the whole of this summer has had, and the way the shadows are, that sense of the city not yet woken up.
I’m in my O’Neill shorty with dive boots when I unlock the bike and cycle down Victoria Road South to the sea.
There’s not a car. Not one car. Just the silent sleepy white fronts of the houses, and the tall elegance of the plane trees at The Circle – nature’s green and girdered architecture.
Down we go, along Clarence Road, past Clarence Park, past the Clarence Boutique Hotel, looking like something from a Beeb period drama. Down further, to the sea. The little perfect gardens on the Common, planted to look pretty and slightly untamed at the same time, then along by the Pyramids and out to the sea.
There is a monster of a ferry coming into harbour, out by Spitbank Fort. Blue and white, with great big radar domes on stalks, like someone very big is about to tee off in a game of colossal crazy golf. The ship is shining. The sun is maybe an hour above the horizon, and South Parade Pier is looking for a moment marvellous.
Down the big-stoned beach and into the sea. A kind of inept splashing about for ten minutes or so, mask and snorkel catching glimpses of the sand under the sea. The water is surprisingly warm and the night’s cobwebs wash away. Pretty place. Pretty city. Horizon. Stretch of water. Sky. The honest stuff of life.
Something in the water. A muddle of bladderack, bifurcated, like a mermaid’s tail, submerged. Little joys.
Then, back out. Back on my bike on to the empty, wide roads, and out along the Ladies’ Mile across the Common. A man walking his dog wearing a surgical support – the man that is. Under the green leaves of the elms, the air changing warmth and dampness. On again, feeling the emptiness of the city now, up Palmerston Road, past the street cleaner stopped talking with a cyclist.
A shout of “hello” from a homeless in a shop doorway, then on again. The tramp-like figure of Vincent, one of the care in the community guys who lives nearby.
“Vincenzo,” I shout.
“Ah, Matto,” he calls back, laughing at the sight of me in wet suit on a bike.
Then home. The seagulls are scavenging the carcass of a bin bag put out for the dustmen today. As I watch, a cat pounces, sending them scrabbling upwards, talons clacking against slate roofs, explosions of wings and beaks and necks and eyes. The cat, satisfied, picks around the carcass itself.
It’s all here. My little life. And I’m okay.