It had been one of those weeks. I’m pretty sure we all have them from time to time: deadlines approaching, projects not progressing, to-do list expanding exponentially. The kind of week where your computer locks up every time you finally manage to make that vital, hard won edit to your masterpiece of a planning document or your internet connection goes down in the middle of a particularly important web conference your boss asked you to lead. The week in which you miraculously secure the career-enhancing meeting with the senior VP you’ve been trying to catch for months, only to get delayed en route by some ridiculous office- or transport-based misadventure that is as implausible as your excuses subsequently sound to the exec in question. The kind of working week where you curse the technology of our age for ensnaring us and not liberating us. You know the kind of week I mean.
Added to that, the UK had been “enjoying” a bout of unusually sultry weather. Nothing that would trouble anyone living on the Tropic of Capricorn, you understand, but sufficient to deprive your average Brit of sleep, given ill-prepared Victorian air conditioning (open windows) and a constitution more honed to the demands of light drizzle than sunshine.
Thus it was that when Friday evening finally arrived I was happier than usual to put my computer to bed for the weekend and begin the process of unwinding with a walk. I’m fortunate to live a few streets away from what the locals around here like to think of as “the sea”: the Thames Estuary probably wouldn’t pass muster for those accustomed to drinking in a vista of Pacific rollers – or even the murky swell at Skegness – but there are worse sights to behold on a summer evening. There’s a pleasant stroll to be had along a ridge of high ground that runs parallel to the promenade. It affords the visitor an uninterrupted view of the Kent coast some six miles away, wending its way past power station chimneys and sleek wind turbines before it heads for the more timeless skylines of Whitstable, Reculver and Thanet, where the tired river finally reaches the long-dreamed of North Sea.
When I arrived, the mid-summer sun was setting somewhere behind skeins of formless, grey clouds that spoke of humidity but weren’t quite ready to deliver relief to the thirsty earth. The air was completely still and the sea flat calm. About a mile from the beach, a pair of diminutive sailing dinghies were struggling to make any headway towards the entrance to a small channel that grants safe passage back to the local cockleboat wharves at all states of the tide. Lights on their masts were joined by the dim amber glow of Kent’s sodium street lamps and the intermittent blossoming of traffic signals marking the change from red season to green and back again.
The scene, whilst pretty in its way, was as familiar to me as it surely was to any other local that night – and yet…