'Roger was born in London but has lived in the North East of England for over 40 years. He retired in 2012 from the NHS after a portfolio career of odd occupations. Now, getting on a bit, he writes bits of flash fiction, short stories and the occasional poem, a few pieces being published online. About six years ago, he acquired an allotment, grows fruit and veg and wishes he had done it years ago.'
'This piece is about how small, how vulnerable and how close we are to the edge of everything.'
Northumberland Coast, Roger Haydon
I am 74 years old, born just after World War Two. I’m walking along Druridge Bay on the Northumberland coast in North East England.
When the big spring tides rise and fall
and the moon pulls the North Sea far away,
and bids us follow out from the shoreline,
she moves aside the blue-grey water …
I live in a 117 year old terraced house. It has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a downstairs toilet, a back yard and a small front garden and is in an old mining village with 256 inhabitants.
… to reveal hidden treasure …
The village is in the green valley of a river with tributaries with sources in the high Pennines and the Scottish borders. They have their confluence at the village of Warden in a place known as “The meeting of the waters”. The river flows for 73 miles to the North Sea.
… crab corpse fragments,
stranded shining jellyfish discs,
empty split razor fish shells,
plastic waste snagged in crevices
and a washed up decaying porpoise.
Seals and otters swim near my village, herons hunt for fish, cormorants skim the water, swallows and sand martins catch flies in summer and salmon travel up and down the river. Downstream, massive factories used to build warships, tanks and other weapons of war.
The last inhabitants with mining histories have now died. The pit closed in 1966 after 73 years’ of coal. At its peak, it employed over 1000 people. A new wave of young families is moving in and toddlers and youngsters are around again in the back lanes and the playground.
My house is 400 metres from the river, 32 kilometres from the nearest North Sea coast, 3,900 kilometres from the north pole, 5,700 kilometres from the equator and 15,000 kilometres from the south pole. It is 406,000 kilometres from Earth’s moon and 150 million kilometres from the sun – that’s 0.00001581 of a light year.
A light year is how far light travels in one year, 9 trillion kilometres. The sun’s light falls on Earth 8 minutes and 20 seconds after leaving the sun.
My house rests on Earth’s crust, the thickness of which is 0.63% of the equatorial radius. The earth’s crust is 0.44% of Earth’s mass. I weigh 78 kg. The mass of the earth is 5.9722×1024 kg. My mass is an invisibly small percentage of the mass of Earth.
I find sand blasted glass jewels
amid coiled lugworm casts,
with waders probing for a meal
by random sea carved sculptures …
I live in the troposphere which extends upwards to between 8 and 14.5 kilometres. It is the densest part of Earth’s atmosphere and all weather happens here. The air I breathe is made up of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen plus other trace gases. If I were to climb to a mere 1.5 kilometres from sea level, I would struggle to inhale enough oxygen. The mass of the atmosphere is 5.1 x 1018 kilograms which is 0.00008% of the mass of the earth. The atmosphere has more carbon dioxide in it than ever and is heating up the planet and the protective ozone layer has holes in it. Human beings did these things.
… and lobster pots tide heaved out of place,
amidst stranded rock pool islands
bordered by slippery sea weed mats,
limpets rock clamped down tight
and endless spreading acres of sea cleaned sand
unmarked by any human footprint.
60% of me is water. I could go for days without food but I need water all the time to stay alive and regulate my body’s temperature to stay within very the small range in which I can survive. 71% of Earth’s surface is water. 96.5% of this is salt water which I can’t drink. Of the 3.5% that is fresh water, 32% is water that I could drink if it is clean. The other 68% of the fresh water is locked up in ice. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, sea levels would rise by 7 metres which would
flood the river valley I live in. If all the ice were to melt, my house would be 70 metres under water.
My brain has up to 240 billion cells of which 50% are neurons that I use for thinking, remembering and writing these words. There are about 4 trillion galaxies in the observable universe which is expanding at an increasing rate. Its diameter is 93 billion light years. Earth is in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way comprises 100 billion planets, 100 billion stars and is 100,000 light years wide. It is part of the Local Group, a collection of 54 galaxies which is part of the Virgo Supercluster. The closest galaxy is the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy at 25,000 light years away, nearer than the centre of the Milky Way.
The Andromeda galaxy, at 2.5 million light-years away, is on a collision course with the Milky Way, the distance closing at 402,000 kilometres an hour. Andromeda is twice the size of the Milky Way and the crash will happen 4 billion years from now. About 2 billion years from now, our sun will die. Humans have 1 billion years before the exploding, dying sun boils Earth’s oceans.
The light from the most distant observable stars is almost as old as time when it arrives here. The oldest light we can see left its source 14 billion years ago. Others are accelerating away from us faster than the speed of light. We will never know if they exist.
I live in this house, in this village by this river on this thin planetary skin. I breathe this thin layer of gas along with 4 billion other human beings and countless billions of other living creatures and plants.
And me? My joy and my privilege is to be
n curve of this bay, on this north east coast
at the right time in the right place and
keep my eyes and ears open
and deep breathe the cool clear ozone.
I am 74 years old.