caffeine galore

For my payday treat each month, I head a little way inland to one of the city’s finest patisseries, and order cake and coffee.  Their coffee is wonderful – roasted in small batches, ground only as needed, prepared with care – and utterly addictive.  And so it comes to pass that I am sipping a long black Americano when I read these words:

“caffeine levels [in the sea] are so high in some coastal areas that it’s used as a marker to determine general water quality”

Caffeine seeps into the sea.  But of course.  Where did I think it went?

I am a caffeine fiend.  Every year, in the Spring, I try to break the cycle of addiction; I usually manage a few days, sometimes weeks, before I succumb to the lure of a hot, bitter coffee in the morning, or a comforting cup of tea at work – in thrall, once more, to that most widely-used of psychoactive drugs.

On the whole, caffeine is among the least toxic of the pollutants that seep into our seas (although it still has an effect).  But, for me, it brings the issue of waterborne pollution uncomfortably close to home.  It’s strange, the sense of ownership I feel over my own addiction and its implications: of course I sometimes drink too much; I get headaches, palpitations, restless legs; I twitch and growl.  It is all part of the price.  But I hadn’t reckoned on passing on this price to others – to the crustaceans secreting stress hormones from low-level exposure to the self-same stuff.

I should know this by now.  What we do to the water in our bodies, we do to the waters of the earth – just as what we do to the earth, we do to our bodies.  I smell the traces, as my body rids itself of these waste elements in its water, and I know that these same traces seep into the waters that surround me, hydrate me, irrigate the crops I eat and cradle the marine life I love.

What is to be done?  I am not ready, yet, to relinquish this great pleasure in my life – but I do know that the next time I decide to quit, on a new moon in Spring, I will carry the body of this knowledge with me.

This mysterious black and bitter Arabian drink, with its power to ward off sleep, is the stuff of legends; some of them stretching back over hundreds of years.  Mindful of its ritual place in Arabian and East African culture, perhaps once I have broken this addiction I will save it for only the most special of occasions.  A small change, perhaps – a drop in the ocean – but a change I feel I need to make.

Quotation from Strands by Jean Sprackland.


halcyon days

walking home along the seafront, the air like bated breath

the sea is beyond blue, today –  it’s the colour of light, and so still that all sense of space is suspended.  The barest ripple of a wave breaks the illusion of the surface

and I am reminded of the halcyon days, when the sea is so still that kingfishers can settle on the shore to lay their eggs.  The perfect blue of these summer evenings, after relentless months of rain; I am glad to see it one more time, at least, before I leave.

My books are packed away in boxes, my flat swept bare and clean; and somewhere in my stories – across seas, across seasons – Ceyx and Alcyone meet again, to nest.

a Welsh connection

In the small harbour town of Burry Port, 84 years and 6 days ago, Amelia Earhart touched down in a small seaplane called Friendship, and became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.  She was a few days shy of her 31st birthday.

Amelia’s achievement is part of the landscape of my childhood.  I remember my mother taking me down Stepney Street, between the harbour and the house where she grew up, to show me the monument that commemorates this flight – an obelisk topped with a small brass plane and inscribed with the words:

in commemoration of Miss Amelia Earhart of Boston, USA, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, who, with her companions Wilmur Stultz and Louis Gordon, flew from Trespassey, Newfoundland, to Burry Port in 20hrs 49 minutes in the Seaplane named Friendship on June 18th 1928

At the time, I wondered how something so exciting could possibly have happened in such a small, run-down town (the answer is, of course: by accident).  If the flight had made it to Southampton, as planned, I might never have heard of Amelia Earhart except in passing.  Local pride plays its part in passing on the tale – but hers is a tale worth telling.

She had only co-piloted the plane that landed in Burry Port; she would not complete her solo transatlantic flight until nearly four years later.  But on that day in 1928, Amelia Earhart had succeeded where three other women had died in the attempt.  In her words:  “women must try to do things as men have tried.  When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

The young Amelia kept a scrap-book of women who were successful in supposedly ‘male’ pursuits.  She referred to her marriage as a partnership “with dual control.”  She wrote about the beauty of flying among the stars at night and watching the moon set from the air.  She sipped hot chocolate, alone, 8000 feet above the Pacific, to shake off the chill of the altitude.  She lived, and blazed a trail for the rest of us to follow.

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”

Happy 115th birthday, Amelia Earhart!