There are places which, for want of a better term, become iconic. That is, they become forever associated with one event, person or idea. The traditional repository for this type of connection, this type of metonymy, is the one either designed for it, or the one which burns itself into the collective unconscious through sheer force of spectacle, or perhaps both simultaneously such as London’s Monument. But the most powerful seem to be those that become synonymous with absence. The sheer mass of the Menin Gate in Ypres (or Leper, depending on your predilection) always astounds – the thousands of undiscovered given a merely lapidary burial. The physical manifestation of unbeing, shown simultaneously through the absence of small slivers of stone on the side of the massy triumphal arch and the collective shout of thousands upon thousands of names all dying and vanishing in unison which makes the arch’s stone look utterly insignificant.
Yesterday evening I walked from the east pier to home. Not a long walk, but a strangely significant one. It was below freezing, and as I crumped along the frozen, compacted stones I was utterly alone. It was utterly perfect.
The clarity of the night sky is quite something to behold. It’s a little like the air becomes crystalline, magnifying and focusing the stars until they become just that little bit sharper, just that little bit bigger, just that that little bit more starry. Thoughts are focused in the same way, as the combination of crystalline sky and frost-bitten solitude combine to set the mind free, just that little bit. Perspective is also enhanced.
So I walk to the west pier, now just a slight darkening over the inky sea, a red light flashing out in the distance. It’s how I remember it, though last time I approached from the west, and the sun was yet to entirely sink below the yardarm, let alone the horizon. This time it was like last time: cold, serene, beautiful.
But it was also very, very lonely.
I stood beside it, at the first big shingle dip, and sucked in the cold, cold air. I drank in the silence. I basked in the solitude. For ten minutes I stood there.
Then I walked home. I think everything ought to have changed then. The pier signifies one absence to me.
I walked home. And everything stayed the same.