BBeing a former Natural Sciences student (way back in the early years of this century) I’ve met a few elderly geologists. They’re usually the ones teaching the first years.
“A good example of sandstone layering can be seen above us.”
Doctor Albert Grenville pointed to the cliffs behind him. His class of first year Earth Sciences students nodded along as they huddled around him in the chilly April sunlight. The wind had dropped and a few brave souls had taken out pens and notebooks in an attempt to get some notes down.
“Today I want you to walk the beach, observing the cliff closely. Your assignment depends on you being able to remember a few things about it. I recommend taking photographs and sketching. Remember, I want an A3 poster describing the past environments embodied in this stretch of cliff. Point out the swales, and the ripples, the mud stone layers and what they tell us about the changing environment. Really get to know this cliff. Forty percent of you module mark depends on it.”
Doctor Grenville laughed, his students joining in nervously. It was their first field trip and they were unsure.
“Right, get on with it. I’ll leave you to your own devices, but be back at the coach at four this afternoon, and keep am eye on the tide.”
The students nodded and muttered. It would have to do, Albert shrugged, students seemed to get less articulate every year. He watched them disperse along the beach, a few had already given up on their notebooks and had take out cameras and phones to record their work. Really, things had changed so much since they had first come here, fifty years ago.
Albert, young and freshly appointed PhD student in the new geology labs at his university, was on holiday with his fiance and her mother. The summer air was filled with the ozone smell of the sea and the fried fish he and Melissa carried along the beach, looking for somewhere private to eat their supper.
The young couple are arm in arm as they stroll along the pebble beach, joyfully empty of shouting children and overbearing mothers.
“Look, there’s a cave. We should explore.” Melissa pointed to a shadow in the cliff base twenty yards away. Her blond hair escaped from her scarf, a few curls around her forehead.
“Food first. I’m ravenous.”
“Me too, absolutely famished.”
“How many more houses is your mother going to make us look ’round?”
“I’ve no idea darling, She was quite taken with the two we saw this morning.”
They scrambled into the dip in the cliff base, barely two yards deep. They found two rounded boulders sat in the middle of a sandy floor, the tide line a clear break just inside the cave. Melissa sat, crossing her ankles, and opened the newspaper wrapped packet of fish and chips.
Chewing on a chip, Albert’s professional curiosity got the better of him. He rubbed the walls, feeling the sand slough off on his fingers. Coarse, probably from a beach, mid Jurassic. but he could be wrong. The cave was cool the evening breeze and shade taking the edge off the August heat. Albert leaned against the side wall of the cave, barely an inch behind his boulder, to cool his skin further. A day driving in the sun had reddened his fair, freckled skin painfully.
“Sir, Dr Grenville!”
“What?” Albert jumped, sea water soaked through his shoes, “Oh Emma, it’s you.”
His PhD student, helping wrangle students on the field trip for extra pay, stood next to Albert. He looked around, closer to the shore students watched the pair, phones out.
“You’re going to get stranded if you don’t watch out sir.”
“Oh yes, the tide is in already. Thank you Emma. Let’s get back to the getty, shall we?”
“Definitely Dr. Grenville.”
They turned, Emma leading the way, taking a route that lead through the shallowest areas.
“Well, that’s another pair of boots ruined. Melissa won’t be happy.” Albert checked himself as he remembered.
“Yes, that’s why brought my water shoes with me. I remember my trip here as a first year.” Emma distracted him by lifting a foot out of the water high enough for Albert to see the moulded neoprene shoe with individual toes.
“I might have to get some, for next year.”
They walked a few yards further. Emma was troubled. Grenv was getting on a bit but he wasn’t absentminded enough to walk along the spit when the tide was coming in; he’d repeatedly reminded them before they got off the coach to stay close to the cliff and watch the tide.
“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why were you so far out?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Nostalgia I suppose.”
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t understand.”
“The first time I came here was with Melissa, the summer before we married.”
“I see.” Emma’s eyebrows shot up.
Albert laughed at her reaction, “Young people are supposed to be open minded Emma.”
Emma laughed, embarrassed.
“But it wasn’t a dirty weekend. We were here for a fortnight with Melissa’s mother, looking for houses.”
“For you and Mrs Grenville?”
“No, unfortunately not; I couldn’t afford to buy a house then. No, my mother-in-law wanted to move to the seaside, for her health. Melissa enlisted my help as driver for the holiday.”
“And the beach?”
“Our refuge from Dorothy. She was set in her ways, had very strict ideas about how an engaged couple should act.”
“I see. So, good memories? Watch out sir, there’s a deep hole right in front of you.” Emma grasped Albert’s arm and led him around the pit.
The tide had turned while Albert and Melissa ate their supper, the first chance they’d had to be alone all day almost over. The sea lapped up the beach getting dangerously close to the mouth of their cave.
“We’d better be going, the tide will cut us off.” Melissa interrupted Albert’s exploration of the cave.
“Just a second.” He pulled out his camera, winding the film on to the next negative, and took a photograph of Melissa on her boulder, laughing at him.
“Perfect. My siren.” He kissed her and offered her his hand to stand.
“I’m not going to lure you to your doom though.”
“I don’t know; there are times when I’d rather face the Gorgon than your mother.”
“If we don’t hurry back you’ll wish you were facing Medusa. And you’ve got your myths mixed up.”
“Same difference. They’re both Greek.”
Melissa shook her head, smiling. “Well, this siren wants to go back to the hotel and have a bath. Come along, before we’re trapped here.”
The pair left the cave, balling up their chip papers for the return walk along the pebble beach to the getty, where the car waited.
“Here we are Dr. Grenville. Back on solid ground, and just in time for lunch. Will you join the rest of us in the cafe?”
“Why not. There used to be a chip shop that did a lovely battered cod and chips along here.”
Albert looked around, the place had changed so much since his first visit with Melissa. The old chapel was an arcade, and the grocers had become an antiques shop. Melissa had loved their trips here and now they’d never visit together again.