We sat in the garden this morning while the familiar drone of a light aeroplane filled the otherwise calm sky. It was a vista largely untroubled by clouds and reminded me of the title of a book I bought for my father a few years ago about a squadron in the RAF. It was called, ‘High in the Empty Blue’ and seemed a perfectly apt description of a tiny plane in the vast expanse of sky.
This one flew across our vision, buzzing like a lawnmower with laryngitis and disappeared from view. We could still hear it, though.
‘He is turning around,’ said my husband as the engine register changed note.
‘That’s odd,’ I said. ‘Light travels faster than sound, you would think we would see him before we heard him.’
He was coming back, but higher this time: a tiny white cross against a pale blue backdrop, and then just as my head was tilted fully back: two tiny black dots, like poppy seeds appeared beside the plane. It felt as though if I opened my mouth they would fall right in.
But no, after several seconds of eerie calm following the plane’s departure a walloping of air and speed and fabric as the parachutes unfurled and halted the abrupt descent of the two jumpers. We watched the chutes deploy and spread: one the Saltire of Scotland and the other the Australian flag – nations with no boundaries in the sky.
The parachutist jumpers flew down to earth, riding the currents of air in elaborate spirals to the beach below. Occasionally the breeze carried in a whoop of delight but other than that, it was largely silent, the plane having long since departed.
When we arrived at the beach, there was an enormous flat bottomed vessel hovering at the outer edge of the groyne. A sign had been leant up against one of the rocks that blocked vehicles from the access path to the beach to explain that the harbour was being dredged.
For a moment, I wondered if we might have to cancel our swim, but the boat did not seem to be moving much and was some distance from the shore. It was a large square vessel, with cables running into the sea and there was no way of working out exactly what it was up to. I did not even know that harbour dredging was a thing. My only exposure to dredging was from the TV news when police were looking for murder victims in lakes, or the Elvis Costello song that features the lyric, ‘She’s filing her nails while they’re dredging the lake.’
This seemed a whole lot less sinister. The ship sat moored and silent for a good while and so my only concern ended up being that it might have somehow herded sharks into our peaceful inlet. My husband did little to dispel my wildly over-active imagination. As schools of tiny sand-coloured fish swam around my legs, he announced that they were, ‘bait fish’ used by fishermen as as a signal that something significantly larger was following them.
No shark appeared, though and when the dredger finally started working again, it seemed more interested in going around in slow circles than rounding up dangerous marine life. Lucy swam out over and over to retrieve her ball and Archie clambered over the rocks in search of crab.
So we measured our day. From the tiny dots in the blue to the small dots in the water. And tonight, if the cloud does not come in with the wind that picked up, I shall sit in the garden and watch a thousand bright dots in the big night sky glow with the light that the stars sent long before they died as it finally reaches my eyes.