ON THAT high-collared, low-hatted, bone-numbing night along the haunted promenade of the old holiday resort, the frozen air sang with pellets, while the temperature sank until even the roots of the icebergs trembled and the wee fish wished for a hot bath.
On the other side of the big river stood the symbols of man’s ambition and, with a strange beauty, they began to cross over, dancing lightly on the rising roll of the water.
Well, that’s how it seemed to this would-be poet, as he strode from the railway station down the hill to the shore. There, I gazed over to the city, amazed by the spray of lights cast on the water by the offices and shops, the monuments to civic dignity and commerce, the dock sheds and museums, the sculpted skyscrapers of the money-shuffling years.
Of course, I had seen these buildings hundreds of times in the light of day, but this was as dark as a winter’s night could be – and the beauty of the scene was intense enough to hold your eyes, so that they would make a photograph in the memory.
There were many colours in the lights of that night.
The orange and yellow that you would have expected had been joined by blue, green, red and silver, all shining and winking for different masters – blessedly in no order, but in a crazy array of changing patterns, conducted by the slow revolutions of the grey-limbed wind turbines. But it was so bitter that I had to walk on, past the site of the tower that had once dominated the skyline of old New Brighton and then to the Magazine pub, where people of a certain style were meeting to read their poems, sing songs and tell stories.
In celebration of Christmas, the bar staff had laid on a splendid spread. And I watched the sensitive eyes of a good woman, quick-stepping over the pies, across a valley of sausages, by-passing a hill of chicken thighs, before finally settling on the green plains of the vegetarian offerings.
The next morning, I entered the marble café, hidden on the windiest street in the world, to find my good friend the Philosopher in the act of scalping a large egg at our table amid the ghosts on the old bandstand. With a single slice of the teaspoon, he removed the top shell, revealing a steaming yolk of deep colour, more inviting than the Aztec gold, which had driven the Spanish conquistadores mad.
On the saucer, beside the eggcup, lay three soldiers of hot buttered brown toast and a hillock of salt. On taking my seat, I said that beauty reached us in many different ways. My companion did not speak for several long seconds, as he dipped a strip of toast in the yolk.
So I told him of the lovely turquoise in my wife’s eyes that intensifies or lightens according to her mood – and then I spoke of our rabbit Molly who, in the late afternoon, sits in a fluffy ball under her bush in the garden, waiting for me to pick her up and return her to the safety of the house. My wife follows us, the stone on her necklace still glowing in the dying light.
“Carrot for carat, you’re better off with me,” thinks Molly. But, as I lower my hand for her, she hops tantalisingly, a whisker out of reach, as if unleashed by a hair-trigger, or a hare-trigger, as she might think – if she’s on top form. She succumbs to my hand by lowering her pricked ears, only when she is ready.
“The human desire is to capture beauty, to hold it, to imprison it, to brand its brief moment with permanence,” said the Philosopher, as he hollowed out the egg. “But once the sensation, has been captured forever, or tamed, you will find that it loses some of the intensity that first stirred your soul.”
“Will I never see the river between Liverpool and New Brighton in quite the same way again?” I asked. “It will be different each time,” said the Philosopher.
“But who knows, next time it might be even more beautiful.”