Holding the Quarzite Hand of Tender Love, Or: How Small People Meet
Between a Wee Rock and a Soft Place
I’ve always had a fascination for stones of all kinds- anything that glitters or shines really. The most enduring memories I have resonate with incidents involving the finding of stones and rocks and secret places with shiny surfaces. The earliest memories are of playing with marbles- also something collected. But the one ‘rock solid’ memory - if you’ll pardon the pun- is encapsulated in the stone before me now.
I’ve kept this stone in a box, held her so often that the rough surface and hard base are ingrained in my mind as if they were always there, as if somehow they belonged to my story in the same way as the back of my hand is the knowledge of all things incisively remembered.
The story of this stone is a magical day of discovery and happiness and occurred when I was aged ten.
When we were younger my mother would drive my two elder brothers and I the long road from Scotland, down the West side of Britain, all the way to Devonshire. The journey would take maybe 9 hours with breaks for meals normally. Then the trip would be longer and much more gruelling as there was no M6 Motorway. It would be nearer 12 hours- with breaks to let us boys play footie in the fields at the side of the road while mum prepared a picnic.
This all occurred in the late Sixties, early Seventies, in a Morris Oxford.
We were on our way to visit my Aunt Janet and my cousins in Axminster. My Auntie Janet from Glasgow had married Able Seaman Harry Harris with his Royal Navy cap and bellbottom trousers during the Second World War, which was 17 years over by the time I was born. mf
The day of my finding the large rock- for in fact, this wee stone that fits in the palm of my hand was part of a rock the size of a dinner plate- occurred in July 1970, in a place called Lyme Regis on the south coast of England not far from Axminster, along the area of rocky coastline that is famous for other finds like fossils.
Going into Lyme Regis you descended the hill into the town, the car would be pointing straight down towards the beach and the sea. You would pass the usual things- ‘beach’ shops for want of a better word, shops selling the precious ingredients for a good day out by the sea: plastic pots and spades for sandcastles, bamboo canes with nets for rock pools, windbreaks with big sticks, big parasols for shade, sun-hats and sun-cream, garishly advertised on windows with ‘knock-down prices’ and ‘get it all here’ signs. The smarter Mum knew to drive by before boys nagged overmuch and persuaded a stop to buy and buy sand and sea and sun, rocks and fun….
I can still see the dry sand heated by summer sun- the South Coast of England gets real sunshine, not cloud-filtered greyness like Scotland, especially in July- and feel the wet sand between my ten-year-old toes, smell the finest Cornish pasties on sale on the stone walkway above the beach.
Swimming all day had turned into early evening beach-combing. I found the head of a large conger-eel, a steel hook the size of my ten-year-old middle finger still embedded in the mouth! Gaping mouths of congers would invade bedtime dreams for weeks ahead.
The hook pocketed and head discarded (it was a trifle gross…) I carried along.
Someone had been tagging along not far behind me, but I had not quite decided what to do about it, if anything. For one thing the person, on furtive perusal, with an accidental glance whilst checking that cloud up there- the one that looks strangely like Blackbeard, when you frowned in a deep, thoughtful and important way, without trying too hard to be too curious at the tagger-alonger….. that person was a girl.
Somehow that didn’t seem as scary, contemptuous or threatening as it had last year, at a similar time, when girls were frowned upon.
Somehow, the feet below the knees were slowing in their progress along the beach, in fact they’d virtually stopped. And somehow, the girl was much nearer than she had been before.
She was English and she smiled quietly and often but didn’t say much.
Looking back I’m certain it was because in reality, for want of a better way of putting it, whatever I said to her she failed to comprehend. She did nod in a friendly way and looked interested, at the (now) varied things being pointed out to her in a rather animated way.
My cousins had said rather often that my accent and the words I used were beyond them, incomprehensible, entirely a different tongue. So it was little wonder that Millie, as she called herself, didn’t really engage in too much conversation.
As we wandered the beach I looked again at a pile of boulders I’d seen previously, all tumbled together. I’d scrambled over them already but this time I had a rather pretty girl who might admire my climbing prowess. So I clambered up- waving back to encourage her. But what happened next was a kind of ‘Open Sesame!’ moment that Alladin would have been proud of at the entrance to the infamous cave.
For me then and now it remains a gloriously happy moment, a living memory that I can visit in my head any time.
Through the gap in the rocks I saw something glittering below. I stopped, trying to adjust my eyes to the shade under the rocks. As I focused, I knew I was looking at something probably no one had ever seen. Otherwise, why hadn’t it been touched, taken away and admired? I shouted madly for Millie. Her head, with its short black shiny hair, blue eyes and lovely smile, came into view with a halo of evening sun bright behind framing her head as I looked up. I asked her to come nearer. She leaned and as I squeezed between the rocks and she saw what I’d seen, I felt a surge of pleasure at her supporting my arm as I dropped into the gap.
I picked up the rock. With a massive dark grey base encrusted all over the top with hundreds of white and pink quartz crystals, as the evening light above Millie touched it and as I stretched its solid weight up for Millie to lift through the gap the light in her eyes shone with sparks of pleasure and joy.
I climbed up, not really needing any help but getting generous armfuls of it anyway from Millie, who was obviously delighted at the find. We sat on top of the enormous boulders on this beautiful beach in England and wondered, pointing at this treasure. It was as if a hunk of living starlight had dropped onto our laps. We couldn’t speak at the surprise of it.
Finally I did something that I’ve done again and again, from that day to this. I said, ‘You have a piece, Millie!’ ‘No, I can’t do that! It was you who found it!’ I insisted. I lifted the rock and bumped it down and it broke. Lifting a piece, I handed it to her. To this day, I can still feel my heart speeding up since, as she accepted the rock she leaned forward and kissed my cheek, smiling her ‘Thank you’.
To this day, I can remember walking with difficulty, my left hand hugging a number of quartz-encrusted rocks to my chest, with Millie’s hand in my right as she led me back to her parents, showed them the rock I’d given her, the mum and dad smiling and thanking us for the gift. I say ‘us’, because I could not take all the credit, saying that ‘Without Millie’s help…’ it would not have been possible, to which she modestly and shyly shook her head- but I felt a sneaking feeling that she appreciated the words.
This wee stone is still with me, 50 years later. It’s a small stone because all my life, I’ve been giving pieces away bit by bit and it got smaller and smaller that big rock. To this day, it’s not about receiving gifts that delights, though that’s fine and grand. It’s the ‘thank yous’ as you give away what you have and the pleasure that gives, which brings back the joy of giving away the first piece of quartz, handed to a stranger who became a friend. It really was very nice to be between a wee rock and a soft place for once.