Thursday, 11 September 2014

Evening Tide at St Brelade

There's something wonderful about the light and calm in an evening in St Brelade in late August. The full heat of the noon day sun has gone, but it is still fairly warm, and as the tide comes in, cool sea breezes waft in.

When Katalin and I went down to the sea, there was a magnificent fortress of sand being shored up by children and parents against the incoming tide. Sand gets soggy and collapses very quickly, so they were hard at work, adding more sand as each passing wave took away their sea defenses.

Canute the Great c. 985 or 995 – 12 November 1035) was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Swedenoften referred to as the Anglo-Scandinavian or North Sea Empire. When I was at school, history consisted, as remembered, mostly of a series of anecdotal tales. The one about Canute. The story is told in Henry of Huntingdon's Twelfth Century Chronicle of England, and a translation from the Latin reads:

With the greatest vigor he commanded that his chair should be set on the shore, when the tide began to rise. And then he spoke to the rising sea saying “You are part of my dominion, and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord”. 

But the sea carried on rising as usual without any reverence for his person, and soaked his feet and legs. Then he moving away said: “All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws”. 

Therefore King Cnut never afterwards placed the crown on his head, but above a picture of the Lord nailed to the cross, turning it forever into a means to praise God, the great king."

Which, of course, has given us the maxim that "you cannot turn back the tide".

There was a smaller sandcastle also built close by. The seaside is a place for enjoyment of sand castle building, and I remember we used to buy flimsy little flags, paper flags on a small stick,  to brighten up the castles.

The history of sand castle building is supposed to go back to ancient Egypt, but there is no real evidence of that. The earliest mention is around the 16th century, but with scant evidence. It is really when sand sculptures rather than sand castles come in to their own that we get a lot of history, with Philip McCord, who created a sand sculpture of a woman and a baby in 1897 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This was to raise money, which is why there is so much documentation from the publicity he did.

The rain came out, and we all took shelter. Afterwards, there was a wonderful rainbow across the bay, and here is a lovely picture of Katalin with the rainbow descending towards her.

The story of the rainbow comes in the earliest account of Noah's ark, when he makes an animal sacrifice to give thanks for being saved from the flood, and, as the story tells us, God puts a rainbow in the sky to promise that such destruction will never again be wrought upon the earth. With ferocious storms, flooding, rising sea levels, we may find that promise looking a bit shaky, but the rainbow itself is a wonderful thing of beauty.

The rainbow itself is an optical effect, caused by the splitting of water droplets. Optical effects, like the mirage of water on hot roads, are in fact some of the strangest phenomena that we encounter. You can photograph a rainbow, as in fact I did, but it is not in fact tangible; it is purely an effect of water and light, and perhaps rather like a ghost, is not a material substance but a process.

Rainbows have the spectrum colours identified by Newton after diffracting light through a prism. These are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. When I was growing up, we learnt the mnemonic "Richard of York gained Battle in Vain" as the way to remember them.

There were fisherman out on the pier, and a few boats made their way lazily towards the land. It was a good end to the day.

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