A small village by the sea, a retreat, a haven, a home. Pretty old cottages nestling around the harbour whilst newer houses climb the slopes above the bay. A day which dawns clear blue, sun glinting off the bay and the deeper azure outside the small headland. Coffee, breakfast and then a walk.

Out past families on the sand, settled with sandcastles and picnic rugs in the sunshine, children jumping and shrieking in the baby surf which tumbles onto the sand. Climbing now through hedgerows of head-height gorse, elder in flower and ragged robin, then onto the cliff-top where sea-pinks reign supreme. A view back over the bay as the retreating tide shows wide stretches of sand and a black-tide mark on the cliffs to mark high-water. Round the headland and along the coast in high sunlight beating on heads and backs and  arms up to the highest point of the bay where a small church nestles on the headland overlooking the Irish Sea. Bay of St Patrick where he allegedly landed shipwrecked, to find a sheltering cave and a freshwater spring to nurture him.

In the graveyard, stones telling stories sweet and sad. The couple who died within  a year of each other in their nineties, the woman who survived husband and five children by twenty years, all of them dying one after the other within one unimaginably bleak ten year period.  Sitting on the headland we exchanged our own stories and confidences, giving and receiving love, support, advice, and the simple gift of a space to speak and be heard.

And later I swam. Accompanied by my own safety flotilla of five people in three kayaks and a boat, out across the bay and round the headland to a beach below the little church where we had bathed hot feet on the way back from our walk. Out through the sea that had looked like wrinkled silk from the cliff and which, once I was in it, lifted and dropped and washed and rolled and supported me. Past the black rocks of the headland, friends to each side as I rolled to breathe, giving me space to conquer my demons of fear that the swell would be too big, too scarey, too cold. Stretch and catch and pull and push, stroke stroke breathe, stroke sight breathe, all the way out and all the way back again, cradled by the sea and by the presence of friends. Not too scarey after all. A challenge met and mastered, friendships celebrated and renewed, a beautiful day in a beautiful place. Paradise.

And now…The Footballing Fact Of The Day!
Xabi, pronounced “Shabby”, Alonso, is a Spanish midfielder currently playing for Real Madrid. Xabi Alonso is an excellent name for a footballer, but Shabby Alonso would be an even better name for a cat.
That was The Footballing Fact Of The Day. I thank you.