Searching For Albert

As I type, banks of grey and brilliant white clouds are rushing south along the north-east coast of England. The sharp ripples of the estuary are moving at precisely the same speed as the clouds, borne along by the same force of departure – as Storm Ciara scours the landscape and the seascape, searching for Albert.

Albert went missing last week. He is 87 years old and he suffers from dementia. He was last seen walking out towards the fish quay which has a pier jutting out into the North Sea. The search and rescue team that cordoned off the pier a couple of days ago have now called off the search. They think that he’s likely to have fallen from the pier into the sea. One way or another, he’ll be found, but there are too vast swathes of sea to be searched and in terrible conditions. Albert is, in all likelihood, very lost to us. Closure, for his loved ones, will come, but not for some days.

I don’t know Albert. I’ve seen pictures of him posted up in the windows of the butchers, the newsagents, a Tesco Express and an ironmongers. Grey trousers, biege coat and black flat cap, he’s grinning into his walk, a purposeful and forward gait that is warming to behold. It is a static, grainy image full of movement and sound. I can hear his voice: sharp in the diaphragm and full of salt. The word ‘canny’ is even now being dropped into conversations about him, I’ll not doubt.

He walked and he walked. The photo shows him walking. He was last seen walking. His life was a great forward movement: a colossal faith in the sureness of his own footfall. I hasten to repeat that I do not know Albert. To think that he walked and he walked until he ran out of ground, that he continues to walk the seabed, and that he will continue to walk, kelp-strewn, across the earth. Is that thought a comfort or a trivialization?

But his absence and its manner speaks to me. The unfinished shape of it. Pleading with Ciara to bring not just Albert, but all of us home. It pleases me to think that Albert might find his way around the Earth and complete the shape of his life. In imagining him do this, perhaps it is done. Perhaps that is the only way in which such things are done.

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