I remember walking on the beach, me and mum always fell behind dad. Hands never big enough, pockets never deep enough. We’d tell ourselves we had to be strict and only get the best, but there are so many of the best that you end up with armfulls.

Dad wasn’t really any better. He was just more discerning, but then again you’d expect that of a geologist. The hint of a fossil hidden inside, really good, interesting quartz streaking against the rock, or just something weird and metamorphic.

And shells. Shells!

Shells on the shore are always beautiful, and water makes everything glisten; makes the world shine. So the three of us would walk along the beach, absurdly, picking up rocks and shells, return to the car overladen with worthless treasure.

What was the point? What was the bloody point? We saw them, saw they were gorgeous, picked them up and carried them, forgot about them. The best fate that awaited them was to be used to weigh down plant pots in the garden. Interesting rocks getting lost amidst interesting rocks, and shells bleaching in the sun. Some of the prettier ones sit on the kitchen windowsill, alongside a handful of fossils, pinecones. Some sit in the bathroom. I’m sure a few lie forgotten in rarely-opened drawers. Rocks and shells, waiting for some future archaeologist’s puzzlement. What was the bloody point?

They are beautiful tho, at first. When they’re fresh and gleaming, when you first pick them up.

I remember, living in Leeds and walking through Hyde Park, my parents visiting. Dad stooping down, stooping down, stooping down again to pick up conkers. Polished wood, ripples winding their way across and around. Conkers feel good in your hand, cool and fresh.

“Bloody conkers! Y’know we’ve got more conkers than…”

“Oh, we’ve bowls full of them in the house. We’re overflowing” mum comments. Then, “they are gorgeous tho”

“I just can’t help myself” he says, bemused as he stuffs more into his pockets.

I laugh and plunge my hands into mine, bringing out overflowing handfuls. Runs in the family, y’see? None of us can help ourselves. They are gorgeous tho, at first.

Conkers don’t last. The shine fades, then the colour fades, the wood shrinks and dies. That’s the problem with living things, I guess. And shells fade and rocks get lost and everything stops being as brilliant as it was that moment you first saw it and held it and decided you had to have it. But I’m not sure we really pick them up so we can have them; we pick them up so we can hold them, just for a little while, and know that they’re beautiful.



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