On Sunday, I drove south to visit family, straight through Storm Dennis. My little low-slung Puma hugged the road, nose down, aerodynamically sneaking under gusts of winds. Rain fell heavily in places, surface water shearing up in cascades, long queues here and there, in a day as dark and overcast as night.
We sped our way through Dennis, listening on the radio as flood alerts were announced, rail services cut, Heathrow brought to a standstill and whiteboards used instead of electronic ones. Wales has suffered badly. In nearby Herne Bay, a building collapsed.
As I came down the A299, on my way to Thanet, the Isle of the Dead, sunset approaching, the sky cleared to powder blue, wispy clouds lit delicately by the last rays. A sign for Minster: I had made it, 180 miles of tumult.
Like a child, excited by the wind, I wanted to go down on the shore, see the foamy waves rolling in the dark. Instead, I had a glass of wine and dinner with my sister. I could hear it, though, the wind, outside the window, crashing and banging like an unrequited lover. My sister caught my eye and smiled the smile that women share.
Awake in the first light, the grey sky brightening, I ate in the services, startled by the many people about: rigs and vans, school children in parkas, backpackers with maps, wandering back and forth, unsure of their way. A cheery manager in the restaurant, yes, he starts at 5.30am, he lives locally, his family are from Whitstable although he was born in Portsmouth, he has three children. He whistles on the way back to the kitchen with my order, a jaunty roll to his stride, a landlocked sailor, caught in a motorway service station.
I head down Laundry Road to the coast. The sun is rising, the sky fills with blue, the tide rolling out from the bay. The Puma gently noses her way through a break in the sea wall defences, the metal gate lying broken on the concrete skirt. I park among the dog walkers and head out across the salt marsh, fresh sturdy gusts rushing to welcome me, fold me into their turbulent embrace.
Pegwell Bay looking east to the estuary of the Stour, just after 8am, about an hour after sunrise. Part of the Sandwich and Pegwell Bay nature reserve.
The sun on the sea, birds singing, apart from deeper and more pools you would never know that Dennis had been here, rampaging, breaking the banks of rivers, pulling down trees, taking cars for a swim.
Looking west across the bay to the chalk cliffs of Ramsgate and the coast of the North Foreland extending beyond that.
I learn about the different first lights:
Astronomical twilight is when the centre of the sun is between 12° and 18° below the horizon. From the end of astronomical twilight in the evening to the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning, the sky away from light pollution is dark enough for all astronomical observations.
Nautical twilight is the time when the centre of the sun is between 6° and 12° below the horizon. In general, nautical twilight ends when navigation via the horizon at sea is no longer possible.
Morning civil twilight (civil dawn) begins when the centre of the sun is 6° below the horizon and ends at sunrise. Evening civil twilight (civil dusk) begins at sunset and ends when the geometric centre of the sun reaches 6° below the horizon.
I watch the tide and listen to the song of the birds. I read the notice board and learn of all the many different birds that have made this bay their home in January 2020:
Judgment Day has come and gone, the insurance companies are rubbing their hands, imagining fresh torments to heap upon people, but the birds and the bay are untouched.