Some say April is the cruellest month but I found July to be more punishing.
You might think that, for university staff like myself, July would bring respite from the tiresome enslavement of exam and project marking that fills all of June. At the end of that gruelling month the students are granted their grades and degrees and finally quit the campus.
But as July hoved into view all I could see were deadlines piling up on one another: courses for next year to be organised and meetings to be had, a grant application to be written, a paper to be submitted, results to be chewed over with my research group in what never seemed like enough time. Weeks and weekends of work followed one another in a continuum of demand that wound up and ground down. I knew my holiday was coming but did not have the energy to look forward to it.
But less than 24 hours after slinking home dead-faced from work, I am in Crete, under the sun and by the sea and determined to do nothing. The cares of work have not yet washed away but they are being eroded as the waves swish and thump against the shore. The house we have rented backs right onto the beach.
The air is warm here and the sky endlessly blue. The water invites and rolls you in its warm, salty embrace. The sand and stones are hot underfoot. My horizon is miles away, a perfect line where the sea and the sky meet before disappearing. On either side are two mountainous arms that reach northwards to enclose the lagoon. They bear almost no human trace – just a single dusty track scored along the base of the western slopes. Moving perpetually in from the dark blue of the horizon, the waves swish and thump against the shore.
As the sun descends at the end of the day, it blazes a dazzling trail across the water. Eventually the shining disc dips behind the mountains to the west, bathing the shadowed land in a coloured glow. As the sky darkens stars and planets wink into being. I see Saturn hanging beneath bright Arcturus. Soon the whole black canopy of night is alive with glittering light. The plough, with majesty, commands centre stage. Over to the east Cassiopeia lays out her careless ‘W’.
Tomorrow the sun will come up and throw a fresh cover of flawless blue across the sky. The pattern of light and sound and warmth and dark will recur. It is an ancient rhythm that I had forgotten.
The waves swish and thump against the shore.