Sea pictures with Elgar

All of us will have memories associated with the sea. As a wheelchair user, my own have, until recently, been distant ones.

We have been taking our children to Cornwall for the last twenty years. For the last fifteen, each visit has served as a slightly painful yardstick for my MS: ‘I could do this last year, but I can’t now.’ My most frustrating annual realizations were acknowledging that my golfing days with my son were behind me, as were my pathetic attempts at body-boarding with friends and the rest of my family.

If I’m honest, I used to spend more time at the water’s edge, standing in a Duke-of-Edinburgh-like pose with my hands behind my back, gazing out to sea; invariably with something on my feet, because I have this peculiar aversion to sand between my toes and the difficulty of getting rid of it later. What’s that all about?

But this year was different. It was the first time I was able to say “I couldn’t do this last year, but I can now.”

Through the generosity of a private charity, I now have an electric wheelchair which has something of a Heineken effect. From the house we rent, with no other building between us and the sea, I was able to negotiate terrain hitherto inaccessible and wonder at a view I hadn’t seen for over ten years.

That tiny speck in the distance  is me.


And this is what I feasted my eyes and ears on: an expanse of colour and sound which unfolded gradually as my chair edged closer. I felt like a child, experiencing it all for the first time, because I had quite forgotten what I had been missing until it was there in front of me.


It is little wonder that the sea has captured the attention of poets, artists, and musicians. In music there is a wealth of work to convey its mystery and power.

Dame Janet Baker has recently celebrated her 85th birthday and it is high time this blog gave her beautiful and distinctive voice an airing. Edward Elgar, about whom I have written in previous posts (pop Elgar in the Search box for more), wrote his song cycle Sea Pictures in 1894. The most well-known, Where Corals Lie, is a poem by Richard Garnett, beckoning its reader to the sea. It is just a few minutes long, and has this lovely, slightly haunting, melody, coupled with an almost nervous beat. Baker’s rich, dark voice is a perfect fit to both words and music.

Make sure you listen right to the end: I doubt there is a better rendition – and to abandon it early would be to miss the last chord, which is sweetness itself, and one which could so easily have come from the hand of his fellow Englishman, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

‘I must go down to the sea again…’, wrote John Masefield. It is an unfulfilled desire I’ve had for many years, at last accomplished this summer.

Oh, and I even pottered around the golf course with my son, too. So that’s two things I couldn’t do last year, and now can.

Click on the image and picture yourself by the sea.