Lincolnshire pillbox time

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
March 2024

By Maxim Griffin.

Let’s go – the sun will be with us – haul away east as the light of day breaks the horizon – a line of fire low over the marshes as the Velvets crank out a squall on the car stereo – great flocks of mystery birds crossing the drama and tension of Saltfleetby, all black feathers and ecstatic violas – the ride will meet us further on, no rush – there’s still ice on the banks of the Eau – a deep frost – see you in a while and the truck is waved off – four boys and the dog – the Emily Play rests in the silt of the Haven, Captain Keith is elsewhere – the troops mount the bank, a cold breeze in the myriad grasses – someone’s having a bonfire out of sight – damp wood smoke blue drifting through creeping sunbeams – the youngest, now six, calls – “A horse!” – sure enough there is – a shaggy brown mare by a pool of mud and ice – and behind her a shaggy brown foal – no fences – huh – they seem happy enough – all our steamy breaths lift and the horses walk away, not really bothered.

From the prospect of the frozen bank the 10-year-old calls and points – “Geese!” – indeed, all the geese are here – a town meeting of geese stand in circular conference – perhaps the topic is one of forthcoming spring navigations and their journey ahead to the summer lands – no one here speaks plain goose so it’s difficult to tell – kiddo joins in, a loose approximation of their voices, but, he is told, without knowing the proper form he could be saying something very rude.

Song of the marshes
That smoke keeps blowing out toward the sea – a blue line turning grey as it fades – hitting the vastness of the salt marsh proper – the 11-year-old, one hand in coat Napoleon-style, exclaims, “It’s Lincolnshire pillbox time!” He’s not wrong – the lads thunder on with the dog to the concrete sentinel – something’s amiss – a sign glued to it – Do Not Climb – that’s new – hmm – climb away, some signs are there to be ignored – on top, with this landscape before all, a far-gone ship heading out into the wilds of the North Sea – shh – listen to the song of the marshes – quiet save the lone solos of a curlew – something is moving out there – three deer pop up a hundred paces east and peg it as fast as they can in this direction – they split before the pillbox – one north, two south, and dash effortlessly into the tangle on the dunes beyond. As if by magic, 27 great egrets take off – white crosses on grey and brown and that smoke keeps on blowing out toward the sea.

Fella with two deerhounds warns us of the path we will take – slippy, he says – the dogs greet each other gently and everyone takes turns in issuing fusses as is proper – good boy, good boy, good girl – Meg, who is sometimes socially awkward, takes it in her stride and is rewarded with a biscuit – good girl, good girl.

The fella was not wrong – this one good path across the marsh is frozen solid still – the kind of ice you don’t feel until gravity escapes you – the eldest, now 14, skids along in a flail of limbs, scarecrow style – to the others, this is good sport – he who skids farthest and hardest is some kind of winner – the 27 egrets watch from the reeds, judging this nonsense – a wide long pool looks thick and slippery and inviting – the lads are gently reminded of the legendary/tragic Norse ice skater Tor Eckhoff and very rightly back away.

Those egrets keep gunning low north to south, south to north – the lads slip ahead, zoning in on the next pillbox – kiddo calls out – “It’s Lincolnshire pillbox time again!” – the Do Not Climb sign has fallen off so there’s no sign to ignore – good – the younger two take turns executing slick moves, many of which involve leaping and finishing off unseen assailants – this is the way – the older two are scanning the dunes with a pair of mostly broken binoculars and calling out assorted sights – “rabbit, rabbit, bird” – “cow, cow, cow!” – a herd of fine looking cattle roams part of the dunes that has been cleared of gorse – a barbed wire fence where the thorns were – a big red heifer strolls the perimeter – she comes up close to the rear of the pillbox – the dog’s alert – the cow comes within a few paces and the dog starts wagging – the movement freaks the cow out and she dashes to the far side of the enclosure with uncommon speed sending the rest of the herd into a chorus of panic – meanwhile the younger boys finish off stormtroopers with blades of ice – 20 egrets judge the scene.

Post-war relic
Cut across the marsh and out to the ruin of the Comet – if you know it, you know it and you know where to find it – the welding’s still bright and the armour plate is still thick – it’s a surprise that the salt and sand haven’t devoured this post-war relic, but she’s still here, half-sunk and full of crabs – there’s no ice to slip on so the capering of sons ends in a series of soggy thuds and a series of soggy trousers – they make their way, squelching over the intertidal zone and begin to feel pangs of hunger – second breakfast is expected – sausages promised and the dog looks cold – the sausage promise is enough to get the now mardy crew to cover a final mile – the ride calls – be about 10 minutes.

Now bedraggled, the boys trudge slower and slower – spread out thin, losing cohesion – the sun’s a pale coin in the cloud and it’s still only half-nine in the morning – the dog is steaming – there’s a concrete track to the tiny car park where the truck is waiting, Velvet Underground on heavy rotation – kiddo spies another bunker in a copse before the farmland – he calls out – “It’s Lincolnshire pillbox time!”

On the ride home the sun’s so bright we all wear sunglasses and pick up sausages from a butcher in Manby – it’s 10am and the rest of Saturday lies before us.

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to ... See MoreSee Less