Nancy on the Ness


I was in Orford in Suffolk last week for the Lighthouse Songs project. And so was my Grandma Nancy. I knew that my Grandma, who now lives in Vancouver, was gravely ill in hospital. She grew up in Orford, daughter of a coastguard. She used to tell me stories of her girlhood, such as sleeping out in the coastguard lookout on the ness (pictured), next to the lighthouse. So, thinking of her being at the end of her life, I wrote her a song as if her spirit was back in her first home. I read the lyrics to the children, as a way of exploring themes of ageing, memory and history. Then, amazingly, after writing it, I heard that Granma had told the nurse ‘My name is Nancy Abbs and I live in Orford”. She said that she was “running across the tiles and up the hill” (which I think is the bumpy hill with the castle on it). She thought she was sleeping in her bed in the coastguard cottage below the castle, rather than in the hospital. As I post this, she’s still alive, hovering between her childhood world and the present.

Your long life is ending Nancy

Time to lie back and let go

Dream your last hours here dancing

Come back to where you were a girl

Your spirit is here still Nancy

From when you slept here as a child

Along with your sister my auntie

On nights that were moonlit and mild


Will you row your boat across the Ore

Row your boat and pull on your oars

To the lookout to sleep where your father works

As lookout to sea where trouble lurks

Come to the Ness this summer night

Come here to rest old Nancy tonight


The sound of the sea on the shingle

The waves will lull you to sleep

The sights of the Ness will mingle

With dreams of watery deep

The moon is a lantern of paper

The Lighthouse a stripe candy rock

It’s flashing to keep us all safer

In this dream it never will stop



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