Blue is the colour of my dreams, the inside and the outside worlds tilting but never quite fully falling over. The flutter of the leaves in the wind and the beauty of the sky’s colours urged me to look up, to embrace the vast emptiness of existence. No comfort was found, history meaning nothing to the future, but no comfort was needed. It wasn’t that life is on a constant knife-edge of imbalance, when is it not?, but the fact that I could embrace the now, the cold comfort of the wind and the cawing of the birds as my own. Distinctly my own, this moment and nothing more. That nothing, or rather no moment, truly mattered or matters in the great cosmic life course of universal matter. We were born and we will die, from whence we began we will return.
When I think of home I think of the sea, of the waves breaking against the rocks and the frothing remainder meeting the land in a head-on rush to embrace it. I remember the time as a child when I was caught on a sandbar between the incoming tide and a deepening pool of seawater between the beach and I, making the pool a barricade that I had nearly lost the will, resolve and confidence to overcome. I was scared of the things that could be lurking in the water, of the large flat jellyfish waiting with their tentacles outstretched and the crabs poised with their claws open, ready to snap at a moment’s hesitation on my part.
My feet were lost to the cold depths at this point and I could feel only the rush of water around my torso even though the bright intense sun hovered overhead, warming each body laid out on the beach in front of me, as if to mock my situation and to suggest that life went on no matter what happened to me. With my cries of worry and my arms waving feebly I was eventually noticed and saved by an older brother who guided me by hand across the treacherous water that had so frightened and paralysed me.
I’d wanted the safety of the land, of something solid under my feet where I could look to the sea unmolested by creatures of the deep. I’d become trapped because I was not paying attention to what was happening around me as I was too busy splashing in the water, resting on the sandbar and admiring the view of family and friends relaxing by the sea.
The journey to get to that beach had felt like a holiday in itself, not a fifteen minute drive from my family home. Packed in the car, almost as tightly as sardines, we would be wearing our swimming trunks clasping plastic spades and buckets. Sometimes a store box, packed with frozen ice packs, accompanied us and was filled full of cool and refreshing snacks that we’d eat after an hour or two of heating up in the fresh salt tinged air. The North Sea would sometimes bring winds that had rallied and rolled across the water coming from as far away as Holland or Denmark, maybe even Norway at a push, or so I had hoped. It was naive to think such things perhaps but I liked the thought of being connected with the countries that we had visited on holidays in the past.
After our little swim and exploration of the sand the two families would trudge back to the parked car, heading through a sandy beach that morphed into a half-hearted shingle before giving way once more to sand dunes, where shark sticks of dried grass would prick your feet and legs as you hobbled over them. It was customary to then shake our clothes free of sand, shaking our bodies in union as we did so, and then push on to purchase an ice cream in a cone and try to all fit into the car once again. We’d had a day at the beach and the sun had tired us out, we needed food and drink to replenish the physical and mental energy that we had lost exploring for shells, oddly shaped stones, the dried out remains of crabs and the dodging of the rubbish that protruded through the sand itself.
I had thought about these summer family trips to the beach years later as I relaxed in the back garden of my university house during my undergraduate years of study. I had gotten lucky with this house so close to the university campus and the local parade of shops – French doors, from my room, led directly into our fairly big back garden where, during the summer, autumn and spring seasons, my house mates and I could relax unencumbered by walls. We read in the sun, drank beer and burnt meat during numerous BBQ’s, we solidified our relationships here too. It was the ideal relaxation area late on a Friday after a week full of lectures, research and writing, where we could gather with a few of our friends and get a mild buzz from drinking beers in the evening sun. Music accompanied those gatherings, music that hung in the cooling air and permeated our bodies to slowly drift off out into the night once we had taken our fill.
The grass under my feet and the fact that I often took off my T-shirt as I lay on the grass meant that I felt truly rooted to the ground and I could stare at the sky freely, my eyes wandering from cloud to cloud or bird to bird as they popped into view. It felt good being partially clothed, to feel the heat of the sun on my own skin or the coldness of the northern breeze against my chest. It was different from sitting in a cool lecture theatre absorbing the information like a sponge, making notes on what I wanted to research and to write about for the next essay or presentation that popped up regularly, like ships on the horizon that appear in a pleasingly timely manner. I wouldn’t admit it to myself, but I enjoyed the peace and the quiet away from the others that came with being down in the back garden by myself. It had a timeless quality, that it felt like I could be a student forever and never truly grow up.
But still, I missed the sea. The waves that broke, that swelled, that seemed to bore ceaselessly on against the land that I called home.
‘They had plenty of talent and some success, but this was England after all, where no one – least of all a good painter – was really rewarded or punished; in England, whatever your profession, you made your own life.’
Paul Theroux in The Kingdom by the Sea (1983).
I’m currently reading one of Theroux’s travel books that I have not read before, a now rare occurrence. I’m a big fan of travel literature, especially of Theroux’s (why yes, I have read his latest on the American South). Partly I think because it means I can travel in my mind when my body cannot. Reading does this to a person though, regardless of circumstance. It lifts you above what you know and what you think you know, it forces you to don someone else’s view point to discover the world, and the people in it, anew.
I haven’t swam in the sea this year and I haven’t swam in fresh water either. This saddens me as long term readers of this site may remember that I love swimming; I love the feel of the body gliding through the blue, the grey, the swirling torrents of frothing waves. I miss the sun above my head, the all too often grey clouds amassing in the distance as my arms brush against seaweed, a mini chloroform power station floating in the middle of the brine. I miss the shouts and the giggles as the bracing waves slap against puckered skin in early autumn, of two brave and lost souls powering through content in a cold embrace.
The sea, the sea, my soul cries for its limitless horizons and its unknowable depths.
She sat in the docks at the nearby industrial town, all tied up, the crew silent and still. The cold February waters lapped at her hull, silent save for the call of the coastal birds skimming the water, intermittently casting shadows on the metal hulk as the last rays of the afternoon sun pierced the grey clouds. I can see the seamen now, walking on the deck or talking in the control room, all able and ready to roam the ocean’s waves. ‘Where are you off to and where are you going?’ I want to shout across the divide that separates us, the land from the sea. ‘What do you do in your spare time aboard and where do you hail from?’ Those are the questions that plague me, make me desperate to jump aboard myself and skip abroad. That great seabird, the silent albatross, could be my constant companion, my faithful friend as we roamed seas new and old, cold and warm.
…”You know my feelings on our family, I’m sick of being treated as a small child – I am adult!
“You need to relax, you know you are in a very lucky position being able to live at home still, sure dad may stick his oar in where it sometimes doesn’t require, but just put up with it for the minute”.
…..”How beautiful is this lanscape, this beach and the rolloing waves?”
“It’s cold, I’m cold! Can we go home now?”
“Just a bit further, a bit longer….”
…”I’ve hit the bottom, I know I have. I’m sick of this job, sick of not doing anything each weekend, I need to escape, I need something to hang on to”.
“The job is fine, everyone is in the same position you know, you should count yourself lucky that you can do what you do. Have you though about writing any more or trying to meet new people?”
“Well I have tried, a bit, but it’s tough and then….”
…”Your grandfather used to work on the ships you know, in the merchant navy. Went around the world, spending weeks and months at sea, only to have a few days of shore leave at the end of it. A different story today of course, where shore leave is ever more compacted, don’t have the fun that you used have!”
“Dad, shut up! Tell me more about grandad and his adventures on the high seas…”
The old thought was on my mind as I took this picture. What are you doing, where are you going?
We are firing shots across the crystal sea, our voices echoing from hull to hull. We cannot change our course or diffuse our views, we are each lost to the winding road of the same lonely heart.
I refuse to call it a day though, I just know that there is someone out there, someone waiting, someone wanting to hold my hand in hand as we walk by the sea of silent sorrows together.
Instead I call you here on this cold and grey Satuday night, the table dressed for two. I want you here by my side, the music is on and the feast is ready. I can sense that you are leaving before you ever truly came though, that the door is ajar and the cold wind is blowing. It is plucking silently at my skin. Instead and only in my dreams you are giving me head on Sunday’s unmade bed.
The candle has given its last flicker, the flame has withered and died. The cold covers are calling me, it is time I laid out my body and took my rest. My lips have kissed their last and my fingers are curled and grey. My hair is shorter than it used to be and my knees don’t bend as they should. I have given it all that I could, but that was never enough. I knew that life was tough, that we’d drink fom the lows as well as the highs, but this I know is the end.
Today becomes tomorrow, and that yesterday was but a dream.
It’s true you know, the sea calls each wandering albatross home in the end. They do not fly forever, sometimes they have to make landfall and other times they land in the sea and rest. It is when they rest on the sea that the sea swallows them, lures them to duck their heads under the water with the gentle lapping of the waves and its promises of a fishy feast. The albatross accept this as a part of their fate. They are wise birds you know, elegant flyers, efficient users of the warm air currents.
I dreamt that I turned into an albatross once, that I took off from this scraggly patch of rock and fly out towards the sea. I flew high, rarely beating my majestic wings. I spied sailors from on high and followed in their slipstream. They waved to me in turn and acknowledged my presence as a good sign. They were often lonely in the southern sea, their sails furled out hoping to catch a push home. In was in this way that I dreamt for many years.
Of course I cannot do that today. Our attention is forever focused by other things. The incessant beep of recognition from the outside world that clambers for our time and effort drains us of ourselves. How I yearn to fly as an albatross again. I will, no doubt, take my final rest in my later years, which are soon to become my present years. Again I have no doubt that I shall spread my wings once more and scale the dizzy heights above the southern sea, that I will join my leviathan brethren and explore the ocean anew. Remember though that the sea can swallow even us.
I was on the second ship leading the north Atlantic convoy, which was one of six in total. My head was screaming with the cold, my fingers numb and becoming number as the minutes passed. We had to transfer mid ocean from our small liners to the bigger ones, the ones that could break the ice of the north, the ones that could pass by and crunch the icebergs that would otherwise soon sink these tropical ships that we had come this far on.
Morning medicine, my mourning drink. I was sick of the air, sick of my mouth tasting of salt, my cracked lips and shaggy dog appearance. I was becoming a wreck, like the Titanic in her grave slowly rusting, slowly breaking down to her elemental beginnings.
I was home, verdant fields of tall grass framed by never-ending blue skies and cradled by deep pleasant dreams. The wooden door creaked as I opened it, I announced I was home and I heard the movement of my lover in our shared bed. I imagined the sheets cascading off her body, the soft smooth silk of her skin and the comely shape of her buttocks, the two small welcoming dimples at the base of her spine. The curls of her hair resting on her shoulders, her sumptuous breasts that were full of milk, nipples pert and erect.
Home smelt like home. This was salt, this was corrosion. The transfer was awful, I saw their pale and emaciated bodies silent in the bunks, numerous across the whole range of decks. We could not go on like this, we must not go on like this. Moving the bodies was horrendous, a horrible job. I had thrown my younger brother around as a child and had remembered how heavy he was even when young, how I could feel the weight of his happy soul. This was something else, the bodies far lighter than they had any right to be. Glassy deep blue eyes set silent in paper thin crevices for faces.
I loved her then and I loved her still. There was something wonderful about the moment between coming home from work and announcing my entry to the wooden house. This was the liminal zone, I was neither away nor settled on the prairie. When I remembered this moment consciously I tried to slow it down, to breathe in deeply, to try and enjoy the moment when I’d open the door and see her gorgeous brown eyes, the flicker of the smile that would start to spread across her face as she spied me coming in.
I could almost taste that moment, but the foghorn soon reminded me that I was a thousand miles away, surely more, from my beloved.
The bodies had been swiftly moved from the ice breakers to the tropic liners without any difficultly. I was convinced that our skeletal crew would break down at this task but we kept quiet and professional, we carried out our task with ease and left the liners floating in peace in warmer climes, buffeted by only the smallest of oceanic waves.
Silently our breakers made the way north, the ocean becoming day by day peppered with more chunks of frozen sea than I could count. Chunks that could rip and tear steel, that could doom whole convoys and destroy even the hardest of souls.
I craved her touch more than ever at this point. My cracked lips had become something beyond sore, something that I knew hurt but was pushed deeper into my sub-consciousness.
I missed her hips the most, how my hand would follow the contour of her outer hip bone and glide slowly into the girdle where the delicate touch of my lips would meet her soft warm skin. Where I knew that when she arched her back she was that much more relaxed, ready to give in to the carnal sin of our shared passion.
The bow of the ship cuts the ice, the sea underneath, and our dreams as clean as any knife I have ever known. Our hopes are cleaved into two. The ocean is our life, the seabed our grave.
Once again I’ve recently been putting some of the photographs I’ve taken with my old Pentax S1a film camera into frames, and I think a few of them work rather well. This is one of my friends, caught we as we were out taking photographs one day around town. I have to say that, even though I used cheap colour film, I love the way that this photograph has turned out. There is something in the crispness and texture of film photographs that I just cannot seem to see or feel in examples of digital photography. Of course the flip side of this is the fact that I used a cheap digital camera to take a picture of the photograph in the frame to enable me to post it here!
The Pentax S1a was made in the early 1960’s and still works like a dream, no batteries needed. The digital camera? Broke tonight after only a few years use. Typical right?
Here is another quick photograph of the sea, how I love the sea. Again I have put it into a cheap frame but I think the white/cream highlights the colours within the photograph itself. Also this one has turned out much better than expected. I expected it to be slightly scuzzy and not really crisp or clear at all, but it has pleasantly surprised me.
Here you go:
I’ve also got a few more photographs in frames but as I said the camera has broken so I unfortunately cannot upload them here at the moment. I also think it is worth putting your own photographs in frames as it is a nice personal touch and evokes happy memories, and it makes you remember that being creative and spontaneous can lead to some lovely pieces of home art.
The water lapped over my feet as I sat in the shallow surf, the sand acting as a welcoming cold blanket to hold the heavy weight of my sodden body. I was focused on watching the summer sun shimmer over the watery horizon, ascending to spend a day in the big blue eternal.
I happened to be only a stone’s throw from the rest of the gang back behind me, who were content rummaging in the post-apocalyptic coliseum-like landscape of an old concrete water tank. It was half demolished, half drained and half open to the elements but it still contained a small pool of still water, resting peacefully in the centre. It provided ample dry space to camp in overnight as we burnt wooden flotsam and jetsam to keep warm. We would watch entranced as the flames licked dry the wood, as they curled high into the air, as pieces of free floating ember drifted out over the water. Occasionally the concrete couldn’t handle the heat and a bit of rock or ‘crete would crack and shoot off like an errant lost firework. It was peaceful and it was beautiful.
We were cut off from the rest of the town by a train hill, had to enter this ruined landscape by a long concrete tunnel bored right through. It was a visual rite of passage as we lugged our crates of beer through it and pocketed the bags of mary for later use, all the while watching out for puddles or malformed bricks to trip us up.
Only by sitting in the shell of the constructed past could we engage with our present, stars twinkling in their heavenly domain above, resplendent in their peaceful beauty. I am pretty sure that anyone who saw us would not think the same, of our matted hair and corduroy. Throwbacks to the 90’s. We completed the scene with empty cans and deep laughs, of guitars and harmonicas played deep into the night.
They say now that the ground is leveled, cleaned and scraped back. Houses to be built by their dozen, a luxurious bolt hole for the wealthy. The landscape of a decomposing industrial wasteland has been deconstructed and reconfigured to fit the needs of an expanding people. Water tanks turned inside out and re-shod with wood and tiles, distorted bricks re-cast for the foundations. The sofas we used to burn now litter the beach in their full splendor.
But still, when the wind blows right, the scent of mary and the sea can still be smelt, a reminder of a time long past.