Thursday, 31 May 2012

Turning Blue - part 2

           Jaz was on a roll again, "Y'know what ? Do you remember when you were first down here ? You remember Paddy - the fisherman guy, or Jonno the lifeboat skipper who used to live up behind the shop ?"

          Terry nodded, wondering where this was going.

           “I used to really idolise those guys – never told them as much, but I really did. Wanted to be one of those leather-faced old men of the sea one day. Don’t even know how old they were – probably only as old as we are now, but I was just seventeen or thereabouts and there was something quite amazing about them. You’d see ‘em standing on the sea wall or over on the cliffs; they’d gaze up at the sky, looking at the seagulls winding and swooping their way ‘round. Giving it that endless stare. They never looked fashionable or as if they noticed that the world changed ‘round them. They looked like they were rooted into the sand, part man, part brine, big old sweaters; good gear mind you – none of that surf shop shit.
          Anyway, yeah, big old boys with faces that looked as if they’d seen the world and all its glories and decided that for them there was no better place than this. They’d all the wisdom of the ages stuffed up in those heads of theirs, leastways it seemed they did. Never said much, inscrutable, gnomic even. They were part of the world that seemed untouched and unmarked by all the fuss and bother that went on around them.

          I figured they’d seen some stuff, faced some real big adventures out there on the sea and come through it all with a greater understanding of what made the world tick. But above all, even though I doubt that they knew it, they just looked so bloody incredible. Jonno with that face that looked like it was carved from whatever stuff they used for Jack Hawkins in the Cruel Sea, you know the film ? Proper old fashioned granite jaw an’ all.

          Paddy with skin which seemed to have been salt cured, hair bleached and almost turned into a solid mat, hands like wood. Yeah I idolised them because of all that stuff but truth is mostly it was the look.

          I once saw Jonno stand there just looking up, for a good two hours. A good bit more really. I was working in the kiosk one summer and he stood there over the road from me, just staring up at the sky. I figured he was looking out for the weather or watching how the air currents were being ridden by the gulls.Or maybe he was just into some connection, some meditation on life and the insignificance of a single person when set against that whole great world out there. Maybe it was the smell of the sea he was taking in, maybe he was feeling the wash and roar of the waves, maybe he was hearing music in it all. I don’t know. I just wanted to be able to be so old and so wise and so grounded in everything one day.

          I couldn’t help it – when he finally got down off the wall and walked back over to my side of the road I just jumped out of the kiosk and ran over to him, all eleven stone and spots worth of me, wanting, no, needing to know what it was all about. I mean I wasn’t expecting the secret of life or the mysteries of the universe, but I was looking for something. I ran up to him and, well I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it must have been something excruciatingly naïve because I’ve wiped it from my memory. But I asked him what it was all about – what'd he been doing there all that time, oblivious to the people walking by, to the people on the beach? And do you know what – the old wanker just said he’d been watching the seagulls, not thinking about anything much and not looking for anything more than to just simply watch them. No mystery, no mystic. Just watching fuckin’seagulls.”

          Terry laughed.

          “Took me am age to get over that – like seeing the Queen fart or something – he was just some old bloke who watched seagulls with no other higher purpose in mind. I hated him for a long time after that.

          Then, one day, I realised something else. Just watching seagulls is as good a way of spending your time as any. And more than that, sometimes there aren’t any hidden depths to people, no secrets, no great knowledge, sometimes the most that people are doing is watching seagulls, or whatever it is they use to let their minds go blank. And that’s no bad thing. I’m a bit of a seagull watcher myself these days. Jonno did me a bit of a favour and I never realised it.”

          “What happened to Jonno ?”

          “Still about, still lives up the back there, must be in his eighties or maybe even his nineties now. Doesn’t get out apart from when the local ambulance picks him up for hospital visits. To most people he’s just some old bloke who doesn’t look after his garden. Saddest thing though, he lost his sight about fifteen years ago, cataracts he left too late to get sorted. So, worth learning from that Terry, worth learning to watch those gulls whilst you can cause you really don’t know what the fuck will happen next.”

           Jaz finished up his drink and looked at Terry for a refill, Terry took the glass,

          “What the fuck Jaz, what the fuck.” He sighed sadly, “Same again ? You’ve depressed me enough for at least another two of these. What happened to Paddy ?”

          Jaz’s face seemed to sink in on itself. “Round about when I was twenty eight or nine, there was a big storm one night. One of those bucking, rearing seas, cold rain, winds at gale force eight, one of those nights. Paddy was last seen going ‘round the headland about three in the afternoon.”

          “What?” Terry was already resigned to another dismal tale, “He was caught up in the storm? Drowned ?”

          “Well thing is, no one saw him all night – radio wasn’t answering – boats going down all over the shop - lifeboat, with Jonno on funnily enough, couldn’t even get out of the harbour. Of course the next day when it all calmed down a bit that’s when they found out….”

          “Poor sod”

          “Hang on a minute. That’s when they found out he’d moored up two villages along and was shagging the daylights out of some pub landlady there ! He couldn’t get back ‘cause of the storm and he didn’t know how to explain it all. But the moment he heard they’d been about to mount a search operation he had to come clean. His missus went fuckin’ berserk. Bet he wished he’d faced the storm after that! So’s anyway, he left and we ain’t seen him around here ever since. It ain’t all tragedy and shipwrecks ‘ere you know you fuckin’ flatlander.”

          Jaz laughed – pleased to have made Terry uncomfortable and pleased to still have some stories up his sleeve. Terry stood up to get the drinks in again when Crush walked through the door; he was out of breath and red in the face. He looked, Terry thought, like one of the leather faced old men they’d just been talking about.

           His face was stony, his eyes darted about as he stood by the table looking from Terry to Jaz and back again as he waited to get his breath back, he silently brushed aside a couple of comments that Jaz made about his age and turned his attention firmly to Terry.

          “You been talking to Dave today?” he asked, knowing the answer but waiting for it anyway.

          “Yeah, earlier, why ?”

          Crush winced slightly, his eyes narrowed.“He’s in a right state that’s why. I just saw him in the shop – he ain’t open for business thank god, but he’s in there. Just sitting in there with the lights off, sitting behind the counter, smoking his head off and not talking to anyone.”

          “Uh oh, told you didn’t I?” Jaz couldn’t help himself. Crush swatted this one aside too and ploughed on.

          “Anyway, he wouldn’t let me in so I could only shout at him through the glass, so I don’t know what the hell this is all about. But he wants to see you. Christ knows why.” He looked at Terry with an air of suspicion. Crush wasn’t that keen on anyone outside of the village, he’d made an exception here and there, but these were always on licence. Terry’s licence looked like it was about to be revoked.

          “Don’t give me that!” Terry's voice jumped out louder than normal, surprising himself, then he quietened slightly when he realised it was ringing around the bar, “I spoke to him this morning, yeah? But that was all fine, no problems, just fine. We even shook hands! If anything he was pretty weird when I first saw him, so don’t lay it on me whatever he’s gone and done or is doing.”

          “Well,” said Crush in a slightly more conciliatory tone, “He seems to want to speak to you – Christ I’ve known the bugger all his bloody life and he wants to talk to you. Glad I found the pair of you up here – come on, get on down there – he looked like he meant it, whatever it was all about. And don’t get funny with him; he’s an old mate even if he’s a bit of a strange one sometimes. He’s had a lot to deal with you know, a lot of shit to deal with.”

          Terry pushed back his seat with a scraping noise and stood up. He looked at Jaz for support. Jaz reluctantly stood up as well.

          “You’re only doing this to get out of a fuckin’ round…..” he mumbled.

          Crush was already standing by the door, holding it open and letting a fine spray of drizzle and sand blow in across the wooden floor. He lit a cigarette in his cupped hands and looked impatiently across at them.

           Eventually the three of them left together, collars pulled up against the stinging wind and hands pushed deep down into pockets, trying to conserve the last of the beery warmth they were grudgingly surrendering. They half walked, half trotted down the hill as gravity helped them on their way. Past the whitewashed houses and down onto the flat stretch at the top of the beach.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Turning Blue - part 1

          Jaz and Terry sat in the bar of the pub, it was late Saturday lunchtime and most of the other customers had drifted off. If it had been, say, July or August the place would have been teeming with families desperately trying to force their place in the queue for drinks or sitting around disconsolately waiting for the food to arrive. Now, out of season, the place reverted back to its normal mode of half-full local pub for the villagers and a few fleece-wearing beach walkers. No surfers at this time of the day, they didn’t usually make it in until the sun went down.

          Not that there was much sun today. The intimidating storm clouds had moved closer and the sky was awhirl with high grey towers which seemed to boil as you watched. No storm yet though. The sea reflected the uneasy colours and the tops of the waves toppled ice white and unforgiving. 

          The juke box was playing some old soul that Terry had picked out, Aretha followed by Otis. He missed the sound of the records changing over now everything was digital.

          “So why are you really here Terry? I was Ok with what you said at first, but it all seems a bit more than just getting away from it all?” Jaz looked at him with a precision stare.

          “Good question…” Terry tailed off.

          Jaz roared, “So, what’s the fuckin’answer then?”

          The barman looked over in their direction then began putting glasses away on the shelf under the bar. The jukebox went silent for a second, it resumed with the opening bars of “Try a little tenderness”. Terry looked up from his shoes.

          “D’you know what – truth is I’m not really sure. I mean, I wanted to get away from everything – from that mind and soul destroying pointlessness of work – I’ve spent twenty odd years, getting up, going to work, coming home, sleeping, going back again and for what ? It pays the mortgage; it pays for the cars and the clothes. But beyond that, I feel like I ought to be making some difference, but do I see any? Do I fuck? I might as well never have existed as far as work goes. I doubt if they’ve noticed any difference without me there.

          I know I’ve bullshitted and fumbled my way into what’s quite a reasonable job really, well, in the scheme of things it pays well, people listen to me and do things for me, stay on the right side of me – all that crap. But when it comes down to it I just thought one day how immensely mundane and irredeemably useless it all was.

          I know I know…” He waved his hand at Jaz to stop him interrupting, “I know I’ve said all this before, and you know all the stuff about Marie, but yeah there is something else.”

          “Go on then”

          “That’s the thing – I don’t know, I’m not sure. But there’s something I’m just not sure about and it's here.”

          “What do you fuckin mean mate? What’s here?”

          “You’ll only take the piss.”

          “Go on, try me”

          “Well, I’ve never really thought about things as much as I have in the last week, thought about why I used to come here and why I went off when I did, not coming back and all.”

          “You ain’t the only one”

          “Well – the thing is – I just feel that something isn’t right, like there’s something just outside my field of vision, flickering away but not something I can grab onto. Like the other day – I thought I saw someone watching me from the edge of the beach, but when I looked there was no-one there.”

          “An’ you think this has got something to do with them ….?” Jaz looked bewildered.

          “No, no you fuckwit, nothing to do with them – what I mean is that there’s something I’m not quite getting, something about me that I ought to get isn’t making sense. I was talking to Dave earlier, he was a bit flaky – like I know he usually is, but more so. He was talking about missing Joe and he had this look in his eyes, a kind of faraway look, but faraway inside – not looking outwards. That’s how I feel, like I’m looking inside for something and not able to find it any more.”

          “Yeah, but why here? Why come back to Cornwall after all this time?”

          “Thought it was about getting away from everything and maybe finding that place I used to hang out, get some peace. But it isn’t. There’s a reason why I’ve come here. I don’t even think it was on purpose.  That is, I came down partly because I heard about Joe, but if it hadn’t have been that then something else would have turned up eventually that would have made me come here. Does that make sense?”

          “Sort of….well, to be honest, no.”

          Terry smiled at the ceiling, at no one in particular. It wasn’t a problem that he couldn’t explain it. He had only just realised it himself and was having trouble working it out in his own head let alone verbalising it. He stood up to get two more drinks and stopped by the juke box on the way to the bar. In his pocket he fumbled for then found a pound coin and dropped it in. Otis was coming to his conclusion and Terry listened as the brass wound up for the big finale, triumphant and sad in the same last gasp. He punched in some numbers at random and walked to the bar to the sound of something he’d never heard before, all bleeps and basslines. Jaz looked at him with a ‘What the fuck is that ?’ look.

          “Sometimes,” Terry said in response to the unasked question,” You’ve just got to go with the randomness, see if it throws up something that you might like – or might hate – but whichever way it goes you get to try out something new.”

          Jaz nodded sagely, “Yeah, o wise man - but this is still a bit shit innit?”

          Terry laughed and turned to get the pints in.

          Later, as they sank their third pint and were talking about the weather, Jaz suddenly stared at Terry with a real look of concern, “Look, you’ve got to find out what it is that’s bugging you – you have to mate. Seeing you down there in that crappy caravan might be a laugh for a few weeks but come on, you’re not twenty, you don’t want to end up like some of the people ‘round here. You know that. Can you seriously imagine what life is actually like for someone like Dave?”

          “Dave? Well, apart from the whole people-dying-around-him thing I always thought he did OK”

          “Yeah, maybe, once upon a time. But these days, these last ten years – you ain’t seen it – he’s falling apart, very slowly, but he is. There’s something there that he didn’t find – something that he needed to once.”

          “What do you mean ? Once ?”

          “Reckon now it’s too late. It’s like you said, he looks inwards too much. He’s not exactly the full pasty. I wouldn’t recommend religion to anyone but if there’s someone who needed some sort of faith and hope then it’s probably him. He don’t show it much, but I’ve been around when he goes off big style – I don’t know how to describe it but it's like a slow burning fuse that gradually, finally reaches the powder keg then ‘boom!’. Last time was about a year ago – after some sort of fight with Joe, dunno what about. He stomped around for days looking greyer and more weird by the hour, he stood up there on the cliffs for ages, out in all weather, didn’t talk to no-one. Then all of a sudden he was in here,  the first person who bumped into him spilt his drink, got all the words that Dave seemed to have been saving up. The anger and whatever else it was just poured out of him, he shouted and raved at this poor guy, some Emmet, until the guy turned away from him.

          Bad move. Dave grabbed him and thumped him one. Some of the locals got involved and dragged Dave away before this bloke could do anything – he was bigger and younger for a start – Dave was still swearing and shoving all the way out of the car park. Next time we see him he’s in the shop that afternoon smiling sweetly at the old ladies and it’s like nothing has happened.

          Now tell me that’s normal? S’what happens to you if you stay around here with the same people too fuckin’ long.”

Working up a storm....

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Old Faces

          “Couple of bloody cripples together now then ?” said Crush as he helped Dave walk back along the sand, part of his physio they said, the day after he’d been released from hospital.  Dave didn’t even acknowledge the remark. He barely spoke as the two of them made their way along.

          “Do you really remember nothing….?”


          “The car was a mess, don’t you even remember that ?”

          “Only what’s been told me….it’s one of those things where I can’t seem to unpick what’s been said to me and what I really know…..I mean, I start to think I can remember stuff and then Joe tells me its just what he’s told me….makes no sense.”

          Dave glanced out at the sea a few times as they walked, Crush interpreted this as a return to old form, “Soon be back in there again then ? Autumn swells coming in now…” Dave looked at Crush as if he was speaking a different language and then seemed to shake himself out of it.

          “Yeah, right, yeah…” He glanced one more time back at the grey waters throwing up clouds of spray around the headlands and set his eyes firmly on the path ahead.

           No-one spoke again until they said goodbye at the gate.

                                                                              Crush walked back down, wondering where Dave had been.

But because it's such a short's the start of the Seventies for those who lived in England and didn't go to Altamont.... when Rod still mattered....

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


          Dave sat on his front step, staring at the house opposite, the one that Joe had lived in for so long – for forever – he was so lost in whatever was spinning ‘round in his head that he jumped when Terry tapped him lightly on the shoulder. Terry laughed. Dave tried to, but he looked nervous, he looked like a man who had at least been thinking about ghosts even if he hadn’t actually seen one.

          “A’right ?” he managed to say, in a nervy high-pitched voice. Terry smiled again and Dave seemed to calm down.

          “Not opening up today?” Terry asked. He knew it would be unusual for the shop not to open at all; the locals had to have their papers.

          “Dunno.” Dave almost whispered, “Been sitting here, kind of getting ready to go when…well, when I started thinking about Joe, how he was y’know…” the words drifted away from him.

          Terry sat down next to him and offered him a cigarette. Dave took it and lit it with a garish pink disposable lighter.

          “Y’know, how like I can see that there’s a lot of stuff that only Joe knew about….well, about me, about things….and I can’t really work out what to do with all that stuff now….where does it all go ?”

          Terry started to feel concerned, Dave wasn’t the one given to philosophical outbursts any more than he was given to leaving the shop shut up past ten o’clock in the morning.

          Out in the bay, way out on the horizon a thin black strip was forming – dark clouds – a long way off. A front. A storm front. Dave nodded at it.

          “See that ? S' the kind of thing Joe would have noticed and he’d have come over here and we’d have watched it through the day, watched it develop, watched it grow, watched it burst open. Sounds stupid of course, now. Why would we want to do that? But we did. Most people thought it was just us sitting here getting stoned, but we were watching the storm, or watching the clouds, or talking ‘bout some sorts of stuff that I really couldn’t with anyone else, y’know…”  He teetered on the edge of whatever it was he was going to say, took a breath and seemed to rebalance himself. “….like, like how it was after the accident…like how it was when mum died…that sort of stuff…”

          Dave seemed to want to say more, but returned to silence as he drew on the cigarette and focussed his attention on the horizon again. Terry flicked his ash away in front of them and watched it hang for a few seconds in the dead air.

          “Must be really hard for you – I can’t say I know how it is. Tho' I guess when I split up with Marie first time round I kind of felt that, but in the end we ran out of things to say anyway. But, yeah, all that past that you carry around on your own now, all that stuff that no-one else can ever be a part of, the shared stuff that isn’t shared any more. I don’t pretend to understand it, but all I know is I suppose the only ones who don’t end up having that kind of thing to face are the ones who go out early, like Joe. Even then I’d guess he had a few shared things where he’d lost the person he was sharing it with….”  Now Terry tailed off, he was talking rubbish and he knew it. He didn’t know what to do or say, what Dave wanted from him. He didn’t suppose that Dave actually wanted anything from him, seeing as it was him who had started all this by arriving unannounced, but he also felt that Dave needed something from him. It was a niggling feeling but it had been there from the moment they’d first spoken after all these years. There was something needy about Dave that he’d written off as a way of dealing with his brother’s death, but it was still there, still there. Terry didn’t want to be part of this, but he recognised that he had a need too, maybe even the same one, where he was trying to make sense of where he was going by wondering what the hell had happened to the past.

          Dave stood up. “Coffee?” he asked, Terry nodded.

          Then he sat down again. He buried his head in his hands and just sat there.

          Terry was having real trouble with this and he shuffled awkwardly. Not wanting to put his arm around Dave – they’d never had that sort of relationship – but at the same time not wanting to walk away because to do so would be to admit that he couldn’t handle it when emotions got this close to the surface. When he felt he could glimpse some sort of madness following not too far behind.

          He did what he had to do – stood up and told Dave he’d make the coffee. Leaving him for a minute or two on his own, hoping it would all be over when he came back.

          After busying himself for longer than was necessary, clattering around the old fashioned kitchen, he came out again and Dave appeared at least much closer to normal, standing on the steps now and smiling.

          “S’coming in, it’s gonna be a big fucker.” He shielded his eyes from the glare and pointed out to the bigger black line that now spread from one side of the horizon to the other.

          Terry set the coffee down on the steps and was surprised to see  Dave grinning.

          “Time to open up I guess,” He sighed, “time for a quick puff first though.” He took a slurp from his coffee and took some rolling tobacco from his back pocket. He started to roll a joint – the still air made it easy for a change – and when he was finished he lit it and flicked it through the air to Terry.

          “Don’t know, don’t know if it’s even worth it these days.” He meant the shop. “Could just sell up over there and live on it, mind the taxman wants a good chunk out of it too, so suppose I’ll have to carry on. Can’t even get a decent lunch break these days.”

          Terry wondered how much the shop might be worth it if Dave, and Joe before, weren’t in a constant state of haziness all the time, if they did something with it. On the other hand it was still like it always had been and that was almost the point. Dave wouldn’t give it up, he reckoned, he’d drown out there in the real world, trying to make a real living. This was a village that, when all was said and done, had built itself around Dave and Joe’s shop. However much things had changed around them the shop was like the centre of the storm, calm and unhurried, the village needed that. Dave needed to be that.

          The conversation, such as it was, turned to the mundane and the unnecessary. They talked about what Dave was going to do when he went on holidays from now on – he wasn’t much interested in thinking about it at the moment.He talked at length about the problems he was having still over his mother’s death and the duties they still had to pay, about the pony in the field across the road and the perennial topic of who had been doing what and to whom recently. Terry switched off after a while and together they walked down to the shop. Outside there was the pile of that day’s papers, someone had left a pound coin on top of the bundle and had obviously taken what they wanted without waiting for the shop to open. Dave shook Terry’s hand as they parted, Terry didn’t know why.

          The black clouds were now rearing up along the edge of the horizon. Climbing towards the blue and blurring the distinction between water and sky. The air was still with anticipation.

Sunday, 20 May 2012


          “Jeeez !”

          Terry stretched out and sucked in a great breath of damp air, the breath turning into a yawn as he stood in the doorway of the caravan. Out of instinct he glanced down at his mobile phone, laying next to the sink, the screen was blank; the battery had run out a day ago. He didn’t worry about it.

          He wasn’t sure what to do now. He knew it couldn’t last for much longer – this return to his past, this getaway from reality. The money was fine, he had enough for a long time whilst he was living like this. It was just that sooner or later he’d either run into someone who knew him from home – this place could be like that – or someone would put two and two together and track him down here to see what the hell he was doing with his life.

          So, only one thing to do then.

          Ten minutes later he was in the water. There were a couple of kids out there, maybe fifteen or twenty years younger than him, but otherwise he was on his own. His suit was rubbing at his neck and he reached in to adjust the leather that held the necklace that Dave had given him. As he pulled it free of the neck of the suit he remembered where he’d seen it before. Joe had been wearing it that time he’d last seen him in the shop – it looked shiny and new, incongruously so, when he’d thrown the cigarettes over at him. Terry allowed himself a small smile at the thought. Then tucked it back in. There were links to the past everywhere – you just had to remember where the past was sometimes. Idly he wondered if Joe had been wearing it when he died. He dismissed the thought at once – way out of line – better not to consider that sort of thing.

          He bobbed in the water, astride the board, the waves travelling under him, lifting him and gently settling him back down. Terry knew that the water didn’t move – what was moving was the energy. Energy from way out there in the middle of the ocean, it might be from a light breeze some three or four hundred miles away, causing a ripple, which grew and picked up more wind, acting like a great sail, picking up more and more until it swept underneath him and then hit the slope of the beach. Then it rose up and toppled over, sending all the energy crashing down onto the rocks and sand. If he was lucky one of the waves would pick him up as well and the energy would transfer into his board, sending him slicing across the face. Thing was, where did all the energy go then ? Some noise, sure, probably even a little heat, although not so’s you’d notice in this water. But where did the rest go – or even where did the energy from the noise go?

          Some of it must surely be up there, along that thin coastal strip that people cling to so much. The energy must do things to the land, the people.

          Terry thought of Joe and his energy, of Jaz and his restlessness, even Dave, although in Dave’s case the energy seemed to be somewhere else, somewhere hidden and subdued.

          A set came through and Terry swung around to paddle for the third wave in the set. He always reckoned that was the best, although he had no evidence to back this. He worked his arms trying to match the speed of the wave, lifting his legs clear of the water, feeling the board start to slide along the face. He missed it. He swung around resignedly and paddled back out again.

          Looking up as he did this he saw a figure up on the cliff top – something familiar, too far away to see through his salty eyes – but it seemed they were looking down at him. The other guys had had better luck with that set and were a long way inside of Terry now, the person up there was definitely looking down at him. It could be someone he knew, he sensed that, but identifying who was beyond him as the spray blew back from the ridges of the waves as they broke just  behind him and the air filled with a multitude of spectral colours in the weak rays of the early morning sun. When he looked up again there was no-one there.

          Terry was unnerved for a moment and then another set built around him and he caught it, he was away, down the face, freefalling for an instant and then settling in to the face of the wave, a clean wave, slicing along the spinning green water, arm outstretched and feet planted solidly on the board. Breaking behind him, the water threw up a churning wake of white water, foam and sand. Terry stayed ahead of it, he was grinning, the water began to curve down in front of him too now as the wave collapsed from the opposite end. He pushed down, shifted his weight, turned back into the wave and gracefully slipped over the back and into the calm water behind. He was laughing. A perfect ride, a class wave. No-one to see it though.

          He looked back up at the cliff top, no-one. Shame he thought, he’d have liked at least one person to see it. But he’d ridden it and he was happy enough.

          Happy enough to start the walk back through the knee deep water and up onto the beach. It was only going to disappoint, carrying on after that. Only going to be an act he couldn’t follow.

          He put his board down just out of the water’s reach and sat next to it looking inland. Yeah, he thought, pretty much all of his life he’d been trying to follow acts he shouldn’t have tried. Those things it would have been best to have left alone and stored in the past, safely. But he kept trying to match them and never did. This wave at least was his and his alone and he wasn’t going to spoil it. He headed back across the sand, still grinning, back up to the village and into the site. Someone seemed to be walking parallel to him off to the side of the beach, there in the long dune grass. But when he looked there was no-one there again.

          The shop was shut when he reached the village. Unusual, but things were since Joe had died. Dave was never quite as good at getting up for the early start. Terry ambled back to his van, looked in the cardboard box of shopping he’d not yet unloaded and pulled out some bacon and eggs. That wave deserved a good fry up.

some days just need surf music.....Las Chicas Del BonBon

Friday, 18 May 2012

On The Edge

          The van took off down the main road, clattering away as it hit thirty five, grey-blue smoke clinging to the road surface behind before thinking better of it and drifting slowly across the hedges, gaining height before losing its cohesiveness and disappearing on the breeze. Crows flapped lazily away from the remnants of rabbits on the roadside, cawing in unhurried amusement at the red van with back doors held together with string, flying back down once the noise passed to strip the rotten flesh from the carcass all over again.

          There wasn’t a soul to be seen. The early autumn skies threatened rain but so far only the odd spot had fallen on the grimy windscreen, the laughably ineffective wipers spreading it about until it was almost opaque and the driver had to lean forwards to peer out for any potential hazards. The last of the crops were ready for harvest in the neighbouring fields but for now they lay listless awaiting the combine. Behind them the sea lay quiet, its mass reduced to a thin line between the land and the horizon, the steep incline they faced reducing it further as they climbed. Thin traceries of currents just visible on its surface, waves reduced to ripples. The empty road, all corners and blind hedge-filled verges, spun away from the coast reluctantly, taking the van inland and away from all that promise.


          The van screeched to a halt with an unimpressive braking distance, the rear wheels locking up for a second and the back end swinging out across the road.

          “What ? What is it ?”

          “I don’t want to go back. Not there.”

          “Oh Christ….what d’you want to do ?”

          “I don’t know….I don’t know….I don’t want to walk out like that…but I don’t want to go back to the flat….don’t want to leave…oh shit why is this so fuckin’ difficult !”

          Dave sat in silence, the engine barely ticking over, spluttering and knocking. He looked down in his lap, fiddled with his hands and tried not to look over at Ali.

          “He’s being so … so bloody stupid and blokey… I didn’t even intend walking out, just kind of did… now I’m bloody stuck here. I’m just going to look an idiot if I go back, tail between my legs. Christ, I’ve had enough of wandering around with a bunch of no-hope travellers, I really have. I like it down there in the village. I want to stay there, but I can’t just go back….” Ali was close to tears. Her face was red with confusion, anger and she dragged her fingers again and again through her short hair. Her eyes were filling up.

           Dave looked up. He was, he reckoned, only about three miles from the village – he mentally weighed up how much petrol he’d used, he couldn’t help it. He’d picked Ali up as she walked through the village – she had the air of someone who was going somewhere with a vengeance. She was striding out and looked furious. Dave had just been about to set off for the weekly shop at what passed for a supermarket but put those plans on hold and asked her if she wanted a lift. He still felt that things had been left out of balance when they’d split and liked the idea of being able to offer her help for a change. She’d looked at him with furious eyes and for a second he thought better of it, but she just mumbled something about Terry being a complete idiot and wrenched the door of the van open and got in. Dave figured out they’d had some sort of argument and had, without a word, started the engine and driven on the road out of the village in the direction she was heading. They’d gone about a mile before he asked her where she wanted to go and was surprised when she asked him to take her to the quarry. She’d then not spoken again until she’d yelled at him to stop. Dave was secretly pleased that she seemed so vulnerable. He’d never seen her like this before – certainly not with him – and he was happy to make the most of it.

          “Where to then ?”

          “Oh god, I don’t know ! Back. Not to the flat. Certainly not back to your bloody mothers. Just back. Somewhere. Somewhere away from people.”

          Dave revved the engine and the van stuttered into a three point turn, back end banging against a low stone wall hidden in the gorse. He swore, revved some more and swung back around one hundred and eighty degrees.

          “I can take you up on the cliff road if you want…?” His words hung in the air. Ali was sniffing, determined not to cry. She let out a sob, snorted it back in and sat there silently.

          “D’you want…” Dave tried again. Ali was beyond caring, beyond knowing which way she wanted to go, she nodded and rubbed at her nose with the back of her hand. Dave drove on, still no-one around, he wondered why he was running around the countryside with a stupid girl like this – he owed her nothing now, so why was he doing this ? Her emotions didn’t touch him, she’d get over it. He had.They always did.

          As the van clunked around another bend, approaching the point where the road split to either go down to the village or up and over to the houses on the cliff, Dave saw a figure walking down the road, kicking at the dislodged stones by the side as he walked. He swung out to pass him, saw it was Terry. Ali, head down and eyes red, didn’t notice him.

          The van limped down the left hand turning; Dave looked briefly in the rear mirror, but saw no-one. The road here was barely driveable at points – tarmac so old that great clumps of grass had pushed through, chunks of black road surface lay apart from the rest, chipped off by wear and the weather. Potholes erupted with water as the tyres smacked down into them, jarring the van and making Dave wonder how much more often he could afford to do this. The back door clanked as the string tensed and relaxed with each new shock. Ali looked up as they arrived back at the coast – although this time they were way up above the beach, a crow’s eye view of the sand and the sea. The tide was out, the sand slicked with water looking almost glassy. Dave pulled up and pushed the gearstick into neutral, he kept his foot on the pedal and wrenched the handbrake up with a groan. The van slipped forward an inch or two before the brakes took effect and then rocked unsteadily as it settled into position.

          Dave stared out of the windscreen. Ali sat and looked at her feet.

          Tentatively Dave put his arm out and rested his hand on her shoulder. He wasn’t sure why, but it seemed an appropriate thing to do. Anyway he didn’t like the silence. Ali reached up and put her hand over his, squeezing it lightly as if to at least recognise that he was trying. She turned away and pulled at the door handle again, the door dropped slightly on its hinges as it opened, the handle itself stayed in her hand. She looked at it and laughed.

          Dave smiled for the first time and told her not to worry. She threw it over the back of the seat to sit amongst a pile of old boxes, wrappings and blankets. He got out of his side and slammed the door shut, for a moment the van looked as if it might set off down the hill on its own, but once more it rocked gently and settled down after a second.

          “I don’t want to go back down there….not just yet.” Ali sounded subdued and inwardly she was feeling completely foolish. Dave grunted noncommittally.

          The rain was starting to fall now, light drizzle, the wind was picking up. Ali shivered and Dave offered her his coat. She laughed again, “Who’d have ever thought that you’d be doing the chivalry thing for me again ?”

          Dave laughed back, not too sure what the joke was. Ali turned down his offer, mainly because apart from the light jacket all Dave had on was a t-shirt and a pair of board shorts. Ali walked along the cliffs, away from the houses, out towards the headlands.

          “What you gonna do then ?” Dave was awkward again, part of him wanted to get off and get on with his day, part of him wondered where all this was going and was curious. He liked Terry and all, but didn’t feel any duty towards him, this was all because he finally felt that Ali was letting him see her in a role other than the sarcastic, confident, brash persona that she’d always had around him in the past.

          “I don’t know Dave, I really don’t. I feel like I want to just be away from everyone, hide away for a few days and let it all wash over me. Get rid of all this stuff in my head. Numb the pain.”

          “This do for a start ?”, Dave pulled out a joint from his shorts. For the third time Ali laughed and took it off him, fumbling in her pocket for a lighter and fighting the strengthening breeze as she turned to find shelter to light it. Dave stared into the middle distance, thoughts coming and going in his head.

          “Got somewhere you could try…..if you want….” Dave was almost apologetic in his approach as he took the joint from her fingers, barely touching. She looked up at him, his long hair straggling around his face and blowing into the corners of his mouth. “It’s a bit of a, well, its a bit of a local thing to be honest…”. He grinned at the secrecy.

          “What sort of local thing ? Thought you used that sort of terminology for the best breaks ?” Ali looked at him, intrigued but not expecting much.

          They walked out past the hotel, shut up and as silent as the stunted trees that marked the boundary of its garden. The last building on the clifftop, from here the path meandered before turning into trodden down grass, clear enough at first but gradually fading into barely perceptible tracks. Ali hadn’t spent much time up here and for the first time she wished she had – there was something wild about the clifftops if you kept the village behind you – it had the air of antiquity, the smell and the feel of a hundred years in each blast of sea air. She found herself unable to keep her mind on the day's events. A feeling of total insignificance overwhelmed her and made it all seem so distant. She knew that the smoke was helping her along, but more than that the sheer emptiness up here, facing the sea, looking out onto nothing for hundreds of miles, seemed to be inviting her to join in nothing, to become part of nothing.

          “Go on,” she said, when she finally became aware of Dave again, “what sort of local thing?”

          “I’ll show you.” He said firmly this time. He took her by the hand again and started to stride along, so much so that she had difficulty keeping pace with him on the greasy surface. He led her further along the cliff, out of sight of the hotel, down towards the edge.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Point - part 2

           At the back of the otherwise empty cupboard there were a few packets of crisps and some unsliced bread that he'd picked up on the way down in the car, a jar of coffee and some eggs from the village shop. He chucked a packet of ready salted over to Jaz and then plonked himself back down, making the 'van shudder. He leant back against the wall and felt it give slightly, felt the cold invading through the thin shell.

          “That whole religion thing, did Joe keep it up ?”
          “Yeah, kind of …religiously…” Jaz smiled. “I tried it too y’know”
          “You ? “
          “Yeah, for a while – back along. But I realised that I was more into the getting stoned than the meditation and chanting, so I cut those out and after a while I realised that it wasn’t really a religion for me – more of an excuse. So, never found Nirvana or any of that shit. Still just trying to get by really. If I can get through a day without a fuckin’ row or without feeling that bit older ‘cause something else in my body is hurting then I consider that a bit of a victory.

          Truth is I suppose that surfing was always pretty much my religion substitute. Now, I was never as hardcore as some people‘round here, never one of those eight-hours a day every day types. I was always too skint for a start, needed to work. But it always has been one of those things that take the world away, on a good day it just lifts it off your shoulders for a few moments, a few hours if you’re really really lucky. Just nothing but the sea, the sky and you. No sense of anything, no sense of even needing a purpose. I love it.

          Well, I loved it once. Too few and far between the times I get in the water these days, partly it's me – just apathy and wearing out. I can’t do a couple of hours in February any more – too fuckin’ cold. Partly it’s the crowds, ‘specially in the summer. At some point, an’ I don’t know when, it stopped being fun when you had to hustle for a wave and then get some twat drop in on you with a hired pop-out. Partly as well it’s because I can see that there’s a lot of other better people out there. I know some people don’t get off on the whole competitive thing, I know you never really did, but I always have and now I see that I can’t keep up, well, it just takes some of the buzz out of it for me.

          Still have good days though – still have fuckin’ brilliant ones at times, but its not the religion it used to be – nowadays its just something that I do.”

          Terry gazed out of the window, it was pitch black and the only things to be seen outside were silhouettes of tree branches, thrashing about in the wind as it guttered down the valley, bringing with it the salt taste of the sea and volleys of flying leaves. He turned back to Jaz and raised his glass.

          “Here’s to the meaning of life then– and its answer, a good day’s surfing….”
          Jaz smacked his can into the side of Terry’s glass and sank the remainder of the contents, throwing the empty across and into the open bin. He rolled a cigarette.
          “Terry, tho’”
          “You haven’t always been this fuckin’cynical – there must have been times when you thought there was a point. You must have had one of those times at least, those times when you look out and the whole place is just made for you. Those times when it all falls into place ?”
          “Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve had them. A few times – but when you’re not in love anymore, or when no-one is with you – I know that sounds stupid and wet and over romantic – but when there isn’t any of that going on then there really isn’t a lot of point somehow.”
          “So – you and Marie then…..?”
          “Nah, not really, not for years. Wish we were. Wish she had been. There’s only ever been about three or four people who have ever really done that to me, I used to think I fell in love at least once a week, but over the long term, well, maybe just those three or four people. If you define it as those people that you care enough about to stop a bullet for, to put yourself on the line for. Only a few. Marie used to be one of them, but not anymore, we rubbed that out of each other, shame, but we just did. What about you ?”

          “Well, using that definition I dunno – there’s the kids of course, even now I’d still get in the way of a truck for them. The missus, well, depends on the day really, but yeah, I guess. Other than that – well, like you, maybe two others and I ain’t naming names!”
          “Past or present?”
          “Past mate, past. I’d be stopping a fuckin’ bullet now if they were still present, and I wouldn’t have to jump in front of it to save someone else. It’d have my name on it in a fucking neon sign an’ all !
          Go on though, since you raised it what about you ?”
          “Well, at least one of ‘em you’d never have known, so no point there, like I said, Marie at one point and well, sounds stupid after all this time.”
          “What ?”
          “Remember Ali ? I think I’d still stop one for her if she ever turned up. Maybe it’s the romanticism of a relationship that happened so long ago that you start to mythologise it, but she was the one. I still fucked that up.”

          Jaz stared at Terry. Terry stared back, relieved at having said something that had sat quietly inside of him for years and years.

           Jaz’s tone dropped, “You spoken to Dave ?”

          “What ?” Terry wasn’t sure he understood the change of subject, then realised it wasn’t one after all.
          “Did he say anything ?”

          “No, why, what about ? Has she been in contact ?”

          Jaz seemed to backtrack suddenly,“No, No, just wondered, y’know, you know he had a thing with her too….”

          “Yeah, no – he hasn’t said anything. Never knew why she went off like that, was like she just walked into the sea and turned into a mermaid or something, never came back.”

          Terry was feeling maudlin now; something pulled at his memory and span away in a drunken spiral so that he couldn’t quite catch it.

           “Look,” said Jaz, getting up. “I better go – y’know, don’t get a late pass that often these days – well, not to come back home half pissed anyway.”
          Terry shrugged, he was worn-out too and needed to get into bed and sleep. He slapped Jaz on the shoulders and told him he’d look him up soon. Maybe not tomorrow, but perhaps they could get in again at the weekend. Jaz pulled on his coat and opened the door to the swirling pools of leaves and rubbish. The cold blast of air woke Terry up a bit, he stood watching Jaz disappear into the dark, headed in the direction of the sea and then home.

          He shut the door and stood in silence, looking at nothing in particular. His thoughts bowled along after themselves in this drunken state until he finally had to lie down, promising himself that he’d unravel them in the morning, if he remembered. He knew that here was something that he had to work out. Just not sure what.

          He started to pull off his clothes as he lay there in the ‘van , then decided that for the first time in years he didn’t have to, left them on, pulled the duvet over himself and collapsed into unconscious dreamless sleep.