Monday, 30 April 2012

Going down - part 1

Jaz, Dave, Joe and now Victor stood grimly on the headland. The light was at best indifferent; visibility waxed and waned with the curtains of rain that drifted across the whole sodden scene. They had been calling out Matt’s name for the best part of an hour now, checking along the tide-line, across the cliffs and down as far as they dared on the rocks. Nothing replied but the grim thunder and crack of the waves.

“Where exactly did you find it ?” asked Victor in an uncharacteristically low tone.

Jaz answered, resignation falling into his words, “Down there,” he indicated to the left hand side, where the beach fell away and the sea took over. “Just came out to have a look at the storm and there it was, half the fuckin’ board, smashed.” He lapsed into silence and scanned the sea again.

He’d immediately recognised the board and knew something was wrong. He felt guilty now that his first thoughts were to have a right go at whoever had wrecked their favourite toy, those thoughts soon turned to panic when he realised that more than likely one of his mates was out there. He’d run up and down the shoreline in a pointless attempt to see if he could spot anyone. Heart racing and head starting to whirl with a sickness. He realised that there wasn’t anything much he could do alone so he’d ran to Joe and Dave’s house, insistent and by now scared. They were out like a shot, Joe ran down the hill to rouse Matt; Jaz and Dave headed up the cliffs for a better spot. It was on the way there that they’d thought of getting Victor out, he might not be pleased but he had always looked after them and now they really needed it.

Victor was sitting in the empty bar of the hotel working through his accounts when they rushed in. He listened and then shooed them out – he’d phone the coastguard, they could go and look. Inside he fought against the sinking feeling that this wasn’t a good time to be in the water and whoever was had better have the luck and lives of a cat. The feeling demanded action and after he’d made the phone call he grabbed a waterproof and stomped across the slippery grass to catch up with Jaz and Dave. Dave looked out, saying nothing; they exchanged glances and resumed their scouring of the rocks.

“Coastguard on his way man.” Victor tried to inject some hope, but also felt he had to tell them the truth, “There’s a boat though. A boat gone down off Newporth with three fishermen somewhere on it. So no lifeboat for now, no chopper either.” He turned his face down, ”So they’re sending a crew down in the land rover, be about half an hour, forty five minutes….” He tailed off. “Come on boy, let’s hope we find someone before they get here. Maybe whoever had the board is safe at home and too bloody frightened to face me. I bloody hope so.”

Even so he turned his face into the wind and something in him hardened, turning the softened hotel owner’s features into those of someone that had seen a lot more than he wished to remember and didn’t want to see again. Determined and strong, he called the boys around so that they could search more effectively.

At this point Joe came running towards them, gasping for breath, rain streaking his face like tears.

“It’s Matt – It’s Matt !” he yelled at them. “Matt’s not there !”

“Calm down boy, slow now – slow - tell us” commanded Victor, strong and authoritarian now.

“Just went to get Matt.” The reply came in short gasps, “Not there. Not at home. His ‘suits gone. Guy in the garage saw him. A few hours ago. Heading to the beach.” Joe’s eyes were wide and staring, “He’s in there…”

They walked up and down, clambering down the cliff face as far as the slippery mud-stained slate would allow safely. Victor ran to the hotel and brought back binoculars, which were next to useless as the rain smeared them instantly and the salt spray gradually turned them opaque, as well as a length of rope. This was more useful; Jaz tied one end around his waist and, testing it with cold shaking hands, allowed the others to lower him further down the cliff than he would otherwise have been able. There were steps cut into a section of rock by the hotel and, roped, Jaz let the combined weight of the other three hold him as he struggled down to the point where the water started to crash over him. They had thought that he would be able to get a better look along the dark water from there but it was useless, each successive wave broke over him until clinging on for dear life became the object. He choked and spat mouthfuls of salt water. For their part the others reeled him in like some prize catch, a last wave catching him off balance and scraping him against the cliff wall before they pulled him back up to the relative calm of the top.

Still no sign of the coastguard. Still no sign of Matt.

“Shit, shit, shit !” Jaz exploded when he’d got his breath back. “Why did the stupid bastard do it, stupid selfish stupid bastard.” He dropped down to his knees on the soaked turf,” Stupid bastard, killing himself like this. What the fuck was he doing. What the fuck is going on ?” He yelled at the sky, an absolute wordless yell of pain and desperation.

Victor put his hand on his shoulder, gently but with some weight.

“Come on. Now’s not the time bra, let’s see what we can do. If we can’t do anything there’ll be plenty of time for this. Believe me, I know.”

“What the fuck do you know ?” Jaz rounded on him. Victor stayed calm.

“I know what it’s like to miss your mates and wonder if they’re dead, to look for them and hope like hell nothing you know is true. I also know what it’s like to find them, alive and dead. Man, you boys don’t know anything – before I came here, well, time enough for that later too. Time enough. Let’s go.”

Jaz looked up from the ground, ashamed at his outburst. “OK, let’s find the fucker.”

and that's called 'sad'....

Too Perfect

This was just one of those days – one of those fantastic, sky blue, hot sun, rose scented, everything’s all right with the world and all it contains days.  

Terry’s hair fell across his eyes as he climbed over Ali and out of bed, the taste of her kisses lingering in his mouth from the night before. He made coffee, opened the windows and took in lungfuls of early morning breeze, light and almost fizzing with a tangible health. Was this the healthy seaside air that the Victorians went on about so much ? The kettle came to the boil and he poured, the ground coffee releasing wave after wave of bitter fragrance that swept through the room and drove the scent of the sea momentarily back to its own borders. The tide was about halfway up the beach and a perfectly glassy left was peeling across the mouth of the bay. Terry could see one or two people in the water and a few more on the beach staring out, the clock read 5.30am. he nudged Ali, she slept on for a second or two and then flickered her eyes open with a soft smile, he offered her the coffee and she shook her head sleepily.

“I’m going to go in,” he said gently, “s’beautiful – you coming ?”

Ali laughed silently and shook her head again, “Make you breakfast when you come back…”. She shut her eyes. Terry smiled at her and ran his hand across her head, touching her neck and wondering if he should just get back into bed. But she’d be there when he came back. The beach wouldn’t look like this for long though. He gulped his coffee down; too hot and he burnt his tongue. Abandoning the rest he pulled on his wetsuit, leaving the top-half rolled down, and picked up his board from the corner of the room. Putting it down almost immediately, but reluctantly, he left Ali’s coffee by the bed in case she woke up and wrote her a note telling her he’d be back for breakfast, signing it simply 'T x'. Then he rolled a cigarette, popped it into the corner of his mouth, lit it and picked up the board again, exiting the room rather awkwardly, dancing between the door frame and the dog-leg staircase all the while protecting his beloved stick from any inadvertent dings.

Outside the front door the early sun flowed through him, it was going to be one hell of a hot day and the tourists would soon be swarming over the beach. Terry had forgotten how much of a tourist he was himself. Within a few weeks he'd started to feel part of an elite. Not that he could outsurf anyone, some of the tourists were way better than him, but out of the water he was accepted, had friends, felt a part of the scene. He fitted in here so much better than he ever had at home where for so many reasons he always felt on the outside of life. Here he’d been able to reinvent himself pretty much as he was from the day that he’d spoken to Jaz and co in the pub. Sure, they’d seen him before but they knew little enough about him for him to be able to be selective about his past and ambitious about his future in a way that he never could have been in a town where everyone had seen him grow up, where he’d been to school, where that great big drag of his personal history was always going to hang around him and mark him out as someone different to the person he knew inside that he was. He knew that this new start was perhaps only temporary, but he was enjoying it and the combination of the early morning, the rising sun and the sheer rush of living made today feel like the first day that he believed it himself. He breathed the ozone air in deeply, felt the sand rub under his heel, looked up and down the almost empty road and began to walk down to the water’s edge. 

The water crackled as it hit the upward slope of the beach. Sparkles of the long low sunlight bounced off and made it impossible to see the sands underneath. The waves rolled in constantly, even and beautifully glassy – Terry had never seen the sea this perfect. It was as if the day was made for him – he drank in the sight, almost scared to walk in the water in case his presence spoilt the transcendental perfection of it all.

When he did walk in, even the early chill of the salt water failed to register much, he waded out and then pulled up the rest of the bulky suit, wrapping it over his body until the bulk took on his form and slimmed to fit - a second, thicker skin. He reached behind his back and tugged at the zip, leant down and secured the leash around his ankle. Pushing his board alongside he strode out and revelled in the pure total gloriousness of the moment. He could see why so many surfers he’d met down here had become religious – he wasn’t about to let those thoughts enter his head, but on a day like this there seemed something quite majestic about the world, about the sea, that made you think that this couldn’t, just couldn’t, be an accident of geology and tide, there had to be a bigger plan.

 That was the romantic side of him to be sure – he found out much later that the religion tended to come from being thrashed about in cruel breaking sets, out the back on a day when the skies turned dark and there was no-one but yourself to blame for being so stupid – that’s when the praying usually started and not to the god of beauty and life and sun either, but to a wrathful Old Testament god, one bringing down walls of water from on high, a Kali, a destroyer, a force which considered you so tiny and insignificant that it wouldn’t even take note of you once you were in its juggernaut path.

Today was not that day. Terry paddled out, caught good clean waves, paddled back out again and again. Almost every ride was long and clean and implausibly pleasurable. There were guys out there pulling aerial stunts, flipping back from the lip and looking for all the world like pro’s. Terry had been told only the other week that once you could surf in cold choppy English waters then the Pacific breaks were as good as yours – watching these guys he could believe that. As he sat in the line up, now maybe ten or eleven of them, he waited his turn and watched the sheer grace of some of them, taking off and then disappearing from view as the water rushed after them and lifted high above their heads. Terry knew a few of them by sight and nodded respectfully, he saw Dave paddle out, but for whatever reason the two of them never came close to each other in the line up.

After maybe two hours the numbers were swelling, word moved fast when there was a swell like this and the car park up on the beach was filling up, full quivers of boards being unfastened from roof racks. Terry was also getting hungry now and he caught his last wave right into the shallows, walking out with a grin plastered across his face, wet hair shining and flat, heart still pumping at the love of it all and ready for what promised to be a hell of a day.

Jaz ran past him, yelled something about not getting up on time and sped to the sea. Joe stood outside the shop as Terry came off the sand, watching silently from the doorway. Terry knew that he and Dave had an arrangement where one would cover for the other when the surf got good – in the mornings and at the end of the day mainly, in season there was no way they could leave the shop during the busy hours – it looked as if Joe had the short straw this time. Terry went over.

“It’s a beauty out there today Joe, you going in ?” Terry expected Joe to be pissed off having been left up here on dry land, but he was surprisingly cheery, maybe the day had embraced him with the same feeling that Terry had earlier on.

“Dave’s turn. Might get in after a few hours, still I don’t mind – it’s pretty good just to look at it to be honest.”

“Can’t you get in when Dave comes back ?”

“Too busy by then mate. Get all the emmetts coming in for their 'papers”

“I'll cover you for an hour if you want…”  Terry found the words falling out of his mouth unexpectedly.

“Bit difficult really – you need to know what’s what…” Joe seemed reluctant to accept the offer, but his eyes told a different story, gazing out at yet another rider taking off and sliding down the face, the wave almost barrelling, not quite.

“What about when Dave comes back ? I could serve and he can do the difficult stuff ? “ Terry waited, whilst Joe carried on gazing at the sea and presumably thinking it through. His face contorted, half distracted, ruminating, physically chewing the issue over. He turned and looked at Terry. 

His face betrayed a slight doubt but he said, “OK – you go off and do whatever you need to do, Dave’s back in about an hour I reckon, come back then and that’d be really good. Buy you a few pints for that – for definite. That’s really good of you – I’d half a mind to shut up for the morning, but mum wasn’t having any of it. Her day off too.”

Terry grinned and Joe slapped him around the shoulders like a bear playing with a cub, sealing the deal. Terry wondered why he was so pleased at having just put himself into working in the shop on a day like this and then he knew why. Now he was really one of the set. Joe’s trust. The ‘being part of the community’ – he’d cracked it and he would even be happy to do an eight hour shift if it proved that to him.

Almost jogging he went back to the flat and Ali, true to her word, had cooked up a big plateful of scrambled eggs and toast, as well as more coffee.

“Saw you coming out of the water so I got it ready,” her eyes flashed blue, the day had transferred something of the perfect sea into them as well. She was wearing a long shirt of Terry’s as a cover up and Terry couldn’t help but gaze at her and wonder what the hell she was doing with him.

 “So what was it like ?” she left the question open ended – she knew, she’d been watching from the window for the best part of an hour, willing Terry out of the water but at the same time glad that he would come up buzzing and happy for the rest of the day. She just wanted to give him the opportunity to tell her whatever it was he had to tell, tales of perfect lefts, missed opportunities, blissed out nirvana on a plank. It didn’t matter – she knew he wanted to say it so she might as well give him the chance. She sat down on the bed with her plateful whilst he stood outside the flat door and peeled off his suit, rubbed down his hair with a battered towel that always hung there, and launched into a breathless saga of the last two hours.

When he finished Ali pulled him down next to her as he sat to devour his plateful, kissed him with all the freshness of her newly brushed teeth and got a taste of the saltwater in return. Terry told her about his deal with Joe. Her face dropped, then recovered quickly enough so that Terry didn’t notice.

“It seemed only fair to him,” explained Terry through mouthfuls of toast, “I couldn’t let him not go in to be honest.”

“Didn’t anyone else offer ?” asked Ali, trying to hide the slight resentment in her voice.

“Dunno, I expect not – Joe’s just a bit of a fixture to Jaz and co – perhaps its only because I’m the soft newcomer that I offered, still, he does deserve it – he’s a nice bloke and I just felt so stoked that I’d probably have done anything right then, all’s right with the world and all that.”

Ali softened. Terry really was a nice bloke and it was still nearly an hour until he had to go. She couldn’t begrudge him this for long. She put the empty plates on the floor and pulled him down to lie beside her, his damp hair tickling her face.

Oh hell, why not !

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Riding High

          “You remember that morning I found you in my tent ?” Terry shouted the words across to Jaz as he lay on his board in the morning light, just outside the break and taking a few minutes' breather after having paddled out for the last fifteen, duck diving when they could and struggling through white water when the waves came crashing down in too fast succession. The sun was bleaching the beach with a silver that followed on from the early reds and pinks. The sea was still empty apart from the two of them and the cliffs soared on their left hand side as the fountains of spray played against it’s outcrops.

          “Yeah, what about it ?” Jaz grinned at the thought. Happier these days with recollections of the past than he often was with dealing with the present. Not just him, most of the people he knew.

          “Well, remember that girl, y’know, you picked her up on the beach that day ? Long hair ?”

          “Yeah, her name was Suzannah – what about her?” 

          “Just wondered what happened to her, I mean she was about for a week or so and we never ever saw you, then all of a sudden she fades out of the picture and you reappear on the scene again as if it was all totally normal. Never, as far as I remember, said another word about her.”

          Jaz ‘s face cracked into a grin again. He paddled gently to carry himself over closer to Terry.

          “She left. Like you say. Think she was going off to Oz – never really knew where. She was a memory and a half – about five minutes after I first spoke to her she had her tongue down my throat and her hands just about everywhere. Took me a while to realise that she was just as good at this pick up game as I was and I’d been played good and proper. No-one thought nice girls did that sort of thing the. Still, she was nice, I mean really nice. She hardly let me out of her caravan for the time she was here – just emerged for more beer mainly. God I’d forgotten how absolutely fantastic and how bloody demanding she was. She wasn’t the sort who was going to hang round my neck afterwards and I suppose she must have seen something like that in me, ‘specially back then. Maybe that was the attraction. It was a very strong one. “

          Jaz’s flow was interrupted as a set grew out in the open water, “Come on then, this one !” he yelled.

           Both men swung their boards around gracefully and dropped prone, paddling with steady arms, both holding one leashed leg up out of the water, it could have been mistaken for a bizarre variation on synchronised swimming. The roar, then the rush, as the wave picked them both up and flung them down its face, Jaz flying to his feet and Terry stumbling up with a little less grace as they planed down its translucent face. Liquid glass.

          Terry bailed out first. Swinging his board off the top of the wave as the white front came crashing down. He knew he could have stayed up for longer but couldn’t face the tiring paddle back out again. Jaz rode on maybe twenty metres more and then he too sank gracefully, still standing, as the wave lost power and gave up the board in resignation.

          The morning sun had lost its redness now and the water glinted silver and black as the low rays hit every churn and ripple. The white water frosted over on the backs of the waves which seemed almost static from the shore but moved with the solidity and sureness of a juggernaut when you sat in their path. Peeling left to right, cleaning up the surface of the water with every pass. Terry had no time for anthropomorphising the ocean, it wasn’t malevolent or benign, not something to appease or fight against - it was a big machine. A big natural machine which worked according to the things that powered it – the wind, the roll of the globe, the moon’s pull. It was a system, albeit not one that he could figure out so easily when he was being dragged across a rip and smacked on the back of the head by the hard cold water.

          As the morning woke itself so did the village. More people entered the water and gradually they filtered themselves out according to bravado or expertise, depending on which way you looked at it. There were about ten or so people, all male, circling around the outside break. Now the morning no longer felt so exclusive to Jaz and Terry and they decided that enough weas enough. It still took them another fifteen minutes to find that ride back to the shallower water, a ride that  was satisfying enough to round off the session. Always just one more wave promising to be that bit better.

 The way ahead...

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Girls and Boys

          Ali crept away the morning after she and Terry met. He awoke to find a note on paper damp with the morning air and he crumpled it into his pocket as he stepped out of the door, posting the key back through the snapping letterbox. He slumped out into the drizzle, smiling despite himself, feeling every piece of his skin alive with the memory and the expectation. Ali had said she would be back soon, that she had to go and ‘sort something out’.

          She lived a few miles out of the village in a quarry that hadn’t been in operation since the early sixties, hanging out with a bunch of loosely allied travellers in their 'vans, with their kids and their friends and their dogs and chickens. They were sometimes called the Peace Convoy crowd by the locals, but apart from surface detail they really had nothing to do with the larger, more infamous, group of travellers notorious for their eviction battles with police and landowners. Still, whilst it could be a pain to be harassed for the actions of people they barely knew it could also be an advantage. The nearby villagers were always only too pleased that they hadn’t set up camp near them so they were pretty much left alone in the quarry. The police had sussed them out a long while ago and after a few weeks of unsuccessful busts and general low level stuff like the constant checks on their vehicles they were left alone by them too. Once in a while some cider-head local might try to take them on in a town pub, but for the most part they blended in fairly well with the locals and some, like Ali, had been coming back long enough to have made themselves part of the scene.

          The other reason that the local surfer crowd at least tolerated them was that they provided a fairly consistent supply of weed, usually filtered out through acquaintances like Joe rather than sold directly. It kept the flow going. Joe in particular was a visitor to their camp most weeks, swapping tales of travelling through Asia and his peculiar blend of spirituality with some of the more zoned out members of what he referred to as the 'Tribe'.

          Whatever business Ali had Terry was reassured that she’d be back. She'd planted a lingering kiss on his lips as she pulled on her blouse that morning – in his half sleeping condition Terry had done his best to pull her down again, but she simply pushed him back into the musty pillow and laughed, explaining that she had to get a lift with someone he’d never heard of.  But that she wasn’t going to let him get away with just the one night and she wanted to see what else he was good at. He smiled and drifted away again, washed back into unconsciousness by the sound of the ocean beating against the sands. He didn’t even hear the door click shut.

           Later, pushing his hands into his pockets he wandered down the road and into the shop to buy some cigarettes. Joe stood behind the counter; Dave was behind him wrapping bundles of magazines in plastic orange twine. Joe did his best not to acknowledge him at first and then broke out laughing,


          “So what?”

          “So, did she take you home with ‘er then ?”

          Terry hesitated; he didn’t much like this aspect of small village life. He didn’t want to let on, but it soon became clear that there wasn’t much to let on about. Joe already knew most of the details, except for the more intimate ones and no doubt he’d filled them in for himself with little difficulty or accuracy.

          “Jaz saw you disappear into the flat – we like to think of it as ‘er town house, seeing as how she has a nice little country retreat up at the quarry. She don’t waste no time does she !” He glanced ‘round at Dave who was resolutely refusing to look up, his history with Ali obviously still a sore point, though not for his brother who pushed things further.

          “Dave 'ere took a bit longer than that, didn’t you ?”

          Dave mumbled something that Terry couldn’t hear, but Joe didn’t stop with his monologue.

          “Mind, even if she does look like a boy she does come up well once you get her in a swimsuit. Or less.” He winked. Terry wasn’t enjoying this.

          “Look Joe,"  he finally interrupted, “I’d rather not, y’know, it’s not very cool to discuss stuff like this.”

          “Suit yerself” came the reply. “Packet of fags is it ?” he reached behind him and pulled a gold packet from the shelf. “Knew you’d be wanting them, I always do…” He broke into a laugh again. Despite himself Terry found himself laughing along, Joe’s laugh, hearty and genuine, had a way of sucking people into his orbit and his view of the world, even if only temporarily. Most people forgave him pretty much anything once he allowed them in. Dave meanwhile stayed silent, crouched into a smaller version of himself, trying to be invisible.

          Joe threw the packet half way across the shop to where Terry was standing, he caught them with one hand and Joe gave an approving nod. Terry paid and headed out. The wind was lighter and the swell cleaning up, the first of the cars had pulled in to the beach top car park and there were already two or three candy striped windbreaks dotted on the dry sand, staking their claim to their piece of the universal freedom of the English beach.

           Bleary eyed he wandered down the valley, to where his tent was. When he found it the zip was open and inside lay Jaz.

          “What the ... ?” Terry didn’t really know what to do. He kicked Jaz’s protruding foot, shoes lay outside and his socks were damp with the dew and mist.

          No reply. He kicked it again and some sort of primal animal noise came out of the canvas, slow and quiet at first it grew and grew as the prone body tensed and stretched and then finally crescendoed to a roar of ape like proportions. To Terry it came out as nothing more than a sound, then Jaz’s foot kicked back at his shins and, sounding dry and cracked, he groaned,

          “I said 'morning' ! You got no manners then ?”

          “Er, morning….” Terry wondered what to say, addressing as he was a pair of feet and not much more. So he said the obvious. “What are you doing… my tent?”

          “O ho, sharp you are aren’t you? Didn’t seem like you’d be back last night and I couldn’t face the hill, so I thought you wouldn’t mind…..How’s Danger Girl ?”

          “Look – she’s, she’s….what the fuck are you doing in my tent ?”

          “Told you, couldn’t face the hill. S’alright, I only slept in it, didn’t do anything you’d disapprove of….”

          There was a click and then a cloud of smoke blew out of the mouth of the tent. Terry sighed. Jaz sat up and blinked out at the cloudy sky, ruffling his hair into a mop which seemed intent on having every hair point simultaneously in different directions. Stubble pricked his chin and his breath stank of smoke and stale beer. He leant up to Terry and offered him the joint.

           “Man’s gotta have one before breakfast don’t you think ? Sets you up for the day”

          Terry recoiled as he took it, his senses assaulted by Jaz’s morning breath.

          “Eh, don’t get so precious. At least I know I look like a right state – have you seen yourself this morning ?” True enough Terry hadn’t. “You look just like I feel except that you, you lucky bastard, have got that just shagged smile over the top of it all and that I suppose makes it alright.”

          “Well,” said Terry, aggression deflected, “It does to me.” He took a deep toke, coughed and handed it back to Jaz.

          “Listen mate,” he crouched down by Jaz,” I’m starving, fancy a bacon sarnie ?”

          “If you’re paying. I’m all out”

          “Yeah, come on then you slacker – seeing as how you spent the night in my bed I guess that I might as well complete the whole thing and buy you breakfast too… Come on, hold my hand and we’ll have half the village talking before dinnertime...”

          “You have to be joking,” replied Jaz with a grimace that screwed his face into a parody of itself, “Though I might do after that bacon sarnie…..”

          They laughed and somehow it was all alright. Terry felt that at last he’d cracked it. Here he was, he’d been adopted by the locals, he’d pulled the most fantastically sound and gorgeous woman and within 24 hours he’d spun around 180 degrees to where he could look at other tourists and feel superior, that, after all, was justifiably what being local was all about.

           After breakfast Jaz and him took to the water and surfed for hours. Jaz laughed at his attempts, alternately helped him and ridiculed him. That Jaz was good was not in doubt, he rode one of the newer shortboards and could get out the back far easier than Terry’s outdated 8’ 6 board was ever going to. He was also fitter and more knowledgeable than Terry. He caught waves that Terry avoided because of their height or power. He swum more strongly through the white water, expertly dipping in and out of the rip to save him time and effort. Terry floundered, caught one wave to every ten of Jaz’s and went for totally unsuitable waves that flipped him and spun him round and round with the board a constant threat.

           Once the water began to get more crowded they left and lay on their boards at the top of the beach, laughing and swapping stories. Jaz was a guitarist, he fancied setting up his own band but no-one down here wanted to play much besides long prog workouts, which were not his thing. Terry’s hair had been the thing that made him talk to him, wondered if he might be a player too.

           “Sadly no. not like that anyway,” Terry sighed, “you don’t want me anywhere near an instrument. I tried and tried, but it wouldn’t really come together, some have it, I don’t and I’ve given up on the heartbreak of trying. These days, well, I just listen to it a lot.”

          Jaz nodded, “Still, saw some of the cassettes you had in the tent, not half bad, the ones I’d heard of that is. Can I borrow a few ?”

          “Be my guest…” Terry saw Jaz’s attention wander to a woman walking down the beach, long curly hair and a curve to her that was enough for most people to look twice.

          “Watch this then city boy,” said Jaz conspiratorially, “works most of the time anyway,” he backtracked just in case.

          “What ?” asked Terry

          “Just watch…some things that you can get away with doing on a beach, even in this weather, actually more so in this weather cause nothing else much is happening, that you just couldn’t get away with half a mile inland. People stop using their brains when they come down here, dunno why, but it gives plenty of scope for those who do.”

           Jaz stood up, pretended to be picking up his board and then caught the gaze of the woman, she was maybe five years older than him. He held the gaze, smiled in an awkward, almost embarrassed way, but Terry could see that was part of his plan and watched with a grin. Jaz looked away, then looked back up again to meet the woman’s eyes as she looked straight back at him. Again he held it and, just as it became that moment too long he broke away and turned to Terry, with a stage whisper he announced he was off to the café to get some drinks and Terry saw the woman smile, running her hands through her mass of hair and down her sides as if to check that she really was just quite as desirable as Jaz had somehow indicated with his smile.

          She walked on as Jaz disappeared in the opposite direction, but within minutes she was walking back up the beach and, with perfect timing, Jaz emerged carrying two waxed paper cups of tea, smiled broadly at her with a boyish enough grin to melt even the most cynical of hearts and for his trouble received a wide and knowing smile in return. As she passed he made sure that he looked back over his shoulder at the exact same time as she did and their eyes locked again. Jaz sat down next to Terry

          “Told you.” Was all he said. “Fucking easy.”

          “How do you even start to do that?” asked Terry who had observed the whole act with a growing sense of incredulity verging on embarrassment.

          “S’easy. Rule one is that there’s nothing more attractive to a woman, or a bloke for that matter, than someone finding them attractive. It’s the best aphrodisiac in the world, the idea that somebody wants you – as long as they’re not really repulsive obviously….even then after a few beers even you can do it, look at last night !” He laughed at himself ignoring Terry’s pained expression.

          “Yeah but she’s gone now, so what good does it do ?”

          “You just wait boy, time enough to reel in when the baits been taken all the way down….”

          Sure enough after another five minutes had passed whilst Jaz lay there on the sand apparently unconcerned the woman walked back past them again. She stopped momentarily to adjust a strap on her red one-piece as she passed and caught Jaz’s eyes just for a second, then, with a slower pace walked down the lane to the campsite. Jaz leapt up, left Terry with the boards and ambled after her in the most purposeful attempt at not looking purposeful that Terry had seen. He didn’t look back.

One for the boys...

Turning The Tide

          They sat on the bonnet of the car, silent, gazing into the blackness that covered the water, the dawn wasn’t far off but here in the dark it felt safe, a cloak that covered many cracks and years. The driver’s door swung half open, they pulled their coats tighter around them and blew smoke into the emptiness. The wash of the sea underlined every night sound, punctuated sentences and sucked noise away from the beach into its own depths.

             “So long a time eh ?” Terry nodded at Jaz.

            “Too long really, but it had to be done. I miss this place more now I’m back than I ever did whilst I was away. What happened to the garage ?”

          "Been gone a long time - well, been a fuckin' surf shop a long time anyhow. You'll see in the morning, too many of them for my liking."

          "Guess there's a lot else changed besides..." Terry tailed off.

          "What do you expect ? I know that a lot of the two-weekers would love to preserve the place in aspic, leave it as the underdeveloped little village they knew when mummy and daddy brought them here as kids. But it's a living place - not that most of them fuckin' recognise that when they're dawdling in the middle of the sodding road whilst I'm trying to get to work and make a living. Anyway, it's a living place, it's going to change. Always going to change."

          Jaz flicked his ash onto the car. Terry swept it away instinctively with his hand.

          "Hey, don't start - I wasn't complaining."

          "You fuckin' will when you see it all..."

          "Yeah, but I wasn't. Just asking." Terry knew Jaz well enough, even after all the years, to know that setting him off was something to be avoided. They sat there silent again and watched the space where they knew the water was.       

             “So,” Jaz broke through the wall of introspection, “haven’t heard much about you of late – a few years I guess. Last I heard you were married, good job, not bothered about coming down here to spend time with us wasters. What’s going on ?”

             “Where the fuck do I start ?” Terry laughed and sucked the air from out of it, sounding almost choked, “OK, how about the condensed version ? I split up with Marie two years ago, we got back together about six months ago, I left her again yesterday…. Job ? well, I never really did buy into it, liked the money, quite liked the status, but it wasn’t ever for me – fifteen years in a corporate suit and then I got so pissed off with it that one day I just walked. That was two weeks ago – I doubt they’ve even noticed yet. No kids. Bloody mortgage that I now need to work out what to do with. Two cars – this one is hers, I left her the decent one - the Audi – it seemed only fair. Living in suburbia and trying to figure if the neighbours were worth talking to – they weren’t, never liked my music apparently. Lost a lot of hair – but not as much as some people I know. Mum and Dad died within a year of each other, back three four years now. I currently own exactly what’s stacked up on the back seat and in the boot – but Marie’s never been vindictive so I’ll get the rest later I suppose. No great regrets about anything and no great direction either.”

          Jaz whistled, a long low sound either to indicate incredulity or to signal that he was impressed.

         “... And then I heard through the grapevine about Joe. I still surf, still see a few people who know that I used to come down here; still see a few people that still do – not that you’d know them. Believe me, I check. So anyway, I heard about Joe and thought it was about time I came back and saw what was going on. I know I’m no local here any more, but I feel like this is the time, otherwise it might not happen at all.

            Besides, I was so fucked up with home that I had to get out and it was here or blow the savings and disappear off to Indo or somewhere. I think I’m too old for that nowadays don’t you ? Even if not then I reckon that I need to hide for a while and here it’s so much more hidden than any third world beach bar where the chances are you end up talking to your Auntie’s next door neighbour or your ex’s new ex.”

            Jaz found himself in the unusual position of listening. He nodded, unsure where to start – all this information, fifteen, twenty years summed up in a moment. Terry slid down the bonnet and reached into the side pocket of the door, retrieving his own half bottle of Jack Daniels. He apologised for the lack of mixer and the two of them took alternate swigs, Jaz conspicuously wiping the bottle before passing it back to Terry.

          "So, what happened then ?", Jaz looked out and away as he said it, not comfortable with other peoples' confidences.

          "What with ?" Terry took another gulp and passed the emptying bottle again.

          "Your fuckin' perfect life ? Y'see we hear stuff too. Plenty of news rolled up about you, least for a while. Seemed you had it made - saw a picture of you and Marie getting married - can't say that we didn't wonder why we weren't invited - she looked pretty fit.....all we heard was you were living the life."

             Terry snorted, lit another cigarette, “Yeah well, it seemed so to me for a while too. There was no great drama, no tales to tell of big events, no ‘moment’ when things came apart – neither of us shagged around, not as far as I know anyway, neither of us spent too much, neither of us drank loads…. Just slowly things unravelled, things kind of crumbled. It wasn’t even boredom; at some point the compliments and the positives gave way to a war of attrition where each little fault was held up to the light and examined for those stubborn stains. We started to get on each others’ nerves, started to lose interest in what we had to tell each other. At some point it occurred to me that we never read the same books as each other any more, never wanted to see the same films. Marie always had given me a hard time about being a bloke – it was part of the attraction, a strong independent woman, but before she’d always made out that it was all blokes in general she was slagging off – y’know, in that way that only women can do because if we started talking about women the same way, to their faces, we’d be ripped apart as unreconstructed sexists stereotyping and generalising and all that shit – but when they do it….well, maybe that’s a generalisation in itself, when she did it…then it was all OK and not available to criticise or come back at. It was a running joke for a while and then the joke turned sour and the taste it left was unpleasant. That’s when we split the first time.

          We still saw each other a lot, guess that’s why we got back together. It really was a case of being unable to live together even though at some level we were so connected, so many shared experiences, that it was almost impossible not to live with her. But when we tried again it descended to the same point so rapidly that my breath never quite caught up. So I walked out and came here. She knows. She might not believe it yet, but she does know.”

            “Why did you never bring her here ?”

            “ Yeah, I wondered who’d be the first to ask that.

              I thought about it for a long while when I was driving down here and the only real answer I can give you is that she shouldn’t come here – for my sake not hers. She’d have loved it, loved you lot – well, possibly. She wasn’t really into the surf and stuff, never did come out with me in the water, but she liked her beaches. All the same I couldn’t. It’s like this place was so personal to me, so much a part of who I really am that I perhaps didn’t want her to see who that person had been. It scared me to think that I’d come so far away from that person and I don’t think that I wanted her to know, just in case she fell out of love with the me that she knew.

            She did anyway, so what was the point ?”

            Jaz shifted his gaze from sea to Terry and back again, when he spoke it was like he was addressing a non existent audience lined up on the sand below him.

             “So, she never experienced the joys of this ?”  he waved his hand at the beach, now emerging from the total darkness into strips of silver and grey, a photo developing itself. The wind blew sand into their eyes and mouths and the coldness of the nearly dawn bit through their jeans and jackets.

            “Not the once”.

             Jaz wasn’t comfortable with the emotional undertones of the conversation; they talked some more, more generally now. He filled Terry in on the comings and goings of the local crowd, Terry told him about the mind numbing tedium his once interesting job had become. Terry deflected questions about his plans with a ‘wait and see how it goes’, Jaz  avoided turning the topic to Joe and neither of them ventured into the choppy waters of why Terry had bailed out so spectacularly after becoming one of them back so many years.

            Soon the dawn had started to spread across the entire length of the beach. The sun wasn’t yet up and the night cold hung across them. The wind lessened and the blackness turned first to grey, then to a dirty yellow. Colours started to define the cliffs and they could see the waves that had sounded all the night they had sat there. Jaz was wired on the JD, a sleepless night had left him buzzing, Terry was still being kept up by the speed. Suddenly Jaz leapt off the car and ran out of the back of the car park. Terry sat there impassively and gazed at the scene in front.

           Two minutes later and Jaz was puffing back. Two boards balanced precariously on top of his head, like a walking logan stone. Over his shoulder were a couple of wetsuits.

            “Fuck !” Terry smiled broadly, “You serious ?”

            “Never more so mate, never more ! Come on, it’s not bad out there and it’ll clean up now the wind’s dropped, no-one else about, let’s fuckin’ do it !”

            “You sure ?” Terry sounded hesitant but had already peeled off his jacket and stood there shivering slightly in a white t-shirt. Jaz threw a wetsuit at him and stood the boards against the side of the car. They looked at each other and for a moment they reminded themselves silently that they were in their forties, no longer early twenties indestructibl. Then they both let that thought slip away until it no longer bore any relevance and stripped naked in the damp cold car park, hopping around and grabbing hold of the car’s wings as they tried to force reluctant legs into tired and stiff neoprene. There was no-one to see them, but for all the world they felt like they were the last and least likely pair on earth to be doing such a thing as the sun began to rise behind them, filling them unexpectedly with the sheer joy of doing something so wonderful and stupid on a morning as empty and clear as their heads were. Jaz finished first, helped Terry zip up the slightly tight suit, grabbed a board and jumped down the dune that had built up at the edge of the car park, down onto the beach skidding and skipping. Terry followed suit, running full pelt, feeling his breathing start to race, to catch up – the sea was a long way out but the swell looked promising, peeling slowly left to right, no other soul in sight.

            “Where did all this come from?” gasped Terry as he caught up, “the boards, the suits ?”

            “Joe always had some in the lock up at the back of the shop, in case he felt like jumping in after a day at work. I’ve got keys. I used to open up last winter when he couldn’t be bothered. Hope you don’t mind….y’know, Joe’s old stuff and all that…” Again Jaz tailed off.

            “Fuck no” Terry flashed a grin, “I was wondering what to do to pay my respects, but this’ll do nicely. In so many ways it’s what he would have done if the boot had been on the other foot.”

             They raced down to the water’s edge, puffing and panting, Terry was more out of condition than Jaz, but they were both throbbing with adrenalin. Neither stopped as they met the water and plunged on through, kicking up great fountains of spray as they went. When the water reached thigh height they stopped and uncoiled the yellow leashes, slapped the Velcro around an ankle and carried on, Jaz threw himself flat on the board and paddled now, Terry struggled on for a while further pushing the board alongside him. The water reached up and trickled down the neck of the suit, still reasonably warm, the swell made Terry’s feet bob up from the firm sand and hang motionless for a second. He threw himself onto the board and followed Jaz out into the big empty sea, glancing back just long enough to see the sun slide up from the inland horizon and flood the scene with pink and salmon and gold.

And out into the early morning ocean....

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Return

          Jaz was still up; the day had bothered him, something about getting older, feeling mortal and still not being ready to recognise the face that stared at him from mirrors. The drink had long worn off, that groggy past-tiredness feeling which ached through his body, but saw no respite in sleep, filled him. He could do with a bottle of red now, but none in the house and shops long since shut. He saw car headlights approach from a hill about two miles off  and, with nothing better to do, he sat outside on the front step smoking and watched them dip and weave their way down the hill into the village. They slowed as they passed Joe’s house, the one they’d all been in earlier, then disappeared down into the valley before rising again and settling in the car park above the beach. The beams swung out to sea and briefly flickered as the car engine apparently turned off, but the lights carried on burning out through the emptiness like wreckers’ lamps aimed at the black churning waters beyond the sand. There was the faint murmur of music carried on the wind now and again. This was nothing unusual – there were always folk from up country that timed their journeys so that they missed the traffic and paid for it by spending half the night huddled up in a camper van or car waiting for life to return in the morning so they could get a coffee or a fry up in one of the four or five places that had sprung up in the last few years. Once the village had struggled to keep a  single café in full employ, even that closed down once the autumn winds blew away the last of the holidaymakers, shutters firmly in place against the Atlantic gales, kitchen staff despatched to earn a living somewhere less precarious. But now there were several and what’s more they stayed open all year round, only perhaps shutting early on the most rain soaked and deserted days.

          But, curious, bored, and with nothing better to do Jaz thought he’d wander down and take a look. Maybe it was the way that the car had slowed, almost respectfully, on its way in that piqued his interest, or maybe some local interest in keeping an eye on what was going on. Whatever it was he pulled his jacket round him firmly and stashed his tobacco in the inside pocket, pulled down his fleece hat and sauntered as casually as possible down his side of the valley. It was his place after all and as common as it was for would be surfers to pitch up at this time of night imagining this was part of the whole experience, it was just as common for him, or one of the others like him, to pass their time wandering about in the early hours to pay their respects to the great life giver and check out the sea in its real dark deep element of night.

          The car, as he approached it, seemed ordinary, no boards, no lights on inside, although the headlights still blazed away from the land, music still rolling – a bass line snatch he recognised but couldn’t quite figure – an ordinary Ford, a few years older than new but unremarkable except in its ordinariness. Closer and he could see the shape of the driver inside; the windows were misted so there was no definition, a phantom. Jaz stood maybe thirty feet away to the passenger side of the car, unnoticed. Something was nagging him, the bassline filled with faint vocals, the words unheard at this distance but the melody line filling in some of the gaps – he did know the tune, the song, but not because it was one of those irritating ubiquitous radio saturated songs that crept in and nagged at you even when you hated it so much you cursed your ears for ever having heard it in the first place. This was something more resonant; it brought back something that Jaz wasn’t sure about. It still didn’t reveal itself but it caused Jaz to step back and wonder if this had been such a good idea after all. Some things are better left.

          Jaz rolled another cigarette in the dark, accustomed to doing this he barely looked down at his hands. He’d once heard somewhere that blind people smoked less because they didn’t have the satisfaction of watching the smoke curl away from the tip, smoking being so much more than just a physical hit. The same was said to be true of smoking in the dark. Whether it was true or not he didn’t know. But years at beach parties in the pitch black, sneaking out the back during shift work in shit factories later on and now his nocturnal walks, had meant that he for one felt that the idea was either bollocks or didn’t apply to him. He lit it behind cupped hands, satisfied when the tip glowed red, and walked slowly down the sand covered concrete slabs towards the car. The solid ground felt strangely fluid beneath his boots as the unseen dust and finest flakes of sand whipped around at ankle level the way it only ever seemed to this close to the edge of the world, making the join between the land and the sea much trickier to define than maps would ever let on.

          The occupant of the car hadn’t noticeably moved since Jaz had been close enough to see. He wondered for a moment if this was one of the infrequent suicides that sometimes cropped up along the coastline, but as far as he knew had never happened here. He doubted it. Why spend your last moments in a car park in the small hours ? If it was him he’d do it some other way for sure, but with the beach seconds away he’d have thought they’d have the sense to drive on there at least. The music stopped suddenly. Jaz had been just about to figure it out, but now he was left with the frustrating bass going around in his head – it was some sort of old soul tune, not normally his thing, but this one…this one meant something. An insistent bass, rising three notes, falling, then percussion, then vocals, falsetto vocals. Fuck what was it ? He had to go over, even just to find this out. The headlight beams seemed invitation enough and what the hell was there to worry about ? All the same he was a bit unnerved. The shape in the car seemed to turn towards him. Jaz was yards away now and he knew the driver could see him – there was something about the shape, some anticipation bound up in the blurred outline, or maybe that was Jaz projecting his own expectation. He double checked himself. After all this was probably no more than another tourist on a budget, knackered and looking for somewhere peaceful and maybe romantic to kip before moving on. No doubt they’d be wondering what the hell he was doing acting like a stalker in the middle of the night – probably crapping themselves. Then the headlights dulled for a second and the music came on again, quieter, but he was close enough now to work it out….God it was a long long time since he’d heard this, not soul, well not strictly he guessed –

            “But the night begins to turn your head around…..”

          Who the hell was it… ?  Four Seasons ?  Pretty much forgotten anyway - “The Night”, part threat, part sadness, part exultation. The car door opened and the volume increased,

“…and you know you’re gonna lose more than you found….” .

          Out stepped the ghost. Tall, wide eyed and very much solid flesh.


          In kicked the bass line again.

Turn up the bass, play loud.....

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Solo - part two

          One moment he was pulling round to meet the set when without warning the front hit like an explosion. The waves reared even higher and snapped above his head before he was ready. The vast torrent of water fell down on him; it was too late and too close for him to dive under, out of direct harm. The force first threw him off the board and then pushed him down. He could feel the leash stretch and go taut as he spun round under the weight of the spinning ocean, he curled into a ball hugging his knees, expecting the board to snap back like a cartoon cat on a rubber band –the board hitting him was always his worst nightmare, with the weight it carried he’d be knocked out cold to drown unaware and silently. He waited for the impact. Nothing. He was desperate for air, but in the darkness of the undersea it was impossible for him to tell which way was up. Something scraped past his leg. At first he thought it was the board, but he put out his hand as he was swirled past and grabbed…sand – the bottom. He was at the bottom of the sea, still spinning and almost out of breath.

           With the last of the air in his lungs he pushed up to where he guessed the surface was – he must have been under for, for how long? Seconds, minutes, hours, about ten feet of beach? He didn’t care, yet he couldn’t stop calculating it anyway. Then. Then the surface ! He broke through the skin of the surface and gasped, seconds later another wave hit, with less force this time, but enough to push him down again. It was just as well since he’d taken less air in this time, but again he came up spluttering. His only way out was to get the board back and at least try to stay on the surface. His legs worked like pistons to keep afloat whilst he reached down and grabbed the leash to reel it in. There seemed to be something missing and he soon found out what. At the end of the leash was about three feet of board…the back three feet and a single fin to be precise. Shit. The board had snapped. But it was enough to float and gratefully, dimly aware of what he’d have to say to Victor, to the others, when he got back on the beach, he grasped the stump of board and tried to get his bearings. He sucked in each lungful of air in case it was his last before another enforced dive.

           Matt washed about, disorientated, but seemingly out of the drop zone. He looked up but the rain altered shapes and the headland blurred away at the edges. He couldn’t quite work out what had happened. Then he realised. He was beyond the break again. At some point in being thrown around in the spin cycle of the last set he’d been pushed over into the rip. A rip that was running more viciously than he’d ever known and it had sluiced him further out to sea than he’d ever been, the wrong side of waves eight, ten, twelve feet tall, clutching a pathetically stunted fragment of board. Even if he’d had the full board he’d not have known what to do.

           The rip had pulled him off to the left hand side of the bay, he was sloshed from side to side as the waves hit the cliff in explosions of ridiculous violence and washed back out to where he hung grimly, each one pushing him further out. The sky was dark and if there were any people watching from the land he couldn’t see them. His stomach filled with ice and he pissed in the wetsuit, warming momentarily before the next curtain of rain mixed in with spray slapped him square across the face.

           He knew he couldn’t just sit and wait. The sea was rough and getting rougher, he was getting colder. Somewhere, seemingly a long time ago, he remembered that he shouldn’t do what he so desperately wanted to do – to swim back against the rip. Maybe it was one of the fishermen who’d told him, maybe he’d read it in a Jack London book or something, but he realised that to have any hope of getting back he had to swim across the rip. On one side there were the cliffs, vertical slabs, crumbled to meet the water’s open mouth, on the other it seemed like a mile across the bay. The cliffs then. Matt lay on the ragged piece of splintered balsa and varnish and tried to paddle it towards the relative shelter of the rocks – at least there he figured, even if he could get no further, he’d be out of the water and could wait it out until the tide dropped or the storm passed - or maybe both. He made good progress, perhaps too much. As he got near the cliff he felt a boost from behind and realised he’d been picked up by another wave and was flung forwards, surfing flat bellied towards the teeth of the rocks. He tried to pull off, but the force was visceral and refused all his attempts to leave its embrace. He was almost there when he let go of the board and shut his eyes – the momentum of the board lost he was pulled back behind the break once more and opened his eyes expecting to see pulverising granite approaching at speed but was gratified to see just the immense plume thrown up as the incompressible met the uncrushable. He was pushed out again by the backwash, struggling to hold on to the board with his numb fingers, gripping the waxed rails with all his strength. The sea rose and fell, smashed and splintered again and again against the cliff debris.

           To get in Matt needed to get close enough to make the gap in the swell – to get up and behind the rocks jutting out from the base, away from the break tearing at the unimpressed rocks and rending smaller rocks, seaweed, soft bodies like Matt’s into so much broken flotsam and sand. The noise here was unimaginable – a constant howl of power – the snap and whip of the water, the low bass growl of the waves; once this would have impressed Matt, but now in the throat of the bay it sounded like nothing less than a war cry, a wail of intent, a shout of all consuming victory. It was as if the sea were claiming back its margins from the land and the people on it –one small exchange, Matt, for the bounty it had given up time and time again –here was another to add to the list of drowned sailors, snatched fishermen and suicidal cliff jumpers. Fair exchange for all the oil, the fish, the sand, the shit.

           The board ground against some exposed and barnacled rocks, scraping and pitching. Matt felt it hit against the side of his trailing leg. A moments stinging and then too much else going on for him to pay any attention. He was floundering but could see a break in the otherwise blank cliff face, a crack, a hole, just above the waterline. He was floating almost immediately below the cliff path now, washing just behind the break, just out of reach of the impact zone and just that bit too far away to feel anything but exhaustion.

           Then the gap. The waves stilled for a moment. Matt stared out at the horizon, looking for the tell tale signs of the next set, a ridge of approaching waves. They were there, but slowing, a long way out. Maybe thirty, maybe forty seconds away. He swung around and paddled across the juddering water, arms and legs pushing and pushing, pumping, flailing, moving. He could feel his heart thumping through the wetsuit, slamming against the hard surface of the board as he frantically tried to keep up the pace. His throat burned with the effort of breathing so fast, so deep. Mouthfuls of seawater were a minor inconvenience. He was getting closer. Here the water was still rising and falling by two, three feet as it hit the rock and backed away again, but it was manageable. As he reached the first rock he ditched the remains of the board, letting it go and feeling it tug on the leash. The rocks were still too sharp, too jagged for him to spare the time to undo the leash and the board bobbed around some six feet away like an ungrateful sullen pet. He clambered over the clustered rocks, wedged together and chanced a look up. The next set was rolling closer, maybe five seconds before it swept over the rocks and smashed against the cliff wall. Matt, clear headed now, hung in the water behind the rock, jammed his fingers and knees hard into any crevices he could, took a deep breath, ducked down under the surface and waited for the impact. He felt the water suck away from around him, he pushed himself down and. Crack ! The noise filled every bone in his body, muffled and sharp at the same moment. The pressure pushed him down, made him lose his grip momentarily, filled the underwater space with bubbles, millions of bubbles. Then it passed, leaving swirling eddies and a rain of salt water from the face of the cliffs. Matt surfaced. He’d done it. Now for the next move, less time now. Again he pushed towards the base of the cliff, grasping at rocks, able even to stand on some as he floundered for footing, he crouched in the lee of another granite boulder, rode out another impact and pulled further on.

           Five, six waves had passed over him when he reached the relative calm of the crack he’d seen running diagonally up the face. He finally pulled off the leash and let the board go. It swung out into the rip and was pulled away from him, along with so much else.

           The crack was about two feet wide and he pushed himself up clear of the area that bore the brunt of the sea’s malevolence. Matt sighed, exhausted and recognised for a second that this was not malevolence at all, it was his stupidity, his ego, the sea was just doing what it always did and the fact that he happened to be in it at the time would have been of no consequence to the salt water and all its attendant deities. His leg began to throb and he felt down, the suit was gashed badly on the left leg and blood was pouring from a cut on his calf about eight inches long. Hard to tell, he thought calmly. The blood was running freely, but the salt water was the main culprit there, succeeding in overwhelming the hot viscousness and transmuting it into something closer to it’s own form, all the while letting it bleed freely and refusing all attempts to let the wound shut of its own volition. Ignoring it he climbed higher up the cliff and found a half ledge, like one of those half seats they gave you in fast food restaurants when they didn’t want you to sit properly and spoil their turnover by stretching out your visit. He wedged himself on it and wondered if he’d ever get up or down again.

           Around his feet the water carried on colliding with the rocks, but each one seemed to take the tide further out and he hoped that he might be able to climb down and even walk back to safety, although, now temporarily safe, that didn’t seem so fitting an end to the adventure as he’d have liked to retell afterwards. Nevertheless he wasn’t about to question it as a way out. His leg was hurting more now and he began to get worried about the blood.

           The sky was darkening. Evening was coming. Matt was cold now. He’d tried yelling for at least an hour, but his voice was hoarse and cracked. No-one would have heard him anyway. Another hour had passed since he’d stopped and the water still lapped around below him. He was starting to get numb fingers and his damaged leg, although not bleeding any longer, was cold. Only one way to go. Up.

           A few false starts almost made him give up, resign to the prospect of oblivion on the cliff face. Then he managed to get a solid handhold and pulled, literally pulled his weight up on the one hand, allowing him to swing his feet over to the next hold. But once started he realised, there was no stopping. Each few feet took an age, the rock was solid, but worn and rounded, hard to get a grip. Where it was more newly opened by the weather the edges splintered and cut, making reliance upon the holds dangerously foolhardy. Matt had time to look at the passing lines, the millions of years etched into the exposed edge of England. Here he was clutching at decayed and compressed primeval forest, next at the sea bed of an ice age long forgotten, hauling each painful inch on soil long ago returned to rock.

           After maybe an hour, the darkness closing, he stopped at a band of chalky soil, grass tufts sticking out in rare displays of defiance. He was still at least thirty feet from the top and he’d covered no more than seventy in the last hour. The crack he was following widened, there was an overhang above him and he didn’t know how to get around it. For shelter and security he pushed himself deeper into the crack and saw that here the back opened to the same chalky crumbly half-soil he’d just seen. He pushed his hands into it, it was wet and fell away easily. He didn’t know why but he began to tear at it, pull at it, carve out a niche in the rocks, make room for him to…To what ? He didn’t know. He didn’t care anymore. He was tired, very scared and getting colder. He had the idea of making a snow hole, like those ones that arctic explorers always survived in during avalanches and the like, he’d seen that on TV. OK, so there was no ice, no snow, but the principles had to be the same. Beyond that he had no thoughts. Immediacy was all that mattered.