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 na├»ve 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.


  1. Gorgeous photo.
    I'm very much with Jonno on the watching thing too.

  2. As Ferris Bueller so wisely said - Lifes too short, if you don't stop to look around sometimes you might miss it !