The Sea At Night

I wanted to drive to the coast and I needed to be by the coast.   Reeling from a heavy cold and a couple of recent hard-hitting bits of negative news, I just wanted to be alone and clear my head for an hour or so, just the way us introverts like to do, and the sea air was the only thing I felt could fulfill that purpose here on this random Sunday night in March.

The sea at night is a bit like a secret party, one to which only you are invited, full of mysterious activity and wonder.  The whistling winds swirl in and out and along the tides of ear canals as seagulls squeak out at sea, still flying in their flocks, accustomed to a routine which only they know.

And on the horizon, some kind of vessel, probably a cargo ship, oozes by slowly.  You only know it’s there from the flashing red lights which, I assume, are its way of navigating through these seas.  I think about the people on that ship right now, hard-working labourers no doubt, who are probably looking at their watches and thinking about their families on the mainland tucking into bed.  Or maybe they’re just striving to connect to the Wi-Fi from a yellowing, intermittent dongle in order to resume their game of Candy Crush.   Or perhaps, pouring themselves oily instant coffee into a chipped mug and scrabbling around a battered biscuit tin for the last remaining Hobnob.  Who really knows.

My thoughts then turn to the cargo itself; what are the contents of those containers that are probably aboard, and will they one day eventuate into flotsam on a beach on the other side of the world, to be discovered by excited local children?  Just like the residents of Cornwall, who recently found pieces of Lego swept ashore from when a rogue wave had interfered with a vessel taking the toy from Rotterdam to New York in the late 1990’s.  I conclude, with no real rationale at all, that the containers on the vessel ahead of me host boxes of toothbrushes, and imagine an excited little Scandinavian child lifting one from the banks of a remote islet off the coast of Bergen, Norway, in the year 2026.

The distant ship then conjures thoughts of recent news articles which described how thirty years ago, just under two hundred people were killed when a popular passenger vessel capsized on its way back to Kent from the continent.  A crew-member of the Herald of Free Enterprise had made a huge yet human mistake and left a door open allowing water through.  As a family we had sailed with Townsend Thoresen many times, much like our relatives and neighbours had too.  My sole recollection had been picking up an M&M off the floor which my mother had swiftly snatched from me in fear that it was something more sinister than that.  News of the disaster hadn’t seemed real the first time I was old enough to comprehend it, and it certainly didn’t seem any more real now.  I look out over the mass of black water not a million miles from where the tragedy had taken place, and pay thought to the excessive number of those who perished upon their return from an innocent continental break on that night.  Life is so cruel at times.

On a well-timed brighter note, literally so, I spot the offshore Vattenfall wind-farms flicker red in the distance.  For a moment I am transported back to August 2014 when a friend of mine, Michelle,  who lived in Canterbury for a short period, joined us for a picnic here on Tankerton beach.  She had a friend who wanted to join us a little later into the afternoon, and strenuously tried to help her navigate her way over the phone, “You see those wind farms out in the distance?  We’re sat in the bay that’s directly opposite those.”

It’s a quote we laugh about anytime we’re driving along the Kent coast… because from Whitstable down to Thanet (16 miles)….those wind-farms, which stand some way out from the shore, always seem “directly opposite”!  Quite how Michelle managed to successfully guide her veterinarian friend to the exact groynes between which we were eating our lunch using that piece of advice, we’ll never quite know, but we’ll always be amused.

Then there’s the beach huts below.  We used to own one of those, a gift from my grandfather,  before vandals tore it apart for what was the last time my parents would stand for.  Many happy Summers had been spent sat inside that wooden solitude, eating fresh rotisserie chicken from the nearest corner shop (now popular fish-restaurant Jo-Jos), and dipping into the sea on boiling August afternoons.  I’d brought numerous school friends down to visit “the beach hut” , and how nice it had been in comparison to the suburban Greater London life we were otherwise used to.  Watford was a great place to grow up, but it didn’t have a beach, and that was the problem.  That was what used to make the journey home along a soulless and grey M25 reminiscent of the morning’s first opening of the eyes, prompting the sudden cessation to a dream.

The call of nature aroused me mid-daydream.  Or mid-sea-at-night-dream.  A day’s worth of coffee is difficult to contest even though I could’ve quite happily stayed outside, looking at the twinkling compressed freckles of gold in the distance denoting the next town, and wondering about the life going on beneath them.  I went into the nearest pub I could find and ordered a cup of tea, and then got my notebook out and started writing this against the backdrop of a middle-aged trio at the next table talking about Shepherds Pie.  Of all things.

I’m glad I live near to the sea.

Song of the Day: Lacrosse – Don’t Be Scared

This is a beautiful song from a beautiful Swedish band.