I’ve never been a water baby, and I have certainly never been a fan of beaches. I’m thirty years old – thirty one in November – and I cannot swim. I’ve never known the pleasure of being weightless. And yet I spend most of my evenings walking the same sand, treading the same footprints, taking the same pictures of which no two ever end up the same.
I look for temporary sensations these days, like passing rain showers. Always looking for those connections. As I explained to a youthfully old friend recently, I adore the romance of the brief encounter – whether friendly or sexual – the thought of meeting people for minutes, maybe hours and never seeing them again. They remain as perhaps you do; an imperishable anecdote, a memory to be recalled and brought up, a ‘I wonder what they are doing now’ post-script. As I’ve said before, it is in keeping with my outright fear of meaningful responsibility to desire this distance. Thankfully, I am not the only one who feels this way.
It was as we hugged, both sharing mutual umbrellas, that I realised how many people have slipped away perhaps forever. It was not a negative or positive feeling, but one of realism. The paving stones are the same, the sun remains to pour electrons onto our skin, but people – alive and well – are gone, and unrecognisable.
I am in a good place, relatively speaking. I love my job. I am looking for my own place. I’m a few pages into this new chapter of my life, and ready to get the plot really motoring. I feel like a strange hybrid of the narcissistic bachelor I was before, and the more sober (in every sense except the literal one) lover I became, battle-scarred – if that isn’t too dramatic – by the hardships of life in an expensive town with a poor job and a relationship which gave me the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
And yet one thread still carries through, and it is that desire to make those brief connections. To leave a footprint in the sand that remains for a day and is destroyed by the tide, rather than a signature on a contract that is binding. I look for those sensations, when you delve through the layers of society, self-awareness and vanity like palaentologists burrowing through geology, looking for some kind of Pure You. A moment when you feel so content with the world that, in the paraphrased words of Morrissey, you wouldn’t mind a double decker bus veering towards you out of control.
It’d been a long day at work. It was evening, the sun already down and the sky prematurely dark from a thick layer of cloud trapping the heat underneath. I drove home over the moors, the only moving vehicle for miles, with my windows down as fierce rain hosed into my face, forcing me to close my eyes, my hair dragged back over my ears by the oncoming wind. On an old crackling cassette, made for me fifteen years ago during times of innocence, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ spat through my speakers as I matched him in volume if not tone, whilst the needle on the speedometer crept up in a neon-orange arc.
I’m in my car again. The beach was busy, as I crawled through holidaymakers, stop starting as they desperately looked for a parking space to leave their screaming, ice cream desiring progeny behind. Stopping outside a bus queue, I have Simple Minds – Don’t You Forget About Me blaring rather too loud from the stereo. I’m remembering a night out in St Albans; drunk for 108 hours and knowing my time in the city was limited, I shambled out of my ramshackle house and found a pub band, intending to dance my legs down to the knees. I flailed alone, to this song and more, as the couples and the groups of friends formed a perimeter around me – the skinny drunk and my one-night friend, a short man high on memories and cocaine.
Lost in this memory, I see movement in my perpherial vision. Three 30-something women are dancing and mouthing the words to this song. I can only laugh and give them a brief smile as the gap in front of me grows and the impatient families behind urge me onwards.
I’m sitting on a train, between carriages, waiting at a station. Five men make the door at the last second, full of alcohol and violence. I remain buried in my book, the autobiography of Morrissey. After ten minutes of talking and stumbling between themselves, one of the mouth breathers asks me about my book. I tell him the title and one man’s eyes light up. Later on, all six of us are sharing musical anecdotes. We talk New Order, Joy Division, Depeche Mode and Paul Simon, via Yello and Gloria Jones. I leave them reluctantly, but I have other trains to catch.
I’m walking the beach, and a young woman marches past me, kicking up sand in her small footsteps. She gives me a sideways glance and nothing more as we pass each other. I continue to amble slowly, kneeling for photos, as the sun continues its descent. Half an hour later, as night falls, I’m a few hundred yards nearer my destination and aware that I am being watched. I turn around to see the same woman, now marching up behind me with a hard stare. I stop, and she passes by at Mach 3. I say, ‘are you trying for the land speed record?’ and she gives me an ambiguous smile, which might suggest laughter or might be calling me a dick. I capture this photo above, just before the light becomes too bad and she is so far away as to blend back into the sand from where she came.
I’m standing on a lonely moor road, looking down on a deep and wide valley. At this moment, I look up and see a shape I haven’t witnessed in months. The genuine ‘V’ of a red kite. As I am looking up, I see that this kite has a family. And then, just as the brood fly out of my vision into a boiling sun, a fighter jet screams by perilously low. It reinacts the Death Star Trench Run, weaving around the route of the valley, almost at my eye level albeit a mile or so away, the pilot having his or her own Skywalker fantasies before climbing vertically just at the waterfall. In the time it has taken you to read this snapshot, the Kite and the Jet are just echoes – a keening, invisible cry and the rumble of a long-disappeared engine.
Is it romantic or is it just a sympton of that most un-romantic of behaviours – a willing embrace of moments over continuity and commitment? Personally, I blame Thunderbirds for this seeming fear of permanence I have. Every episode, a new and exciting piece of life-changing, futuristic technology would end up coming to grief. The opening credits featured an oil refinery exploding for no apparent reason. If I’m a romantic, then I clearly don’t desire love, and I’d agree with that wholeheartedly (as it were). If I’m not a romantic, then how do you explain all that ridiculous guff about Red Kites, and dancing women and getting myself drenched whilst driving, all in the name of goosebumps?
I went to MIMA this week, to see the new exhibition of Louise Bourgeois. Whilst I miss the Francis Bacon painting that has captivated me for most of this year, it was nice to see something new. Bourgeois’ works seemed to suggest a fear of intimacy, possibly relating to experiences during childhood (a non-descript childhood, not necessarily hers). One of the centrepieces was a series of stencils featuring her hand reaching out to that of her long term assistant. Sometimes the outlines of the hands were close, sometimes they were far apart, pointing vaguely away. Other works were less twee – three-headed screaming effigies inside sterile, metal cages – two handed wrists (one open one closed) – hanging figures with male genitals and vaginas for heads – and grotesque images of a mother and child as part-skeleton and part-melted waxwork, seeming to be in the middle of a playful exchange, except for the faces contorted in agony. And the most striking exhibits; enormous junk metal spiders, one tall enough to be able to walk under without crouching, presumably exploring the psychoanalytical theory linking arachnophobia to a fear of the matriarch. The fear of intimacy born soon after birth.
At least, that’s what I thought anyway.