Friday, December 04, 2009


We can see them down by the water’s edge, a disparate huddle of fluorescent yellow, dark denim. A quad bike. Two guys in orange – a signal to us from them. The sea is murderous today, a lumpen beast falling on the body of the shore. The air is filled with a chaotic roar, and rags of foam tumble through the air like spit from the mouth of a rabid animal. Even to paddle at the edges of this thing would be sufficient grounds for a straitjacket - but to walk in?

I park the ambulance, we haul out the bags and blankets we’ll need and set off down the ramp to the shingle beach. A crowd has gathered on the walkway to watch the action.

Nearer to the group, and we can see a middle-aged white man standing Christ-wise, his arms straight out to the sides, a policeman clamped on either end. Two beach guards are drying and warming themselves up around the quad bike. A young black guy in a long trench coat hugs a briefcase to his middle and stamps around on the pebbles, his coat tails snapping in the wind. A third policeman comes up to us and shouts an explanation: threatened suicide, walked in up to his waist, pulled out by the lifeguards, freezing cold, wet through, can we check him over before they take him off to the cells?

The man starts trying to pull away from the two policemen, who have to readjust their grip and their stance to control him.
‘I want to die,’ he shouts. ‘Let me go. You can’t do this.’
His face is flushed red, slapped with cold, his walrus moustache matted with water and snot. Everything about him is sopping wet – his denim jacket and jeans, his trainers, his stripey woollen jersey, saturated, hanging.
‘Come on, mate. Let’s get you into the warm.’
‘Let me go.’
The man in the trench coat stands off. I go up to him. I guess that the two men are probably a couple, but I need to make sure. I nod and smile as I get up close, then lean in to shout above the wind:
‘Are you related?’
He looks sideways at me.
Related? Are you mad? I’m black! He’s white! Of course we’re not related!’
‘No, no. What I meant to say is: are you partners?’
Yes, we’re partners. Yes, we’re gay. So shoot me! Oh my God!’
‘Apart from walking into the sea, has your partner done anything else to hurt himself? Has he taken an overdose?’
‘No. He’s not that stupid.’
‘Stupid enough to walk into the sea, though.’
‘That really was stupid.’
‘So what happened?’
‘What happened? We came down for a break. Some break! We had a stupid argument – I can’t even remember what. He said he didn’t want to carry on. Said he was going to drown himself in the sea. So I said fine, and went off to get some help. When I came back he was up to his waist.’
‘Did he go under at any time?’
‘No. He just stood there til they pulled him out. God knows what I’m going to tell his mother.’

The police start to march the man up the beach, but he resists, crumpling at the knee and collapsing to the shingle. The other policeman goes to help. They half carry, half drag him up the beach, sprawling and wriggling between them, until finally they land him on the concrete of the promenade, laying him gently down, like some giant, sad, strangely-marked starfish for the crowd to wonder at.


samrad said...

you have lifeguards at this time of year - that must me a miserable job! Spoken by someone who did it for 5 years summer only and is now in the coastguard :)

Spence Kennedy said...

I think they're more beach patrol - keeping an eye on things, the businesses and clubs all along the front - a council patrol.

I'm presuming it was them that pulled this guy from the sea. But I don't think they did much in the way of swimming. It'd be more a question of wading a little way to drag him back (although of course in a big sea, that would be dangerous enough)


lulu's missives said...

Hi Spence,
You must be so bored with my comments, I always write the same thing.
"Brilliant. Wonderfully descriptive" etc.....
Ditto to the above post.
You have a way of making us feel like we're there watching, along with you.
I know that shingle beach, it reminds me of the one I used to go to as a child.
xx jo

Spence Kennedy said...

I'd never get bored with your comments, Jo! I'm really pleased that you read the blog and like it enough to want to say something. It's a real bonus! So thanks very much.

The only thing I used to hate about shingle beaches was how much they hurt your feet, especially coming out of the sea. (Think about Daniel Craig coming out of the sea in Casino Royale - he wouldn't have looked quite so cool when he reached the little pebbles - picking his feet up, flapping his arms about and yelling 'Ooh Oww Ouch'). But all that changed when I got some rubber shoes...


lulu's missives said...

Hello S.
I had brilliant clear jellies, but they disappeared in one of my major moves. They saved my feet many a time.
I love James Bond but Daniel Craig isn't my favourite 007. Loved Sean Connery, with Pierce Brosnan a close second. Sorry what was the question? I digress.....
Hope all is well.

Spence Kennedy said...

I saw a jellie tree at Dungeness once. They'd hung every jellie washed up on the beach on a pole.

Daniel Craig is a bit too pouty IMHO, but he runs along a gantry well enough. I too prefer Sean Connery - proper hairy macho. Pierce Brosnan never did it for me, way too much like an extended advert for Tag Heuer watches, or Head & Shoulders. (But then I love Dante's Peak...) x

lulu's missives said...

I once rode a Harley down there.
Did you visit Derek Jarman's amazing garden when you were there?
It's such a bleak spot to choose to live on the English coast. So close to Winchelsea or Rye, but he chose there.
I would like to visit it again.

Tom102 said...

Atmospheric, and disturbingly accurate. If you could relate the smells I would be transported back there.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Tom
I think I often forget to describe the smells, and you absolutely do need to cover all the senses to get the situation across. So thanks for the tip off! :)

Spence Kennedy said...

Jo - Yeah - I had a look round Prospect Cottage! I remember he had a poem written on the outside of the house (just looked it up: John Donne's 'The Sunne Rising'). Excellent place - wild and atmospheric. x

Rach said...

Thanks Spence, I could taste the sea air reading that..xx

Spence Kennedy said...

Cheers Rach!
There's only one thing that beats being by the sea when there's a spectacular storm raging - and that's going for a swim when it's really hot and calm (God I wish it was summer again...) x