The Man of the Sea

Recently whilst scrolling through some of the random overload that is Facebook, I was halted  in my indifference by a photograph. It wasn’t the post or the content that made me stop and open the image, but the man in the picture.  The mirrored image of a man I know, have known and have descended from. 

A man in oilskins standing on a harbour wall with fishing boats tied up behind him.  A man staring straight ahead with his dark eyes vacant, weather beaten skin and deep furrows in his brow carved by the wind, the sun and the rain, in varying degrees of discomfort. I know this man. He’s a man of the Sea. 

That man in the picture is a breed. In this modern age he’s becoming exceedingly rare though. And to be frank, an acquired taste. There are many men who indulge in and enjoy nautical pleasures. Generally it takes a bit of money for any kind of yacht and even more for some of the sleek luxurious motor cruisers. These Dubarry clad sailors either dabble or sometimes fully embrace the lifestyle, but rarely does that define them as a true man of the Sea. 

For there he is in the corner of a grubby bar in some gritty coastal town. He’s a sailor, a diver, a lifeboatman, a fisherman or a rig worker. He’s either on his own or exchanging brief dialogue with those he knows or trusts. He hasn’t got time for pleasantries with strangers or polite conversation. Talk should have a purpose and this is a man used to his own silence. If he has a hardness etched into those furrowed brows, it’s because his lover is unforgiving and cruel. One day she is calm, has a warmth, welcoming and  loving and the next she has the potential to rip him from the safety of his deck and into her frenzied bosom, squeezing the life from him. This man loves the Sea. He may love her more than any mortal woman he shares his bed or his life with. A sailor with a girl in every port, a hardened heart and a worthy reputation for some. Maybe it’s the separation from the normal social existence of a race who live on land, but this man is here by choice and he is more comfortable and alive when on or at least near the sea. 

The Man of the Sea may have many vices. Loose women, hard liquor or smoking high tar cigarettes or rolled up tobacco. He doesn’t care too much for striving  to reach a grand old age in reasonable health. If he becomes the highest accolade of an Old Man of the Sea, that will be grand, but hell would be some Old Peoples home with normal people who could never understand the real freedom in the extremes he has felt and tasted. His obsession is for sunrise over horizons and sunset over headlands, the changing skies, the cry of the seabirds overhead and the depths, with her belly of treasures and secrets. 

Don’t try and love him because that distant look and searching in his eyes in not “lost”. Centuries of women have fallen for his hardened charms and readiness for separation and detachment. This man knows where the home fires burn and he’s happy to indulge in the earthly pleasures of a women’s flesh or the stiffest of dinks. But he’s knowingly helpless to the draw of the addiction he loves and hates in equal measures. She is what courses through his veins. 

This Man of the Sea. 

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Bright Lights, Little City

My most treasured and special days are my days off. The days I have at home in our little coastal village with it’s sandy beach, 17th century Castle and basalt Amphitheater as a dramatic backdrop. I live in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, as it goes.

 When I have to leave the house to drive to my local town, I can go the short way or the long way. The long way takes me around the headlands, the meandering Coast Road and through the Black Arch carved into the hillside and the gateway to and from the iconic coastal route. I pass through our own friendly little village, the country park and the next little bay where fabulous houses are popping up on formerly derelict sites. Built there with upside down living and lots of glass, drawn to the same attraction which seduces me to choose the long way every time. The sea. The North Channel with her guardian goddesses perched on the rocks out to sea and the distant Mull Of Kintyre adorned by the lighting choice of the weather gods. Days off are precious in the ever changing beauty of light, season and weather in this constant seascape. 

By contrast, my work life takes me to the heart of our capital city. Albeit Belfast as cities go, is a little one. I leave for work whilst most haven’t even stirred from their dreams and head up the nondescript dual carriageway with the other early commuters and recently berthed ferry traffic.

 I could dislike the city. My early memories were of security turnstiles, army patrols on the streets, headlines of murder and bombs. Political and religious hatred which still lives on in the hearts of those too bitter or plain stupid to leave it behind.  In those days the Europa Hotel was infamous as the most bombed hotel in the world. Thirty Six attacks during the “troubles”. Maybe if Belfast hadn’t seen so much pain and hurt during my formative years, I wouldn’t feel so much pride and love for her now. After all she suffers the same social problems as all modern cities, but oh how the Bright Lights of our Little City are shining these days. 

When I take a lunchtime stroll I am filled with hope each and every time.  Some of the oldest, most historically important and precious buildings and structures filled with new life and purpose alongside brand new development. I’m naturally drawn of course to the water and the Titanic Quarter where at last we’ve realised the value of our proud shipbuilding heritage. As I stroll across the footbridge which spans the Lagan weir and head towards the two big Harland and Wolf cranes which watch over the city like two steely yellow giants, I’m warmed to hear excited chatter in numerous languages. Tourists with camera phones, or SLRs slung around their necks heading for the Nomadic and the Titanic visitors centre. Or back towards the city plainly puzzled by the slightly skewed angle of the Albert Clock. So many visitors seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, photographing and loving our city. 

I’ve recently discovered that for one quick hit and feel good injection about Belfast, all you need is half an hour in St George’s Market on a weekend. Forget Royal Avenue and Victoria Square with its same shit, different city, chain stores and shiny mass produced luxuries. When I want to see the best things that this little place produces all on it’s own without the plastic, factory in Asia and huge carbon footprint, I head to the market. Yes there’s the odd stall of utter tat but you can buy the freshest fish from a local fishmonger, vegetables straight from the farm, little paintings by local hands of our greatest landmarks and artisan candles which smell of yellow whin bushes in the spring and turf fires cutting through frosty air on winter’s nights. 

There’s a buzz here. Local musicians playing to a colourful crowd. Locals and tourists eating paella or baked spuds. Belfast these days is wearing it’s contrasts well. 

Keep hoping Little City. Keep those bright lights shining. 

Sea Spray for the Soul

I started this blog about two years ago when I was lost.  The original posts which I have since deleted, were a gaping insight to my soul and the fears I held so tightly at that time.

Two years on, I’ve managed one other post. A light hearted, fun analysis of a Jimmy Buffett song and it’s ties to my own pleasure time. I’ve thought about why I haven’t penned more over that time. After all, I’m not sure I’ve grown more or conceived so much contentment in any other period of my life.

I’m not afraid anymore. Yes, sometimes I get those mortal nigglings about life and death, the passing of loved ones and relationship fears, but I’m not afraid. I don’t fear floating off on my burning raft over the waves to Valhalla!  I am (mostly) calm, centred, strong and happy. I have learnt what centres me and pulls me to the earth. For I am a water sign. I am tied to the sea, the tides and the moon.

“Crazy hippy type”, I hear you cry! Far from it friends. This girl likes her BMW, her yacht and her designer handbag collection. Yes. I like those things. I work long and hard for them, but they don’t fulfil me. They don’t calm me, soothe my soul and quieten my mind. My being needs Sea Spray for the Soul.

I need the smell of sea air, the reflections of white sail on mirrored calm waters. The breezy days when the heel on the yacht is greater and we are whizzing along with sea spray and the wind on my face. The dark winter nights when I’m the only dog walker on our beach and the tides and waves rage in tormented energy. The days when the coastal views are so clear, that I can see from the Northern Irish Coast and headlands to the peaks of Arran.

I had spent so many years of my life looking for something. Something tied to the land. Excitement, belonging and fulfilment from other people, purely material gains and experiences which then felt false and empty. I spent a lot of time making mistakes with people, places and choices.

When I was a little girl, each weekend my Dad used to take me for an early morning walk to our run down local boatyard. We used to walk out along the long wooden jetty together, the sea on either side and below the spaced wooden slats. Boats tied to swinging moorings and old boats on trailers with stories of the sea etched in their fading paintwork. These were some of the most contented and calm memories of my childhood. The same calm and contentment I feel now, my life being shaped and my energy, focus and courage drawn from the sea.

Now I live right on the coast, with my husband and little boy. Boats and the sea have become our way of life. We aren’t perfect in our own big story of life and we sometimes don’t get it right, but now I know how important Seaspray is for my Soul. Sometimes we need to look back and see what runs through our blood. The sea is my essence.

I intend to write more for you (and myself) about those nautical adventures and therapies!

Boat Drinks

In February 1979 a homesick Jimmy Buffett is said to have penned “Boat Drinks” in the chill of Boston whilst yearning for warmer climes. The song was never released as a single but has over time become one of his most popular and well known tunes.

Jimmy isn’t a huge deal in the UK. I hadn’t really given him much thought past the guy who sings “Margaritaville” until I heard a podcast of Jack Johnson talking about the musical influences in his life. Growing up listening to Buffett. When I realised Jack’s wonderful cover of “A Pirate looks at Forty” was in fact Jimmy’s song, I started to realise Jimmy Buffett was somewhat of a big deal. Especially if you are a Parrothead!

Boat drinks for me is less about Jimmy being stuck in Boston in winter and more about the dream the lyrics conjure up. That dream being rum laced concoctions at sea, balmy breezes and lazy days! Orange skies as the sun sets over the oceans.

You see Jimmy Buffett is a man who knows a lot about Sea Spray for the Soul. And Jimmy gets it!

As I drive my daily commute I often sing along, amongst other favourites, to Boat Drinks. My mind wanders off to the wonderful tropical places my daily grind allows me to vacation to and indeed the deck of our own boat “White Spirit”.

Jimmy reminds me of Red Stripe by the neck whilst the sun set over a reggae cruise in Jamaica. Rum punch with a splash of salt water from the warm Aruban sea. The Dodgy Dock in Grenada, the really cool guy who played his guitar and sang Buffett songs at the request of my three year old in a dockside bar in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Beer whilst crewing for my cousin on regatta day, red wine with warm companions on a sailing course and actually every beverage I have the privilege to enjoy aboard White Spirit. It’s all about the dream of Saint Somewhere!

Boat Drinks are by far the best