19 November 2009

More 'Surrendering To The Undertow'

Another extract from my shitty novel. Sometimes I lie on the bed that it is buried beneath and I sense an itch along my spine. Then I scratch and go back to sleep, not so soundly.

Indian Summer: III

It was a cold morning with a light southerly wind blowing. There was some swell visible in the bay that had cleaned up significantly from the night before but I decided to wait until the afternoon, until after I had met Marina and after I had tackled my hangover. As I have expressed previously, I usually hated being hung over. I hated the lethargy. I hated wading out into the surf with no energy and almost vomiting from crushing my guts on my surfboard as I paddled out to sea. I hated how I felt like I had been poisoned, which of course I had but that day it was tolerable, enjoyable even. Hundreds, probably thousands of people across Wales were feeling the same way. It was the small price they paid for that ecstatic Saturday night feeling, a little indulgence after a mind-numbing week of work or dole lounging. I almost felt like I was doing the right thing, like I was participating in a national past time. Only I was enjoying it because the strange movements in my gut as a result of my hangover were indistinguishable from the strange feelings I had in my gut as a result of thinking about Marina.

We had agreed to meet by the dilapidated band stand on the sea front, not far from where we had sat the previous night. I arrived first and sat down, taking deep breaths of the fresh sea air to ease my nausea and nerves. The promenade was alive with families from Birmingham, indulging in another great British tradition (aside from the Sunday morning hangover), the trip to the seaside. Walks on the pier. Eating ice cream. Playing penny arcades. Paddling in the sea. Hankies on the head. Donkey rides. Fish and Chips on the prom. Summer was gone and they had realized they had not seen the sea since last year. It would soon be too long of a cold and wet drive from the Midlands, across the English/Welsh border, across the hilly Welsh countryside and down into Aberystwyth. There was a time when I hated city dwellers invading the coastline. I hated the beach balls, frisbees and polystyrene body boards. I hated ten people wedged into a car with deck chairs tied to the roof, clogging up the narrow roads that wound their way around Gower. I hated the smell of sun block combined with chip fat or half empty cans of lager, sticking out of the sand, deserted relics of a sunny bank holiday. But now, there was something strangely appealing about it, something tragically beautiful about the rust on the piers, the end of summer and the flocking hordes believing they’ll find some form of liberation amongst it, as if they were all Victorian throwbacks. It reminded me of what I had read about the glory days of Coney Island near New York and Venice beach in California with their state of the art fair ground rides and carnival like atmosphere that all but crumbled into the sea. I hoped one day to explore the decrepit ruins of these one time glorious playgrounds. Things must change a lot quicker in America than they do in Wales.

I enjoyed the slight chill in the morning air that announced that autumn was well underway and also helped clear my head a little. There was not a cloud in the sky, just a slight scattering towards the south and you cold just about see Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales, to the North. To the south the whole of Cardigan Bay was visible. I felt like I could see all of Wales from that spot near Queen’s beach. The country, nation or whatever it is, felt so small and I had never really journeyed away from it. The urge to leave was creeping up on me but there is a lot of coastline on this planet and I barely knew the one I roamed day after day. And then there was another reason for staying a bit longer and I could see her walking towards me. I vomited a little and swallowed it back down, hoping my breath would not stink by the time she reached me.

“What a beautiful day!” Marina exclaimed before greeting me.

“Aye, it is isn’t it?” I tried to sound casual.

“So where do you want to go?” She asked enthusiastically.

“Why don’t we walk up Pendinas Hill. There’s an old Iron Age fort up there and the view should be great today.”

“Okay. Are you feeling OK today?” She asked.

“Yeah, a little hungover but I’ll be all right, once we get up Pendinas.”

Being with her in daylight was quite frightening. There was no darkness to hide behind anymore. I could see clouds to the south accumulating further and I willed them to float our way. I also willed the light south-westerly wind to pick up and blow some self-confidence towards me. We walked through the narrow and quiet winding roads of Aberystwyth, not saying much, which was absolutely fine with me. I tried to get a good look at her without her noticing. I wanted to see if daylight and sobriety would expose a different person than the one that I had seen the previous night, they did not. She had the same light brown skin, the same eerie green eyes that looked like they coloured by the waters of a Scandinavian fjord.

“You know the village, I’m from was invaded and settled by Vikings?” I said breaking the silence but following my train of thought.

“Oh really, why do you mention it?” I was blinded by the green as she looked right at me.

“Don’t know.” I shrugged.

“So you are Welsh right?” She asked.

“Right, whatever the fuck that means, yes.”

“You mean it doesn’t mean anything to you?” She queried worryingly.

“Not really, I mean why should it? Being Welsh hasn’t done anything for me. It seems to me that anybody who goes out of their way to let the whole world know they are Welsh, or Irish or English or whatever, just ends up looking like a twat... I mean an idiot.”

“You are not proud to be Welsh?” She seemed concerned.

“Nope, couldn't give a fuck. At least I’m not English. Just kidding. I have nothing against the English. I just don’t see what there is to gain from any sense of national pride.”

“What about the Irish? They have a lot to gain from a sense of nationalism, or the Basques or the Palestinians.”

“Well maybe in the short term, yeah but ultimately I think nationalism is a destructive force.” I had no clue what I was talking about but I felt had to try and feign some sort of world view.

“Are you a socialist?”

“Ahh, you haven’t been here long have you. Well we don’t really talk politics around here. At least most of the fuckwits I grew up with don’t. Some of Gareth’s friends maybe but they are a dying breed. I don’t think anybody’s been that political since the miner’s strike in the 80s, at least not people our age. I mean people yak away about the national assembly and shit like that, or joining the European Union but nobody is quoting Marx, or Bakunin these days. Maybe things are changing though. Some of us still sabotage the odd fox hunt and pretend to fight the police on Mayday but you are not going to see anything like what happened in Seattle last year with the W.T.O conference happening in Cardiff. But to answer your question, I suppose I’m a socialist of sorts, yeah.” It felt very peculiar to admit such a thing. I didn’t really have a word for my real political persuasion but I knew it was not ‘socialist.’

“Good.” She laughed. “Then we may get on with each other.”

“So what’s it like in Argentina, do people our age give a shit about politics?”

“Do you not watch television or read the newspapers?” She seemed shocked.

“Well no, I try not to. I watch the weather forecast and that’s about it. Well sometimes, I read the Guardian or The Big issue.”

“So you must have heard about what’s happening in Buenos Aires?”

“Yeah, of course, I heard about the riots and the economic breakdown. I never understood what it was all about. Actually, I read about some factory take-overs and street blockades but there wasn't that much about it, to be honest.” I shrugged

“That’s fucking bullshit! Great things are happening back there at the moment.” She exclaimed.

“Like what?” I wanted to know.

She lowered her voice. “I’ll tell you about it another time.”


I decided to change the subject, “So what are you, an Argentinean doing in Wales?” I asked.

“Learning Welsh of course.” She said as a matter of fact.

“Well that puts me to shame. I don’t know any Welsh.”

“You don’t speak Welsh?” She expressed more concern with my blase attitude about being Welsh.

“Of course not, real Welsh people don’t speak Welsh.” I joked but she missed the humour.

“What are you talking about? People speak Welsh all over the Lleyn Peninsula and around here.” She countered.

“Aye, I know that but not many people speak it in the South, see? We learn a bit in school and we mix a few phrases in with our already fucked up version of English and that’s about it.”

“That seems like a shame.” She seemed genuinely disappointed.

“You mean you thought everyone spoke Welsh? I wouldn’t worry about it. They say the language is rejuvenating but who cares? Now we’re going back to this national pride bollocks.”

“Well I’m here to learn Welsh. In fact, they are paying me to learn it.” She asserted.

“Why? And why won’t someone pay me to learn something? I’d learn Spanish for a few quid.”

“Well, the mother’s side of my family are originally from Patagonia.”

“Right, I heard there were some of us down there. But you don’t look very Welsh.”

“Yes I know, well my mother’s mother spoke Welsh. She was a descendent of the Welsh who settled there in the early 1800s. She used to tell her about her grandmother who ran off with one of the native Indian peoples. I don’t think the Welsh mixed much with the local people aside from some trading. They were very insular; they just wanted to try and farm the land and maintain their culture and religion. But my grandmother’s grandmother... hmm that would be my great-great-grandmother, maybe... anyway she brought shame to her family and went off to live with the natives. She taught Welsh to her children and somehow the family ended up in Buenos Aires. But there is still a Welsh town in Patagonia.”

“So what were the Welsh doing in Patagonia?”

“Just trying to find somewhere where they could continue life as they had back in Wales without persecution from the English.”

“So why did you want to learn Welsh?”

“I did ever since I was a child. I always liked that story about my great-grandmother.”

By now we had reached the base of Pendinas Hill and the weather was closing in a little but we began to walk up through the woods anyway. We walked mostly in silence. Somewhere somebody was burning a mound of fallen leaves and I felt like I was in Evans’ garden, in the right place, doing the right thing. I had no desire to be anywhere else. I just wanted more of what was happening before me. I wanted more burning leaves to penetrate my nostrils. I wanted more of the autumn to infiltrate my senses. I wanted more of this girl beside me. She made me feel at home because she was from so far away. She made me feel so at peace, perhaps as I was to learn, because she was so far from being at peace herself.

We reached the top of the hill and walked towards the Iron Age fort over looking the bay. A little swell was showing but the increasing wind was chopping it up considerably. I decided that later that day I would go to Borth and surf in the sheltered cove just to the north of the headland.

“So what’s the landscape like in Patagonia?” I asked looking out towards the Irish Sea.

“Well it’s very rugged, mountains that sweep down into the sea and it is windy, very wild and windy, with worse weather than here.”

“Oh the weather gets shitty here. Believe me.” Light rain began to fall from the now grey skies. “Do you want to head back?” I asked.

“No let’s stay for awhile. It is so peaceful and calm up here.”

“So have you spent much time in Patagonia?”

“No not really. I went there a few times hiking with someone.”

“Your boyfriend?” I asked trying to make a pathetic joke.

“No. My brother.” She replied sharply.

“Last night, you told me you were never going back to Argentina again.”

She nodded but asked me not to ask anymore questions and so we sat down against an old and crumbling dry stone wall and then the rain really began to fall. This time I didn’t ask her if she wanted to head back, I just moved closer to her and she offered me her hand and I knew I was about to jump into the unknown. I couldn’t refuse it. So I took it and the sensation of her touch was disturbingly real. I could not deny it or shrug it off, so from that moment on I decided to look down on us from above, a safe place, outside of myself. To keep a check on how things were going, analyzing what was going to happen next, from a distance. I started to construct a little refuge for myself, a little space that hovered just above our heads. But as much as I tried to cling onto that place, she forced me to surrender it. She looked at me and I feared she knew what was going through my head.

“Have you not held hands with anyone before?” She asked.

I just shrugged. Then we embraced and I knew immediately that I would eventually have to suffer the consequences of opening up to another human being. We looked at each other and I know we both saw that we could die on that hill that very day. And yes it was tempting. It was tempting to me because I doubted I would ever reach a point of such potential again. Who knew where we could go from there? Who knew who we could become together? So why ruin it in potential disappointments? Why not settle for this very real moment and all the dreams it offered? That was as far as I ever needed to go and so I held her tight, knowing I would eventually fall.

At some point, I pulled back to get a better look at her, to reconnect with her eyes, to confirm to myself that there was actually a breathing human being before me. I could hear the distorted wisp of the waves in the background. Then the rain, the wind and the sea all became one erratic hissing sound. I watched the rain drops land on her forehead and run down her cheek, tracing the contours of her face and drop off her chin onto her chest, that heaved up and down with her quickening breath.