AJ Reid

Notes from the Paradise Peninsula

Month: November 2014

The Bridge

The M62 won’t be so bad tonight in this sort of weather.  The autumn sunlight lends the Albert Dock an air of melancholy, deepening the pits and furrows in the brickwork.  Tourists still point and shop and take photographs.  Smart office workers negotiate the cobbled walkways with a practised hustle, while art students drift in and out of the gallery like smoke through an open window.

The waitress brings me pizza and a grapefruit juice.  It reminds me of when I was in Rome.  Everything around me was so different – so foreign and ancient – and yet I was the same as I had always been.  I’m suddenly aware that my destination is still 250 miles away across the moors and of how low the sun is.  Still time for The Bridge.  Still time to make it across at dusk.

I pay the bill, tip the waitress and make for the car park, stretching my legs a little before strapping myself in to this crucifix disguised as a car seat.  No matter how I adjust the thing, long journeys always result in some degree of nerve damage to my lower back.  I pop two paracetamol and get in, kidding myself that this time it will be fine.  Sunglasses on, water, money, petrol, debit card, but most importantly, change for The Bridge toll and Blade Runner soundtrack.  I wind down my window and enjoy the sound of Scouse gulls and the crisp air before driving off.

It’s ritualistic, but when much feeling is attached to an occasion, is it not customary for all of us to drape things on it, dress it up, throw flowers and confetti at it and such?

Location: Humber Bridge

Time: Dusk

Music: Blade Runner Blues by Vangelis

 

There were myriad combinations of music and weather before I stumbled upon this one.   Blues in the rain, soul in the snow, rock most other times.   The feeling I get from the music is one of being suspended with the stars, as if anything is possible – your head tingles in the presence of some vague, but powerful beauty.  The bridge itself is an incredible feat of engineering, an accomplishment of man, but there is something else that creates the rush of blood to head.  Being on the road in a tin can on wheels – like everybody else in the chain of brakelights – trusting them not to make too serious an error which might result in an horrific death, is wonderfully absurd, and makes you feel as if you’re part of some illuminated cosmic caravan crawling along under the red sky.

It’s a defiant ritual and who better to give the finger to than our Dr. Tyrell, our maker – the one who so cruelly had us born astride of the grave, as Samuel Beckett described our condition?  We will work together to defy his unreasonable curtailing of our lives.  We’ll travel across colossal man-made bridges and listen to transcendent music.  We’ll eat pizza and drink grapefruit juice.  We’ll comfort one another and we shall share our dreams in the hope of building them together.  We’ll drive from one side of the country to the other for love, and we shall transcend our pain through the union of our bodies.  Nothing will die, even when it dissolves into the tarmac, because the caravan will go on.  Why is immortality so important to us anyway, when we have these attainable glories?

‘Do you want this sodding change or not?’ the surly lurkle sneers at me from his toll booth.

I take it from him and apologise for not paying attention, citing a long drive as an excuse.  I tell him it’s worth every penny and to have a pint on me.  He holds out a wide-knuckled fistful of change and mutters, ‘It’s not bloody pub, ye knur.’

I take the coins and drive forward into the illuminated geometry of The Bridge like an argonaut between the Symplegades, into a sunset laden with wonder and possibility.

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Short Days

‘The nights are really drawing in now, aren’t they?’

‘Aye.’

‘Nip in the air.’

‘That time of year.’

 

The old man, who had been stalking me across the desolate golf course with a huge Great Dane, fell silent as he looked out over the estuary.

‘Got to take as much in while we can.’

It was the point when idle chatter transgressed briefly into something else – something that had a whiff of meaning about it.  Surely this was not the time and place for meaning?  How very un-British of you to accost a stranger in such a fashion, sir.  And on a public footpath.  I deflected this attempt at talking about stuff that matters with more politeness.

‘I suppose we have,’ I replied with a ridiculous smile.

But he was not smiling, and it was then that I realised what an arrogant fool I was being. I excused myself from the conversation through embarrassment more than anything else.

 

I was haunted for days by the feeling that I might well have thrown away an opportunity for enlightenment of a highly exclusive nature.  I cursed myself for being a hypocrite, and for potentially increasing that dying man’s sense of loneliness and alienation.  How could I extol the virtues of compassion in my work if I couldn’t manage this small feat of listening and talking to this man for a few more minutes?

I shared my concerns with a close friend on whom I can always rely to be very direct in times of moral or existential crisis.  Upon learning that the incident took place at dusk on the Wirral Way, he assuaged all my worries with five words:

‘Probably a flasher anyway, dude.’

And the Earth kept on turning.

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The Boatyard

The wind howls up the slipway, clinking through the sleeping masts of the sick and dying vessels, bringing with it the defining scent of my childhood summers: salt, mud and a hint of sewage.  The yard – like its inhabitants – is unkempt, but highly functional.  By day, tattoos quiver on weather-beaten hides all round the yard, under the strain of ropes, chocks and barrels.  Faces more accustomed to snarling into the sea wind clasp frail rollies between their lips and mutter antique expletives as their gnarled 60 year-old hands take on tasks that would challenge men four decades their junior.  There is no shortage of laughter between the men, but it is not given away – especially when the job might cost them fingers if they turn their head for half a second.

 

107It’s all about mud down here.  Without wellies, you’re only half a man, a teaboy, a landlubber. No-one minds if you don’t have a boat, but if you don’t get stuck in the mud at some point, you’re just not one of the gang.  If you fall over in it, extra kudos is given, depending on your reaction.  A decent bloody wound is valuable currency, especially if you’ve sustained it helping someone else out with their boat.  Once again though, one must be careful not to undermine such currency with inappropriate reaction.  Whilst moving a trimaran downriver one rainy Saturday, I made the mistake of mentioning Tetanus after slicing my hand open.  Conversation trailed off pretty quickly in the dinghy on our way back to shore, until Goz struck up a shanty to save me the social embarrassment.  The sheer profusion of blood from the wound on to my boots and a hearty rendition of “Leave Her, Johnny” was enough to absolve me from my sin until we reached the boat yard again, whereupon I slinked off to apply Germolene from my first-aid kit while no-one was looking.

 

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