a hundred yards out on the breakwater there are several men fishing with one approaching. he shouts above the swell from about twenty yards, then ten then five: anything out there. dogfish, says the old guy with two long rods, white beard, wellies, dungarees, looking the very essence of a sea comfortable hominid. at least there’s summin out there. he sets up his tackle next the old guy, no concept of personal space. it’s funny, stroke, annoying. it happens on empty beaches, empty cafeterias, empty parks, people feeling the need of proximity when away from contemptuous comfort. the tide is in. and surfers bob in the cold waters. uncomfortable looking, even the proficient ones. up on a wave with the gangling brevity of a newborn calf above the muck of a barn floor.
it is not the zenith of human endeavour that we are led to believe. there’s an habitual drunk, lurking on the breakwater, close by the fishermen. he glances at me and i clock him straight away with his shabby hair, trousers rolled up a bit and navy trench coat. i‘ve seen him about town contemplating life, used to be a renowned artist or pro footballer, i can never remember which. someone further on is beating the head of a small fish against the concrete. then guts spill out from an incision. the artist footballer says out loud although only just audible above the waves crashing the breakwater: death, you can feel it. death. everyone turns. i was thinking the same thing but had no intention of vocalising it. and then it's all i can see. a rat might be bleeding to death from warfarin, a pig with a bolt
through its skull, a wood louse popped beneath a flip flop. a thirty something short slight guy is heading past us with bottles of booze clinking in a plastic bag and a rod in his other hand. it’s half past one in the afternoon. he’s closer to death than i. more guts and a head spill onto the breakwater. but we are all going to die, i find myself saying with the weariness of a drinker forcing down the last drink before the experience starts to become fun. the short angler walks on regardless, drops his stuff and opens a bottle of wine before setting up. the young space invader is a long way from a natural demise and is bemused, wondering what the fucking hell everyone is going on about. the footballer artist has turned and has begun shuffling back along the breakwater to the shore. he’s grinning, mouthing something i think is: rock salmon, rock salmon. a surfer plunges headlong into the waves. someone catches a bite and more guts slop onto the concrete. dogfish, is all the old white bearded fisherman is saying. over and over again, a quiet twisted incantation, almost in a whisper, staring out to sea, close to tears. dogfish.
i went to a choral presentation in a church where i used to be an alter boy. back then we carried candles during the service, but mainly we'd sit and wait while the priest ran the show. there was this older guy who did it too, who some years later when i was a student, got sacked from a supermarket where i worked, for creeping into the ladies changing rooms and putting their discarded tights over his head. the church cassocks stank of body odour. i can smell them now. we used to hunt for the least smelly ones so we could eat sunday lunch when we got home. the illicit alter wine was very nice at the time and got us through the worst of it. during the concert interval, in the social club opposite the church, i drank a large rum and then another and nothing bad happened. no one hurt anyone. and everyone was nice. an old guy wearing a black suit, in the front room of the club read a funny poem to his appreciative friends. a birthday party upstairs was very good natured. although someone did forget the cake. the concert in the church was superb. and no one was put out. and that would be a good ending for this poem. except that when i walked back from the social club during the interval, some tough guys in a group of twelve bumped me on the pavement. and stopped and stared as though it was my fault. and then later, a freight train derailed and ploughed through a victorian stone wall and careered through seven cars and into that group of toughs, killing or maiming them all. that last bit was a fiction. except the intimidation. but wouldn't it have been nice if the night had passed without event. either that, or the freight train had crashed.
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