On a Rock (by the sea)

Late July in Corsica. Sitting on a rock, staring out to sea. Blown by strong, but cool winds that whip the waves into stormy effervescence.

The waves crash, forceful and relentless on the rock, then swirl and wash around the base, before they limply and calmly withdraw, emptied of their anger.

I try slowly, to enter into some kind of wave “meditation”, symbiosis, breathing in great lungfuls of the pure sea air. Inhaling, my diaphragm rises as the breakers form in the distance, as they crash on the rocks below I am filled, then slowly, I exhale and empty to the rhythm of the waves as they withdraw. Turn on off, tune in, drop out to the sea. My breathing cycle now matched to the wave cycle.

I want the waves to wash up within me, to purge me, cleanse me, to empty me, dragging all my woe and anger back to into the great and endless sea.

This is my “Dock of the Bay”. I watch the tide roll in and roll away again, and all the while, stare at the distant horizon, that, sometimes indistinguishable fine line separating two shades of blue. My annual catharsis. Sitting on this rock now, as I have done every summer for the past ten years.

I sit every year in symbiosis, contemplating the horizon, and what might lie beyond. New places, new people, new experiences – the unknown. I think of those explorers who set off beyond the horizon, in their frail ships, not knowing if they would return, or simply fall of the edge of this flat earth into some dark abyss. Fear of the unknown. A major cause of anxiety and depression. I have pills for that, but I take them as little as possible. Pills put me in limbo. For better or worse, I prefer to remain conscious in my daily navigational routine, rather than erring endlessly and aimlessly on never-ending seas of pill-induced tranquillity.

What lies beyond the horizon? All those things in life that have not been and are still to come. The true sense of the uncertain future in which only one thing is certain.

I explain the future tense to my students.

“That which has not yet been and one day, may, will, or never be. The future is made of all those events that have not yet happened in life. There is only one certainty in the future, that of death. No matter who you are, it is going to happen one day. “

“Is the world round or flat?

Will I fall off the edge or just keep coming back?”

Lines that I scribbled any years ago whilst sitting on this very rock, watching the rolling seas. True rock and roll. I like to sit here and write songs. Conjure with words, scribble down thoughts, invent rhymes. I fit words to music, of vice versa. Many of those songs that I have written, sung and recorded with my various bands over the years, all started life here.

My songs. Mum always used to say “Oh, you’re so talented, send them to a record company.” I never took the maternal advice though, because it was just another one of those dreams that mothers conjure up and put into the heads of their sons. Maternal modals: “you should; you must; you ought to … “ – not because you can or you want to, but because that is what mum wants. Dreams of mothers become those of their sons, and when the dreams don’t come true or turn to nightmares, mum is always there to tell you  that “it’s not your fault”.

I broke away from that by coming to live in France, which in some way shattered the dreams that mum harboured for me – above all, she wanted me to be a journalist, so I became a teacher in a small French provincial town, and became tarnished with all the modesty and predestination that are rife in such hermetic backwaters. Small towns where the words “can” and “want” are met with mystical and quizzical gazes and the question “why on earth do you want to do that?”  I guess one day, I’ll do something with my songs, before crossing the horizon.

Maternal aspirations shattered, mum went to work on my brother. Building him up, boosting his ego, catering to his every whim and fantasy. Everything that big brother did was wonderful. He was the true, dutiful and beautiful son who would fulfil the maternal dreams. Until the day that big brother found that he couldn’t live up to mum’s dreams, because mum had looked after him and smothered him so much, that the only way to be a real person was by breaking maternal bonds. Mother love turned to mother loathing, but however much my brother ended up hating my mum, she still loved him. In the months before she died, mum always asked me, why my brother hated her so much?

Back on my rock, I am trying to write a song for mum. Though she hasn’t crossed the horizon yet, she is preparing her next stage in life’s journey. Mum knows she’s going to die because Mum doesn’t want to live anymore.

July 2010


First come the explorers – sailing off the edge of the world in their flimsy vessels. Discovering the undiscovered and opening the way for the first settlers to set up the outposts of civilisation. And when they have killed off the natives and destroyed their culture, settlers become inhabitants and finally the tourists arrive to visit those vestiges of native culture that the settlers and inhabitants haven’t totally destroyed.

We’re all bloody tourists, have been, or will be one day. We like to cast ourselves in explorer mode – we want to be travellers, but we are all tourists. We arrive as invaders, in our garish, noisy hordes. Disgorging from planes coaches and cruise ships. Snapping away, stealing moments and local souls for our blogs, logs, websites and scrapbooks. Buying « made in china » souvenirs and all the while herded like cattle and treated like scum.  « More bloody tourists » sigh the locals.

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