Covid-time has revealed some interesting perspectives on the state of things – perhaps cutting through the fog of confusion, bewilderment, malaise of pre-Covid times. Aside from taking stock of environmental issues and what we can actually do about these (I.e. stay at home, don’t fly, reduce movement, allow nature to re-flourish in our leave of absence), human behaviour has become more overtly available to the spotlight.
Now we have the forum of social media to pontificate, observe, proselytise from, alongside the slew of other media drowning us in the opinions of others, both well and ill informed. How does one tell the difference – after all the Leader of the Free World regularly tells us it’s all ‘fake’ and we can wash our mouths out in disinfectant if we feel otherwise?
A crisis perhaps brings out the ‘true colours’ of people, be that to positive or negative effect. Sides are drawn, insults are hurled. Friendship boundaries are redrawn, or consolidated. Them against us.
The not-too-surprising latest revelations concern the wanton pillaging of the nature that has been so recently rediscovering its serene place in the scheme of things. The ‘end’ of lockdown, so ‘apparently’ obediently observed now brings the slavering hordes out in their droves, laying waste to beauty spots throughout the land with their beer cans, crisp packets, loud music and brattish behaviour. Why shouldn’t we do as we please? After all Boris has rung the dinner bell and let us out to play. Pass me the Stella so I can lob it in the drink and scatter the ducks.
The wisdom of crowds. Something about gathering in large groups is infectious. Quite literally as it has been made all too clear in recent times. But also in terms of a capacity to blend in, become nameless, get away with naughtiness. To in effect regress to a tribal sensibility and let the ‘powers that be’ sort out the mess.
At what point does 2 or 3 ‘become a crowd’? We might start off well intentioned and mostly individualistic, but soon, exponentially, things change, peer exerts pressure, organisms gather and form some kind of emergent mass entity. We flock therefore we am.
It is increasingly difficult to maintain autonomy in the face of a group of others encroaching on our space and our identity. Perhaps this lies in a relaxing of attentional effort. Once ensconced with-in the tribal structure, there is little need to ‘pay attention’ to threats outside the perimeter fence. Behaviour can become laxer. Oops where did that crisp packet go? Doesn’t matter, someone over there will see it and pick it up. Let’s have another tinny and we can all sing songs about the here and now and not worry too much about the aftermath.
I suppose the burden of responsibility lies in doing one’s best to avoid becoming subsumed into the masses. Perhaps that is easier said than done – when I turn up the place is empty, I stake my flag on the beach and enjoy the surrounding space. Awakening from a snooze I am perplexed to see that I am now at the heart of a seething mass of bodies. Think turning up early at Glastonbury, revelling in the pick of a pristine field to set up your little fortress of solitude. Fast forward a few hours and in the darkness you are trapped in a web of guy lines, haphazard tarpaulins and collapsed forms – where the hell is my tent??!!
So you can try to not go to areas where others congregate. Mmm, tricky. What was once a treasure map of hidden jewels is now laid bare for all to see. No more ‘special laybys’ for one’s campervan. The roads are chock-a-blok with every man, woman and dog setting down their bivouacs. The frontier has been torn down and replaced with a car park. That car park is called Nature...
At the risk of becoming Orwellian, perhaps we can develop some kind of Artificial Intelligence that is able to take action against (or even pre-empt) the formation of crowds. An exponential-coalescence algorithm...A proximity alerting system with bells and whistles – rising in pitch as we get close to critical mass in an expanding social bubble...Wincing becomes the new deterrent. Maybe a special breed of the populace (hitherto known as ‘chavs’) will develop a special imperviousness to such sounds – a sensory filter that blanks out the nails-down-a-blackboard warning noise. Like a virus in itself that cannot be eradicated, it becomes stronger for being attacked (strike me down and I will become drunker than you could possibly imagine, Luke: use the farce and all will be well).
All one can hope, in the urge to defend the fragile sensibilities of a bewildered nature (which needs to be-wild) is that when the pub bells ring ‘time’ (to open) then the virus will swarm indoors, chug their pints and fall over comatose in their social bubbles surrounded by twiglet wrappers. Then ‘normal’ service can resume and nature can get back to being natural, rather than plastic. We can but hope.
But moving forward we have to realise that the accessibility that nature has grown accustomed to comes with the curse of populism. And with that, the carelessness and the inevitable ‘relaxing of attention’ which causes litter, detritus to coalesce all around. Unfortunately in today’s society, everything is in place to devolve responsibility for one’s actions, one’s attentions to a system that will clear up after one. Somehow, we have to break this assumption, enforce ‘effort’ and with that social responsibility. Surely Covid has evoked (in some quarters at least) an increased consideration for the welfare of others – the welfare of the tribe even when it comes down to it. The trick is maintaining that sensibility and proliferating it out ‘into the wild’.
So next time you sit back into the crowd and celebrate your commonalities (be it in singing football songs or waxing lyrical to your neighbour about the lovely weather), try to invest a little attention in making your contribution worthwhile. Long live the individual!
Now who has nicked me twiglets??!!!
"Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him." Capt. Benjamin Willard, Apocalypse Now
The strains of John William’s theme still raise goosebumps with those ominous opening bars. It’s a wonder I ever took to the getting in the water. JAWS had really quite a profound effect on me. Until much later in life I had little confidence in open water, after which I seemed to take to it like the proverbial duck...
At some point something shifted in my mentality – I figured out how to tread water, after which you couldn’t get me away from the depths. SCUBA came several years later and I was hooked to travel the world, and have experiences well beyond the ‘norm’, from dragons in the mysterious Indonesian archipelago to the albino intelligence of the Beluga whales of norther Russia in winter, and beyond to the far Arctic north!
But something back when I was a child watching JAWS on a bank of TV monitors in a nightclub at a children’s birthday party (don’t ask) inspired my fascination with the deep blue, and the denizens that lurk within.
It also provoked an urge to eventually have a boat just like The Orca – Quint the salty sea dog’s watery steed in his battle against The Leviathan.
Many years later and my dream is realised, through a circuitous series of events. My Orca is called ‘Nirvana’ and I have been working hard upon her to restore her to former glory!
She reminds me of Orca, and down in her main cabin, an urge to sing ‘Show me the way to go home’ and reminisce about encounters with deadly adversaries in far distant oceans. I’ve had one or two adventures in my time, and have indeed come face to face with sharks of various shapes and sizes in their natural habitat. People often recoil in horror at the thought of being underwater with one of these creatures, but rest assured, generally speaking it’s a different kettle of...well fish, when one is immersed in nature rather than viewing it through a screen, prone to sensationalise and amplify the threat!
The journey to ‘Nirvana’ started a couple of years ago (pretty much to the day), when I took away to sea. I was not in the best mental state of my life and in need of an antidote to anxiety, depression, general unhappy circumstance. I happened upon an opportunity to help crew a vessel from the south coast, up past Wales and into Liverpool – current berth of Nirvana. A different boat then, 5 of us were thrust together straight into the thick of it, through a central connection – the skipper, but no-one knowing each other or what anyone was capable of.
Sailing is a pivotal environment in which to develop one’s skills, mentality, and capacity for pulling together, under stress, and potential adversity – the sea is a very unforgiving and challenging environment. In a tight, cramped space with unfamiliar people, under continuous voyage, throughout the nights, is a daunting prospect. It MUST work, or things can go south very quickly. By good fortune, it worked out well. Very different personalities, but a communal spirit, maverick tendencies, nevertheless we bonded over the shared purpose, taking the helm, sharing roles and responsibilities, focusing on tasks and the common goal. I had never been sailing before, yet was on the helm ten minutes after arrival at port from a long land journey to get to the starting line. I also took the first watch after sunset and took us to Land’s End. This was a formative experience standing me in great stead for the days to come. By the second and certainly third day I was confident, thrilled, to helm alone, steering course by the stars in accommodating seas.
By the fourth day I was hallucinating for lack of ability to adapt to sleeping and watch shift patterns. The sea became an undulating, yet somewhat uniform disc with no land in sight for several days. I saw wherever I looked to the horizon, parades of ‘circus animals’ tumbling over one another in a frenzied attempt to race to a distant ambiguous goal – reminding me of the ‘Wacky Races’ cartoon from childhood!
Occasionally, porpoises and dolphins aquaplaned at the bow, came to pay their respects and commune with their kindred mammalian cousins.
We heeled at sharp angles and ploughed through belligerent waves, picking up speed to 11-12 knots under full sail. These are the times on the helm when one becomes attuned to the vessel, and to the environment, working harmoniously to steer course and fulfil purpose. At other times in calmer, steadier conditions, simply maintaining course on the wheel gives rise to a zen like calm as the mind remains focused on this simplest of tasks, zoning out, at peace.
So it was inevitable I would end up with a boat of my own subsequent to this formative encounter with Mistress Sea.
Of course, I am heavily influenced by literary and other cultural motifs when it comes to pursuing activities and goals. This in itself is a great motivating force to tap into when one is struggling to find the drive to move forward. But then that is the great value of artistic output – the capacity to inspire, to emblemise the ‘hero’s journey or the thematic basis for human soul searching, the pursuit of one's life quest and meaning, and importantly our capacity to adapt to circumstance and harness the possibilities that come with immersion in our environment.
There is an element of Joseph Conrad in my whimsy as I stand at the wheel (in dock nonetheless!), recalling Marlow’s (or rather Captain Willard’s, from Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now) obsession with pursuing the trail to deranged Kurtz up the Congo (/The Delta) in Heart of Darkness. Whilst Jim Morrison sings of The End over my speakers...
But ultimately it comes back to JAWS. The thrill of the ocean captured so succinctly by a precociously talented youthful Steven Spielberg. The subtle characterisation of it’s protagonists (from Brodie’s intimate family moments with his son mimicking his pensive actions at the dinner table; Quint’s stubborn tenacity and the most chilling monologue possibly from any film “eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945”; Hooper’s all round kiddy in a sweet shop demeanour – until he comes face to face with Ben Gardner’s visage, sans eyeball in possibly cinemas most lauded jump-scare ever). No wonder I was terrified of the water for years to come.
The Sea provides an environment and a metaphor for overcoming the challenges that life throws at you. A truly hostile, changeable ‘scape, that defines our planet (the Planet Ocean, otherwise mistakenly referred to as ‘Earth’), and demands one submits to her moods if one is to prevail. It is a humbling ‘place’, it demands respect, it demands adaptability, it requests that one leaves the ego ashore, pay attention to detail, to one’s responsibilities, and to one’s crew. If you can cast off the ‘self’ from port and sail beyond it’s confines, then you are onto a firmer path towards destiny and progression.
I am now working with a charitable enterprise (Shadow Wind CIC) that takes under-priveleged individuals and groups and seeks to invest in them this sensibility: that the sea can offer up salvation, reframe goals, and inspire purpose. My voyage has been revelatory to date, and the potential is as yet untapped to take this to it’s furthest reaches!
So I must thank JAWS for imprinting on my impressionable young mind a sense of awe, fear even, about the mysteries of the sea, the depths beneath and the expanse ahead that promises untold treasures buried on far off shores.
Maybe I can harness ‘Nirvana’ to this end and pursue my own Leviathan!
Enough talk, I am off to find that big fish. You know the one that always seems to get away! But what sport is the one that stays put and makes the hunt far too easy...?!
Show me the way to go home,
I’m tired and I want to go to bed,
I had me a little drink about an hour ago,
And it’s gone right to my head..
I write about various subjects.