Much to both our surprises we managed to find a pub that was open until late last night. The streets were deserted by 10pm not a person could be seen, until I saw the flags of something up ahead, an unsung talent of mine to sniff out the nearest open boozer.
You never know what your getting into when you walk through that bar door. Light and laughter, a drunken man whose life is etched onto his face kisses my neck and asks if we’re French Canadian. Watford I tell him.
A lovely young barman with a fine pair of arms tells us tales of debauchery, shows us pictures of the high life that happen in Banff, lack of clothes and dress up playing a main part. Gives us some cakes, Four pints and a shot we stay until sometime past midnight, when just after Merv admits that it is now a date that is especially relevant to him. Lurid drinks in small glasses follow.
In the morning, this morning neither of us is at our best, I take a trip down to the seashore to go and look at the sea, as I do, maybe have a paddle. The women who runs the B&B tells me I should be certified.
Something aches at the back of my head as I head towards the sea, up on the way I walk past a shop blaring out ‘Sweet Caroline’ against the now calm winds; The Spotty Bag shop, famous in North East Scotland for it’s value and variety. I buy three small pottery dogs with sad eyes.
Today the beach in Banff looks like the end of the world. The sea froths yellow amongst iron brown waves. I begin to see feathers stuck in sand, an itching fear creeping in, that the worst thing I could see is a dead seagull,an age old fear of mine, dead birds, dead feathers, the stillness in something once so animate. Everything is encased in sand, mummified as if from lava, so very still, left by the sea. A petrol can, a burnt log, rusty beer cans. Drift wood twists itself into dead bones. Dead wood. A tanker sits ominously on the horizon, bright red against the dark sea.
A look to my left, shape in the sand, an intake of breath and a look away; a broken alabaster white neck, what I feared most. Bodies entombed in sand, encrusted in salt. Everything is driftwood. Frozen where it was thrown up. Four more white bodies catch my peripheral vision, dead feathers blowing in the wind. Curled up sleeping still like those toy cats I’ve seen in shop windows. I imagine that the sea is the culprit of the dead gulls. Its tallest waves clipping their wings and battering them to bed, leaving their bodies to rot as it creeps away on tides and turns. Still to rest. And so to rest.
I stumble to the shoreline, so fearful of bodies and stepping on toes. The sea, she pretends she’s going out, throwing up yellow foam to leave a trace of tide line. All the anger and drama of yesterday’s winds has left the sea with nothing but bile to wash up on her shores, as she drags away the debris that she previously spat out.
Her usual beckoning, tempting presence is not here today, no longing to even get my toes wet. A mistress after a fight trying it’s best to carry on-hoping no one will notice the bruised air and reproachful eyes. She tries to fix herself in peaks and waves. She doesn’t tempt me, but hypnotises me in her shocking ugliness, plunging waves pulling at my chest bones.
I long for the high seas and high drama of yesterday-sea salt slapping into my face and stinging my eyes. Wet needles. A sparrow or a robin stands brave on the shore calling out to sea.
Our trip out today takes us along the coast to Buckie, as the sea begins to clear itself up, no yellow foam, turning blue in the sunlight, giving me faith back in the sea. I could swim in that I say, it’s certainly looking cleaner agrees my companion. I’m not sure he still utterly convinced of the safety measures in my swimming in the sea. The safety measures being mainly him.
(Consistently going through my head at this point is the Buckie O’Hare theme tune, a 90’s american cartoon about a rabbit with buck teeth for those to young or too old to remember).
Buckie is a mix of beautiful coast line fringed with industrial industry. After a pretty bad lunch (Merv discovers a tiny little crab claw crawling in his soup) we stand on a cliff top to watch warehouses and cranes tip towards the sea.
The hall that I’m in today is British legion, beautiful wooden walls (not dissimilar to my flat if you want to trawl back to my first post). The floor creaks with past feet and a sickness in my stomach hints at nerves or lack of sleep. With warmth and invitation we are met.
I’m not sure what is made of me before the show as I talk brightly about swimming in the sea, which is met with a grimace and shiver, and slight disbelieve. I meet one of the volunteers a woman with a wicked sense of humour; she recently had an implant in her ear which means she is hearing for the first time in 50 years. I take to her and her tales of men friends that live in far flung places.
After the show, I am asked if I am on my own, I point to Merv, sitting by the door in his North Face jacket, chewing gum. He gives a silent nod. Your minder? they say. Or your carer.