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the sea view cafe - smallMy latest, possibly my last novel, is finished and up on Wattpad now for free. It’ll shortly go up on Smashwords from whom I’ll blag the free ISBN, then put it up on Free Ebooks who seem to be doing a good job of shifting downloads at the moment. And there we are. Finished! About two and a half years – the Sea View Cafe years. The small blue car years, the Scarborough years.

It’s a cliche I know but as ever I’m genuinely grateful to anyone who’s read me or commented on my stuff. Even had it been conventionally published, the Sea View would have made relatively nothing, financially, yet already it’s rewarded me tenfold with those readers who’ve picked it up on Wattpad and commented as I’ve posted chapters piecemeal.

It’s a novel written against shifting times, a story swept up in another iteration of the myth of Britannia’s idiocy and decline and, by association the  decline of the west. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s been an all pervasive narrative for as long as I can remember, and probably for centuries. Yet more than any other, the Sea View Cafe is a story that found itself distorted almost daily in the writing by yet one more headline in  rejection of the progressive ideals of strength in the collective of nations and a fall into a petty nationalism, into racism and bigotry.

Yes, these have been the pre-Brexit years. Years when we have wrapped ourselves snug in the native flag, covering all but our faces which are by turns ugly, pompous and hate filled – ejecting spittle with every sentence uttered. Our collective soul stunted by the recurrence of all manner of shadow complexes.

Some of the most brilliant minds working in Britain are of non-white, non Christian, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-Anglo Saxon origin. We are a multi-cultural society, product of our history – not all of it good – but I’d dared to hope we were on the cusp of a rapprochement with our chequered past. Such diversity might have informed our spiritual nature, our secular philosophy – things to be celebrated, built upon, for there can be no surer path to greatness, than by the hybridisation of faith and ideas. And what did we do? We chose the path of the tabloid, of the angry old white crustacean.

Or was it more a case of two fingers to a plutocratic establishment that had done nothing to solve the problems of a lost decade, and looked willing to sacrifice a whole generation of non-privileged youth upon a bonfire of perpetual austerity?

The reasons are complex, but tending in the same direction and manifesting in abject poverty for millions.

And what of women? That much maligned species, scorned, dismissed, defiled by the repugnant male ego. This is strange to me, for I have only the experience of women in my own circle to go on, and they are of strong character, organising, nurturing, building, and gifting love.

So, in the Sea View, we meet strong female leads, not out of any gender political motives – I wouldn’t dare go there – but more simply because that is my experience of women. They are my my aunts, my sisters, my mothers, my grandmothers. Helena Aynslea, Hermione Watts, Carina and Nina and Anica. These are tough women, while remaining entirely feminine, and I hope I’ve done them justice. They carry the Sea View, as they have carried my entire life.

And so what if two of them take a fancy to the same guy, and each other? Let them both have him, and themselves  – all at the same time and be damned – because I hope this is more than a romance, more than a trite polyamory fantasy on my part.

Thus we move beyond the conventional narrative, explode the hell out of the world in order to find ourselves anew. We have to hard-wire it into the collective that it’s okay to be different. Gay, coloured, bisexual, Muslim, Christian, Jew. Female. Intellectual. Shy. Red-haired. In short, diverse. And what we have to code out is the idea we can in any way advance ourselves at the cost of others, that anything which increases ourselves at the cost of diminishing someone else is not only wrong, it is also, ultimately, self-destructive. The young seem to get this and it’s in them I dare to hope.

These are strange times. They haunt me, as they haunt the Sea View. Either they are the end of times, or they’re the rallying call to radicals and progressives everywhere to seriously challenge the archaic and archetypal evils that seem to have snuck in under the radar.

The answer? It’s with all of us.

Awaken.

Oh, I almost forgot, do read the Sea View Cafe if you can bear it! Unedited, unprofessional, and riddled with sneaky typos. It won’t change your life, but it might cheer you up in the mean time! I know I’ve had a lot of pleasure from writing it.

 

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mg roadster at glasson

A change in working practices has ushered in a new and unfamiliar flexitime regime. Not everyone is happy with it. Change is hard, but so far as I can work out, it now means the fifteen or twenty minutes I used to work beyond my contracted hours, for nothing, are now automatically totted up by the clocking machine. Minutes make hours and hours make days, and once a month the machine tells me I’m due day off. I’m therefore more than happy to embrace the new. Indeed  this is nothing short of a miracle and I’m enjoying it while I can before what I can only describe as a significant managerial blunder is discovered and flexitime scrapped post haste. Anyway, thus it was on Friday morning, I found myself nosing through someone else’s commute and heading north on the M61 for pleasure, instead of south for dollars. And all this without digging into my holiday ration!

A forty minute run took me to Glasson Dock, a small harbour on the Lancashire coast, tucked up and away in the estuary of the Lune. This is an area of mud banks and salt marsh. The Victorians picked the only decent stretch of beach hereabouts and built Blackpool on it while the rest remains an untamed morass rich in cockles and birdlife. My parents would bring me to Glasson when I was a child and I’d never tire of it, the marina presenting an ever changing carnival of vessels, large and small, from the sleek to the eccentric. It hasn’t changed much in forty years, and is still a popular picnic spot for day-trippers.

vessel, glasson main basin

I remember the old Manx ferry King Orry coming aground here in the winter storms of ’76. A fine looking boat, and quite a spectacle throughout that year as attempts were made to float her off again. Strange things happen here – a boat was sunk in the dock when I arrived – and there’s a sense that Glasson is such a temporal anomaly it shouldn’t exist at all in the modern downsized post industrial world. Yet exist it does – indeed it appears to be thriving. It has the feel of a smugglers port too – stories of illicit cigarettes and other drugs coming ashore here, or so the papers say. It’s difficult of access by sea with a narrow, snaking, shifting navigation channel but this hasn’t prevented a busy trade in grain and fertiliser, with scrap and broken bottles going out for recycling to the Continent, also coals to the Isle of Man.

Landscape wise, this is as lowland as you can get – salt-marsh with the occasional plug of clay on which the ancients built their farmsteads and waited out the seasonal floods. Bleak is a word that comes to mind, but the mild late February sun that morning painted Glasson with a smile. I needed a change, and today was the day. I’d even ditched my usual fluorescent mountain jacket and rucksack – changed them for a more traditional waxed jacket, with voluminous pockets for my kit. A flat cap completed the farmer Giles look. I sense a change in me – the way I dress is a harbinger of something else, coming back to a self perhaps who is at the same time much younger and yet so much older than I am now. But whoever he is seems companionable enough. The theme for the day was “amble at our leisure” and neither of us argued about it.

lancaster canal

Waxed jackets are a bit old fashioned now, modelled on what is essentially a nineteenth century oiled-cloth technology, they won’t take anywhere near the same kind of soaking that even a cheap modern waterproof will withstand with ease. They also have an image problem, being associated with the four by fours and green wellies of the county set. But I like them for lowland rambles – they’re comfortable and naturally breathable without a lot of high tech gobbledeygook. They last well, too. I’ve only recently binned my thirty year old Barbour after finally discovering it in a mouldy knot in the boot of my car. I replaced it with a much cheaper make, but one with plenty of pockets for camera, bins and map.

The map was instantly to hand on my ‘droid – a bad idea in the mountains and much frowned upon by the rescue teams, but permissible here, I thought. People have come to grief in the hills because their phones go flat and they’ve no paper back ups. We’re also tending to rely on GPS for telling us where we are, and the fear is that as the generations pass, our map-reading skills are going to perish and we’ll effectively be clueless without batteries. Used wisely though, the technology is helpful – no need to second guess where that right of way leaves the road and skirts someone’s property. No need to wonder how far you are away from base. A glance at the phone and x-marks the spot, and the GPS tracker always has the map homed in at the right bit for you – no need to go flipping through pages and pages of it to find yourself. It amazes me that even five years ago, this technology was beyond the means of the masses. Now it’s every day. But make sure you have a paper back up.

The walk took me from the marina basin down a short length of the Lancaster canal, past the parish church, to the first bridge, where I picked up the quiet country lanes that took me south – School Lane, Jeremy Lane and Moss lane. A mile or so of road walking then led to the first of the squelchy meadow paths, skirting the little coarse fishery at Thursland hill, then further south, the way heavy going now across increasingly soggy meadows and along muddy, tractor weary green lanes. A dogged persistence pays off though and we finally emerge on the coast, overlooking the impressive salt marshes of Cockerham.

The paths hereabouts, though not exactly overused, are all fairly well marked, which is always a good indication of how welcome you are as a stranger. By contrast I was brought up in an area where footpath signs tended to disappear overnight and where landowners were insensitive to a people’s need for green.

The salt marsh at Cockerham was a revelation – a wide open sky, miles of mud and a tranquil sea reflecting a soft yellow sun. It also reminded me of a line in a song by Kate Bush; something about the sky being full of birds. This was my first sight of the sea in a long time, and a refreshing picture it made too. We’d had heavy rains which, coupled with spring tides, had left the place with a drenched look. The tide was sneaking in again now, and all manner of waders were settling down for an incoming bounty. I counted oystercatchers, and curlews among the ones I knew, plus a million others in gay variety, making me wish I was more of a twitcher so I could have named them all.

On the downside this stretch of coast sees a lot of trash washed up – all manner of gaudy plastic, caught up by the sea, and a good deal of it hurled over the flood banks by recent storms. You could patrol this coast every day and fill a truck with it and the next tide would wash up even more – a seemingly never ending bounty of human detritus.

approaching cockersands abbey

From Cockerham my route picked up the Lancashire coastal way, which keeps to the shoreline for a couple of miles as far as Marsh Lane, then cuts back inland and leads us home to Glasson. There are a few secret caravan parks along the coast here, tucked in behind the defences – snug weekend bolt-holes, but looking vulnerable to tide and weather, I thought – also washing up their own flotsam of empty bottles of cheap booze. One of the most impressive bits of the walk was the section of lush green meadow that sweeps down to the sea and which was the former site of Cockersands abbey.

In artistic terms, the scene here loses its profusion of details, becomes much simpler – almost abstract – a vast plane of green, then the sea, and a pale, clear sky. In human terms I feel we take on a greater significance in such a landscape by virtue of our mere visibility upon the land – no longer hidden among the corners and the brickways and byways of the built environment. There was certainly an exhilarating feels to this section, excepting the bit where the farmer was spraying slurry – but then anosmia has its advantages, leaving me serene in contemplation of the view, when others might have been gagging for air.

cockersands abbey chapter houseThe abbey’s mostly gone now, levelled but for the forlorn little chapter house which by some strange quirk of fate remains in a state of almost perfect preservation. The tens of thousands of distinctive red sandstone blocks from which the abbey was constructed, back in the 1100’s, have been recycled over the centuries, into the flood defences. You can easily pick them out as you walk along, standing out from the concrete of more modern times. It seems the blocks that once protected this part of England from the tides of Biblical of sin, still provide service today, helping to keep out the sea. Indeed the impression I have is that much of the farmland hereabouts is merely on loan. The sea could take it back any time it wants.

Throughout the walk, away from the lanes, the meadow ways were soft with rains, and the going heavy. Seven miles had left my feet rather weary, so I was glad to see Glasson again come lunch-time. And lunch, at the Lantern O’er Lune cafe, was the biggest all-day-breakfast I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of demolishing. What with that, a decent walk and some much need sea air, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open on the drive home.

marsh lane

I was later found asleep, mid afternoon, passed out in the conservatory at home, basking in warm sun and sweet dreams.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a Friday.

Flexi time rules okay!

Here’s a map of my route.

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