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The Sea, The Sea

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
I've named today's blog twice, in imitation and recognition of Iris Murdoch's Booker Prize winning novel of 1978, because I happen to be re-reading The Sea, The Sea at the moment. (Incidentally, Murdoch dedicated her 19th novel to an erstwhile family friend of mine. I never asked the family friend why, though I know they were at Oxford together at one time.) The novel is set on the north-east coast of England and re-reading it has reminded me, among other things, of days spent at the seaside in Northumberland with my daughters when they were young (for my in-laws lived in Duham). The beaches at Alnmouth, Boulmer, Embleton and Seahouses were/are beautiful and sandy expanses on a rugged coastline, good destinations in fine weather for a day out and a picnic. The North Sea was/is very cold!
My own first experience of the sea was, in marked contrast, a tropical affair. I was too young (not even a year old) to retain a memory of the encounter but my Dad (bless him) kept diaries which he later transcribed into a form of memoir. From this I know that my first "taste of the sea" as he phrased it was at Victoria Beach, Lagos, in Nigeria where I was entranced by the sight of surf rolling up the sloping sands and by the tang of the hot sea breeze (not to mention the stranded blue jellyfish melting in the sun). It was a thrilling locale that I was to visit on several occasional trips to the coast during my early years in Nigeria and always a refreshing sight in contrast to the frequently dry and dusty interior of the country where I grew up.
I should perhaps explain at this point, for those who don't know, that The Sea, The Sea is in fact a classical quote from the Greek (where else, eh?). Î˜ÎŹÎťÎąĎ„Ď„Îą! θΏΝιττι! or ThĂĄlatta! ThĂĄlatta! was the emotional cry of 10,000 Greek soldiers on forced retreat during the Persian War when after a protracted northwards march through dry, dusty and hostile territory, they sighted salt water (the Black Sea) and safety at Trebizond, as told in Anabasis by Xenophon. Not quite as lovely as the Meditarranean, but a welcome respite and a return to Greek dominions.
I have one thing in common with the protagonist of Murdoch's novel. We both spent our professional lives, by accident not design, as far from the sea as it is possible to get in England and on retiring both headed for a house at the seaside (only on opposite sides of the country). I differ from him in at least two respects. He is a fanatical swimmer - even in the cold North sea - and I am not. He is also rudely dismissive of my favorite part of the world: "Oh blessed northern sea, a real sea with clean merciful tides, not like the stinking soupy Mediterranean!" Harsh, that, and the first indication of a flawed character.
His love of the sea and swimming reflects Iris Murdoch's own; and as Miles Leeson (director of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre at the University of Chichester) has pointed out in an interesting essay on the novel, the author always upheld "the importance of the sea to mental health and wellbeing, and to freeing the creative part of the mind. She always wished in letters to her friends that she could have a cottage by the sea and one wonders why she didn't as she could have afforded one."
I thought that was a fitting observation to relate on this day of all days, World Mental Health Day. And I give thanks to whatever quarter is appropriate that during these crazy days of Lockdown and the bastard Son Of Lockdown, I live within walking distance of the sea, the sea here in the jewel of the north! The air, the space, the light, the constant motion of the waters have been a significant factor in keeping us sane in these parts during difficult times.
It's also curious to contemplate that my reason for being in Blackpool actually harks back to my being born in Nigeria. As I've related before in other blogs, growing up football-mad and so far from England meant that I had no natural geographical ties when it came to supporting an English league team, so the fact that Blackpool won the FA Cup the year I was born was enough to secure my allegiance for life. Whenever my ex-wife and I used to drive up from as-far-from-the-sea-as-it's-possible-to-get, to watch Blackpool playing at Bloomfield Road, the first thing we always did (if we arrived in good time after a 225 mile journey) was to take a look at the sea, using it as talisman and augury, trying to determine from its state of play what sort of game we might be in for. 
Of course, lot of nonsense is talked about the motions of the sea, the gravitational effects of the moon, the ebb and flow of tides, when in reality it's all the work of the great Sea Cat... đŸ˜Š
The Sea, The Sea
That's enough sea-related spiel for one blog. Here to finish is my latest poem. It's genesis lay in my ruminating one night on the nature of patently impossible feats like trying to catch the wind (thanks, Donovan), nail jelly to a wall (cheers, Teddy Roosevelt),  get blood out of a stone (grazie Giovanni Torriano)...or draw a portrait in water:
WaterPortraitI drew your likenessin a wave receding:truth of your essenceblue of your eyesfroth of your smilesweep of your curvesundertow of madness.
I always knewyou wouldn't hangaround for long.
Imagine my surprisethenwhen you rose up,rushed backand smacked mein the face,all salty tears of reproof.
For what? I never knew.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, stay sane, S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

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