If it slopped to the beat it might be something I could grow accustomed to, maybe eventually ignore. But no. Of course, no. The sea has a wide repertoire, a varied program. Sometimes it approaches the shore with a long sigh, a gentle wash; sometimes at a canter, frothy and frolicsome. It sucks stuff back, waits too long and hurls it with a rock-hard wallop, setting off a Mexican wave of discontent, thunder and spray the length of the bay. It pulls itself up to its full height and slaps coconuts, tree trunks, old rope, occasionally a flip flop, a plastic bottle – stuff it doesn’t want thank you very much onto the sand. You don’t know when it’s coming, and you don’t know what mood it’s going to be in when it gets here.
Some evenings, I stand with a drink looking at it through the screen, battering the cliffs by the bat cave. It’s a relentless carving and digging; an inexhaustible determination to bring that cliff down. I studied geography, I know this is how earth works, but it does seem very one-sided; everything within its watery slap is doomed, and I find that rather stressful in the way that slow inevitable things always are.
And I don’t like what’s in it. The sea is home to things that are very much like it: cold, wet and tricksy. (Although, this sea right here is not actually cold) Obviously I like haddock and plaice, and crab, lobster, conch, red snapper and tuna, but I do not like stonefish, hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks, white-tipped sharks, sea snakes and jellyfish. Some of the tropical fish are attractive in a gaudy kind of way, but I prefer the stickleback and the brown trout.
There is the matter of tides – they turn. Rock pools fill, the sea stands back, abandoned fish dart anxiously in ever-decreasing circles eventually to be left flapping, or to be plucked, half-boiled, by passing pelican patrols – or an osprey (saw one of those fishing in the rock pools in front of the kitchen the other day). And then inevitably, at the very moment you choose to saunter down to look for crabs or whatnot, the sea hurries back and appears in the form of a big, freak froth wave that cuts you off, or knocks you down or takes your shoe.
I like pictures of the sea, and the thought of it. I like looking at it from cliffs and planes. The colour is very good. I’d go so far as to say glorious, especially on a good day in the tropics. But if the sea wasn’t blue, but brown or yellow it would be disgusting.
All around the world there are people standing looking at the sea, and some of them are doing that because they like the colour blue, mainly though they are keeping an eye on it because it’s not to be trusted. For 11hrs and 20 minutes out of 24, I can’t do that because it’s dark – very. Instead I listen out for any particularly aberrant irregularities, work hard on not thinking about the volume of sea beyond the house, and, being at an altitude of 6ft, I work on my tsunami evacuation plan. Occasionally I go outside for a look, and obviously see nothing, except on nights when the full moon comes up and reveals a million square miles of vigorously boiling milk which is worse, and just plain wrong.
Strangely, I come from a sea-faring family, and among them, the bravest of the brave: a lifeboat captain saving lives in the rough seas off Ramsgate, another – one of two or five survivors of a torpedoed submarine; and an armorer, shot I think, in the Battle of Trafalgar. Wasn’t drawn to it myself.
I often think about the early explorers sailing across dark seas not knowing where they were going, round the world yachtsmen, desperate ones like the poor bankrupt cheat, Donald Crowhurst, who went mad and committed suicide, and Bernard Moitessier who possibly went mad and just kept going, and about Roz Savage who, out of the blue (no pun intended) got a thing for rowing across oceans alone in a small boat. I don’t think you could feel more solitary or vulnerable than in the middle of a big, deep, black sea. Like I say, it’s not for me. I may drift off to sleep every night listening to the sea, but happily, every morning I see solid land.
Incidentally, the story of that 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and the maverick contestants, Crowhurst, Chay Blyth, Moitessier, and Robin Knox-Johnston (who actually was described in a psychiatric profile as ‘frighteningly normal’), who won it is told in the brilliant, gripping book, A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichol.