Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Going Under : Part 2

Going Under : part 2
I cant actually recall what got me thinking about taking a scuba diving course. Yes, well, of course it had everything to do with turning 40, but diving?
I have never been a strong swimmer, I learned late and did not enjoy my experiences of school swimming lessons. Even now the smell of chlorine sends me straight back to that new town swimming centre, when, at the age of 8, a swimming coach named Mr Salmon ( no kidding) leaned over me at the side of the pool. With Popeye arms the white vested 60 something would crack a weak joke before sending children to their watery doom.

" What did the canary eat for breakfast?  Tweetabix! "  Push....SPLASH!

At that time I couldn't even swim!

I never voluntarily choose to take my kids swimming and the Jaws films traumatised me as a teenager ( except the third one, of course, which was just made for giggles).

Everything points to a man who would never, in a million years, choose to risk his life by offering himself to the cold embrace water.  Yet, here I am. And why?

For the past 5 weeks Tuesday evenings were given over to making the short joinery to a local pool and learning to dive with Scuba Club. At 10 in the evening a small group of us were being put through our paces by our Dive Masters.

"Isn't this bloody amazing! " Stanley, another trainee diver, would say to me.

" Yeah, I guess" " I would reply.

At that time I didn't realise how amazingly bloody it would become...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Going Under: part 1

Going Under: part 1
I stepped off the train at Burnham only because my ticket had told me that if I had wanted to get to Weymouth from Brighton that I should travel ' via Burnham'. I thought this was a change point, where I could pick up a direct train. The platform was deserted and the automated, message, announcer, woman was announcing the departure of a train to Bognor Regis.

"No mate, there's no train to Weymouth from here you should have stayed on that train to Southampton." I had clearly amused the proprietor of a smallest eat-in platform cafe I had ever seen. " You'll have to get the next one at 12:57 now". He smiled, not unkindly, and showed a string of yellow teeth. He was in his late 40's with a sailor style crewcut with a grey T shirt pulled tightly over a portly frame, which made it look as though he was wearing a buoyancy aid underneath. 

 I thanked him for his information and was about to order some food when a tanoy speaker crackled into life over his left shoulder. It was too loud to talk over the monotone announcer so I wait eyed patiently for it to end. 

"The train arriving on platform 2  is the 12:30, Southern service to Bognor Regis. Calling at Bognor Regis. This train is made up of 3 coaches and is calling at Bognor Regis only!"

We maintained eye contact throughout the announcement and now it had finally ended I  ordered a chilli pot noodle, an anaemic sausage and brown sauce sandwich and a cup of dark brown hot liquid, which may, or may not, have been coffee.

With 45 minutes to kill I sat in the small space dedicated to seating and took in the room. As well as the usual confectionary there was a book table displaying train and railway books from bygone eras, some of these looked very old. The walls were adorned with photos and paintings of attractive steam engines. Under foot was a cracked, but beautifully ornate tiled floor, this little cafe had bags of character.

"Is this floor original?" I asked. 

"It's all original," said the man. I wondered if he was including the sausage sandwich when he said that.  "This floor is from 1910, as is the windows, doors, pretty much everything!"  My molars crunched into something hard in my sausage sandwich.
"We don't want to change like all those new stations with all their pumpkins and lemon trees.." The geriatric speaker behind him crackled into life again but the man, seeming unaware of this fact continued to talk, his lips moved, but I could only hear...

"The train arriving on platform 2  is the 12:36 Southern service to Bognor Regis. Calling at Bognor Regis. This train is made up of 3 coaches and is calling at Bognor Regis only."

"....which is why we sell jellied sweets in pots" he finished.

"Doesn't that speaker disturb you?" 

"What speaker?" He asked. I pointed out the obvious black trumpet shape next to him screwed to the wall. "Oh that, no I don't notice that anymore".

"There are a lot of trains going to Bognor Regis from here?" I observed.

"Every 6 minutes on platform 2, regular like." he said proudly.

"Every 6 minutes! Don't you ever get tired of hearing the words Bognor Regis? I have only been here 20 minutes and it's driving me crazy"

His brow furrowed. "I never thought of it like that," he said.

I thanked him for the food and waited for my train outside on the platform. The next time a train was announced to Bognor Regis I peeked through the window of the cafe to see the man staring hard at the speaker on his wall.

Five more times the trains to Bognor Regis were announced and he still had his eyes fixed to that speaker. 

When my train finally pulled away, I could just make out the poor cafe owner desperately stuffing serviettes into the bell of the speaker.

Inner Journeys

Turning 40 has turned out to be a positive experience for me, so far. I made a conscious effort, fed by an unconscious yearning, to do more for myself. Being a father of 3 with a demanding job would no longer be an excuse for not making time out to feed my soul. I've never quite understood the concept of 'finding oneself', but if it meant finding more out about myself then that would be a worthwhile experience, I think, but perhaps this is not so.
Only yesterday I was listening to Terry Waite. He was the keynote speaker at the Headteachers conference. It was a sober and thought- provoking precursor to , the more frivolous, beach volleyball and indulgent eating, drinking that would follow.

Terry had spoken in solemn tones if his 5 year captivity in Lebanon, during the 1980's. Most of this time was spent shut away in a small cell, on his own, in silence, sometimes in darkness with nothing to read.

He spoke about an 'inner journey' that he took in a desperate attempt to preserve his sanity. He described it like any other journey one would make by travel : exploring , opening doors, looking inside, questioning and trying to understand things better.
He described the 'good' that he found inside himself on this journey, but also the dark parts and 'evil' he found there.  He said that this discovery had disturbed him immensely and rather than securing his sanity, nearly tipped him over the edge.

It was surprising to believe that a man who had filled his life with numerous self-less acts of courage to save the lives of complete strangers could ever have such an evil within. Yet it was there and he had seen it. That time spent on his own was the vehicle of this discovery.  This resonated with me, as most of the activities I had planned to do now turning 40 were solitary. I was choosing to on my own. I will have plenty of time to make ' inner journeys' of my own and I can only hope that I'm not alarmed of what I find there.