Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick | 16th December 2012

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

It’s a chill, gusty December Saturday and I’m standing practically alone on the noisy pebble beach in Seaford, wrapped up against the piercing wind and gazing unblinkingly at the sea. I look at the way the sun reflects on the gently undulating water. At the way the waves break relentlessly, mithering the shingle at every turn. At vast cargo boats miles out to sea plodding their lumpen way across the horizon. All of it given added sparkle by my watery eyes.

The vastness of it all compared to the piddling size of my tear makes me wonder whether that drop can poison a whole sea. And whether one setback can taint a whole year. To my right I can see the scruffy cliff of Newhaven, made famous for me as a schoolchild thanks to its ferry connection with Dieppe, where all the characters in my first-year French textbook lived. I considered moving to Newhaven once and seeing it now I’m thankful that didn’t happen.

On my left, I can see the hulking green and white enormity of Seaford Head, a curtain-raiser for the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs that punctuate the East Sussex coast. It’s what’s provoked today’s sadness. Two weeks before I braved brutal elements trying to find a VHF Omnidirectional Range radio, essentially a huge hexagon lying on its back that transmits radio signals as an aid to aircraft pilots. I photographed it to surprise someone I wanted to get to know better; who I knew would like it. And who it now transpires doesn’t share my enthusiasm. She told me this is because I have family commitments, which is possibly the worst reason you can give someone who has children. Despite this fledgling romance having barely troubled the scorers, it hurt.

And I wonder whether it’s ruined my year. The preceding 11 months have been in stark contrast to 2011 in that I’ve been far happier. This despite a number of setbacks that have included yet more unrequited love, losing my job and uncovering a malicious and hurtful untruth about me that my ex-wife had spread among now-former friends of mine. I’ve been able to treat these things as just stuff that happens instead of believing them to be part of a wider pattern that dogs my life like some kind of vindictive fate. They’re not happening to me; they just happen.

There have been notable high points as well. Taking part in a talk about beer at the Port Eliot Festival was a nerve-racking and hugely enjoyable experience. Cycling in the hills on the Catalan-Aragon border introduced me to spectacular scenery. And sharing ever more time with one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met has brought me comfort and reassurance whether I’ve needed it or not.

But as I stand on this beach, I feel like my current malaise will wash all that away. I turn my back on the advancing sea and crunch my way back to the esplanade. And after reflection, I realise I’m not going to let it. I think of how far I’ve come since last year. How little difference a tear makes to an ocean. And how I’ll save my surprises for someone who wants them.

Ben’s Beer Advent Calendar.