Paint it Black

By PaintItBlack

Diver (man on the train)

Pacific diver. Pacific diver. I try to ignore it but the voice keeps repeating in my head, over and over, over and over. Try to concentrate on something else, anything, but it’s kind of difficult when you’re chained to the proverbial madman. The twitching Nick O’ Teen. Go on, do it, do it. Take a drink, pal. Drink down the whole fucking bottle ‘til you vom all over your shoes. Fuck’s sake, it’s only just down the road. Two hours. Any sane twitcher wouldn’t have this problem. The pager would buzz and they’d be off, grabbing the car keys, revving up the engine, hitting the road, off on another pointless quest. There would be no ‘shall I, shan’t I?’ agony. Just say yes, sleep with the devil and see you in the morning, in Aberdeen airport. That’s easy. It’s when you’re sane that you suffer. It’s easier to be insane.

But sometimes you crack. Especially if the bird sticks around for a day, another day, another. Especially if it’s possible to get there with a train and a bus and a walk, and you don’t even have to get up stupidly early the next morning when you’d rather like a lie-in and you really can’t be bothered getting yourself together, packing your bags, putting out your clothes, you just want a bath and an early night. This is absolutely nothing. It’s not like the dusky thrush in Derbyshire. That one you must accept is not for you, even as every day you’ll see the three red exclamation marks on BirdGuides, that it’s showing well again today, feeding on fallen apples in its usual spot. So? Let it go. Like the blue rock thrush. Like the sibe accentor. But there may never be another. So? Some may not charter planes, some may draw the line at Ireland. There are excuses you can make for those. But this? This is unforgiveable if I don’t go. Pacific diver, pacific diver. It’s just too much to bear.

So here we go again, but it’s a crazy world so why not? What else are you going to do? Go to airshows? Watch boxsets of the latest hit drama from Sky Atlantic? How is that any better? The sun bathes my brain through the dirty windows of the train. We roll Out East, through so many memories. Many pasts. The home straight, Arse End, walking through the new-build estates of life with the one I love. I want her to be proud of me, of creating brilliance, of being someone worth something, of being a good man, of changing the world for the better, if only in one tiny way at a time. How long has it been? Five months. Jeez, and I’m back here, passing Figgate Park, the back of Portobello, through something Yards, fields, sky, hope, watch myself disappear. East Fortune favours the brave. What have I done with my life since that optimistic glide into the sunset to see the spotty sandpiper at Dunbar back in August. It was okay then. But the joke’s over. But you’ve lived, you say, and isn’t that priceless? But I need to live, not waste life like this. Squander – what a harsh, disciplining word that is, that hard r.

Recent past reloaded, I pass Barns Ness. Looking back, I can see myself then, leaning on that wall in the sun. I wonder if anyone saw me from a train, looking over a dump full of gulls, head ablaze. It takes two, maybe three minutes to shoot from Dunbar past Thorntonloch, not my three hours on foot, soaking feet and wind-red face. And I’m there again, where I walked in the fog, the clifftop path in nowhere, south of the Lothian border, down Coldingham way.

Man on the train. In the sun. Writing. Going somewhere new. Is this squander? Is this living? As usual, I constantly crucify myself while I try to be strong: it’s time to show the world what I can do, say what I need to say. “I’ve been on the shelf too long, sitting at home in my bed too long. Now it’s time to hear my song; how you going to take me?” No more sorrys. Anyway, it’s time to get off.

Alnmouth-for-Alnwick. Well, Alnmouth station in the middle of nowhere-for-Alnmouth-for-Alnwick. Hipsburn roundabout. Will be fondly remembered. I wait on a verge for the x18 bus. It’s late. There’s time tension the whole day. Phew, there it is. Uh? It heads off the first exit. I have fucked up. After all that. I turn back up towards the station, from where there’ll be another bus in half an hour, which will give me even less time to get to the bird and back. I turn around to see the bus coming back, and do a return sprint to catch it. Conscious of my accent, I get the stop name wrong anyway, but we’re on our way. Through VisitBritain brochure Warkworth, this could be Sussex – Petworth, Arundel – but for the Mason’s Arms. Amble – a bit Howard’s Way, yachts, new builds by the sea for well-heeled weekenders, dinner at Zecca – ‘ristorante sul mare’. But behind hides depression, both historic and modern. Ken’s Autoparts forced to diversify into keys cut While U Wait, Matt Fuels (a great name for someone) coal merchant, cash n’ carry. Hybrid kickboxing. Rotary Way. Amble Club Ltd. Another Mason’s Arms. The Northumberland flag. I’m in the Touring Guide to Britain: a lifelong ambition.

A woman doing her make-up at the back of the bus. It turns into Northumbria HMP. Visiting time. I get in Hadston where 20 year-olds in tracksuits gaggle outside the post office. They make noises, stoned giggles that are nonetheless aggressive. There’s a wake in white and black, smokers outside East Chevington Social. Boy racer with lime green wheels like football boots. Big fields. Shooting. Deep North-East. Broken Brexit Britain.

I follow my directions. I find the sign to Druridge Bay Country Park. Ladyburn Lake. It’s big. The diver is meant to be ‘but mobile’. I’ve not got much time. This could be tense. But I spy a bunch of birders on far banks. Just in case it does a bunk before I get there, I try to find the distant diver out on the lake where the birders are looking. Just so I have seen it. I unpack my scope, set up my tripod, telling myself to keep calm, keep calm. Phew! Seen it. Right, that’s it, just turn around and go home. Only kidding. I walk on. I watch the bird. It’s diving, as you may expect. Throwing its head back before propelling forward, like a hooligan headbutt, piercing the water like a shag, reptilian. But it’s pretty in a way. But it’s just a bird. After 10 minutes of frustrating would-be photographers by continuously diving and appearing on the surface for seconds each time, it gets bored and goes to sleep. A birder behind me says to his mate: “Might as well push off.” His mate agrees that there's nothing left for them here, that it's just a bird and life goes on, to another bird, another trip, another sun-blasted morning. And it's all for what? “Aye, another one down.” 

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