The Ocean is a Harsh Mistress



That title makes it sound like this will be some kind of a high-falutin’ thing but I promise you it won’t be. In fact it may be the least high-falutin’ thing you read all day. How’s that for a boast?

The title is a nod to a great song. ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ by Jimmy Webb. My pal Warren Bennett put me on to the Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny version which is now a firm favourite of mine. You can click on the picture above and listen to it while you're reading if you want. The whole album is a great listen.

The title of the song is also the title of a book by Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein was the first writer I ever took out of the Adult Library after, aged twelve, I finally got my grown up ticket. There was a big monster on the cover. That did it for me.

My title may be a variation of the song and book title but it's also true. The Ocean is indeed a harsh mistress. As usual, I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days.”

Let’s get to it. It won’t take long.

This week, I had some work to do at a place down by the sea. Just for a day, well, a few hours actually. Drive down, do it, drive back again. As it turned out, the day I picked for my little mission was one of those glorious days.  Sunshine, blue skies, all that good stuff.

Knowing it was going to be lovely and knowing I’d be there a while; I stopped into a garage and bought some lunch. A two-euro tuna salad sandwich, reduced because it was right on its sell-by date, a can of 7-Up Zero and a bar of Cadbury’s Mint Crisp. This last item might be a mystery to some of you as I don’t think the Mint Crisp is available everywhere. Let me just assure you that it is a wonderful thing and you should seek it out if you can.

So, I did the thing I had to do. I kept the head down and worked pretty hard and, all the time, I had my peripheral vision on the sea. I promised myself that, when I was done, I would take my soggy sandwich and my can of pop and my Mint Crisp and I would go down to the sea and sit a while and munch and enjoy the day.

The time came. I went to the car to retrieve my vittles. The sun had played her part. The tuna was warm, the once freezing can of pop was fast losing its cool and, worst of all, the Mint Crisp was flaccid in its wrapper, melted and liquefied.

Undeterred (well, maybe a little deterred) I took myself down to the ocean’s edge. It was there that I had my idea. The day might have been warm but the Atlantic Ocean, the edge of which I now stood upon, was unfailingly cold. I could put my Mint Crisp into the Ocean, weigh it down with a rock, leave it a while, and then remove it, restored to solidity once more.

It was a good plan. I did it.

I rested the bar of chocolate in two inches of clear ocean water and put two rocks on top of it to stop it from moving around. Then I went back a few paces from the oceans’ edge, sat on a rock, and ate my warm tuna.

Here’s the thing and maybe you can guess it. It had crossed my mind as a sort of a joke but I didn’t think it could really happen.

But it did.

When I went back to the ocean’s edge to retrieve my Mint Crisp, it was nowhere to be found. It was gone.

Oh I know what you’re thinking now. The old fool lost track of where he put it in the water and he went back to another place. In fairness, there might be some truth in that but I wasn’t more than a foot or two out and I paced up and down scanning the water for my bar of chocolate and not a single square of it could I find.

When I realised what had happened, I felt foolish that such an obvious thing had passed me by but I also felt something else. I felt how quietly and quickly the effect had crept up on me.

Effect? What Effect?

You know what effect.

The tide.

The tide had eased on in as I was eating my sandwich and sipping my 7-Up. I only took a few minutes and you wouldn’t think the tide would advance so far in so short a time. But it did. I know for sure it did because I marked a coloured stone in my head as I searched for my Mint Crisp and even in the short time that I hunted for it, this coloured stone became first covered and then distant and then lost in the Ocean.

This is what had happened to my Mint Crisp. Slowly and quietly and without being noticed, the Ocean had swallowed it whole.

The Ocean is a harsh mistress. It advances on you without you ever noticing. While you look the other way, it will dampen your soles and cover your shoes and, if you dally long enough, it may even ease you away from the shore. It will drag you down if you don't keep a weather eye on it.

A bit like some other things I could mention.

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