Gwil James Thomas recently found himself back in his hometown of Bristol, England. He first started writing after leaving education at 19 and jotting down notes on anything from sick bags to napkins, that he found in various jobs. The notes eventually developed into a novel called Captains of Sinking Ships. Since his first publication Gwil has contributed his words to places such as 3:AM Magazine, ppigpenn, More Noize: The Worst Fanzine in The World and this site. Any questions, hate mail, etcetera can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Grey Wave: The Ocean, Alcohol and Team Sports
I’ve found that there’s a moment when logic will kick in, in some shape or form, and question what you’re doing, or about to do, whatever that might be. It happened to me often when I was younger. I’d do things which I assumed might be funny before I’d think of the repercussions. I suppose my adjustment as I’ve become older has been to make sure I’ll find something really funny in order to deal with those repercussions. That same logic hit me one morning – asking how I had managed to get dragged down to the ocean, hungover, and attached to a surfboard? Tired and grumpy I swallowed another mouthful of sea water and was dragged underneath another wave, spinning around tattered sock in a washing machine. I hadn’t felt too bad when I first stepped in – but retrospectively I’d still been drunk and I’d slept part of the journey too. This, I told myself is the reality of sobriety. The alcohol had turned against me – it felt like a cheap trick, like turning over in bed to find an empty space, your wallet gone along with the lover. I still had no idea as how I’d got so drunk on what little money I’d had. Sounds of the ocean passed my ears and I stretched out my arms in front of me feeling for something, anything. It made me think of a disorientated bubble trying find its way to the surface in a beer bottle.
My brain felt as if it might have been pulled out and shoved back into place. But I don’t think I grew that angry or disrespectful towards the ocean. Maybe, momentarily this might have been the case, but being angry with the ocean was like being angry with the earth for spinning on its axis. I thought of things I’d heard about the ocean, a lot came from hours of flicking through channels and catching parts of documentaries, like the alien creatures that lie at the bottom of underwater mountain ranges, or how the sea turtle’s penis – which seemed almost as big as him, could shoot semen in four different directions. Though other things stuck in my head too, like being a child and watching the crabs go and how they seemed to march both to and from the ocean, just like that – even if they had to go sideways. I remember thinking that it must have been great to have that option. Two worlds. I could go on forever and really I find it difficult to know specifically what that respect or interest in the ocean comes down to, but there’s something about it which leaves me with a sense of rightness.
Some of the memories I considered to be my earliest were from holidays spent on the Cornish coast, when my dad told me stories about the ocean. Most of them were standard folklore – sailors battling serpents, getting lost at sea et cetera, though after a few drinks they usually developed into stories of sailing and past family members. I was told it was in my blood. The ocean and booze had been two things that had their fair share of influence on my family for quite some time, on my father’s side. In short, or as far as I’m concerned at least, the stories came down to this: generations of men investing their money on these barely seaworthy boats so that they could escape their women and get drunk somewhere else. My grandfather would apparently leave saying he was off to the pub and not come home for two weeks Someone knew what they were doing, since they successfully navigated their way to France and Holland more than a few times. From my dad’s account, it often meant that he’d be woken in the middle of the night by my grandfather and asked to navigate, in return for some time off school as the pair of them snuck past my grandmother. The accounts went back years, the earliest was some generations ago when one Welsh forefather in particular upped and left his woman and fled across to Italy where he met some poor young Italian woman and dragged her onboard his boat taking her to his far off Welsh village and marrying her there and then. Really my actual experiences with the ocean tended to be quite brief. I had more in common with airports and airplanes, which amongst other things generally seemed a quicker and cheaper way of travel.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed being close to the ocean or even living by it. If I was ever unsure as to where I should be going, I discovered that it could be a fairly decent navigational tool. Or maybe I was just bad at getting from place to place. There was something uplifting about it, the only barriers being nature’s.
So, after a few moments of spinning and disorientation,I felt the chord of the surfboard give a sharp tug on my leg. I followed the chord back to the surfboard and rose to the surface. I rested my elbows against it and held my hand to my head for a moment letting the rest of my body dangle below like bait on a hook.
With logic aside, I found myself in what they might call an infamous moment of clarity. I remembered just how I’d ended up in the ocean on an overcast Sunday morning – I’d done exactly the same as the generations before me. Talked bollocks to people about the ocean, this time resulting in me borrowing a friend’s board and being escorted with them to the ocean. Passed down stories and memories fade, but my lifetime seems to have taught me little more.
I looked around to see someone surfing the wave back to the shore. I imagined they were a local. Despite being in the ocean, with a surfboard, smeared with wax and wearing a ridiculous wetsuit, I felt no more a surfer, than as I was a cyclist, or anything else. I suppose it was something to do with inhabiting cities for so long, but there seemed a lack of authenticity to many of the people I came across strolling from surf-shops that I felt had been labeled surfers. Then again, maybe it had something to do also with the fact that it felt like I picked up pastimes too easily, before I forgot about them. However, in terms of sports I had to admit that I generally disliked team sports. I think it was something on more of a personal level. If you even wanted to call surfing a sport that is. Either way, I hauled my body onto the board, feeling the pull of the wave behind me that was about to break.