The sounds of summer. Waves rolling lazily onto the rocks with that flurry of white noise, immediately followed by the suck back. Legions of pebbles rolling in a syncopated march towards the open water. Gulls in vocal support puncture the stifling air. My 11-year-old skin, burning with the sun and seasoned with salt wherever it peeks from the neoprene wetsuit I am wearing. The smell of the warm, neoprene rubber is mixed with sunscreen and fear. The sounds of other kids shrieking and playing around the Tinside pool are distant. I look down.
My legs shake as feet curl around the edge of the wooden diving board 10m up from the heaving green and brown mass below. I feel sick, but I want to do this! I want to feel the stomach-churning drop as I free fall into the water 30 feet below. In reality, I want to fly. I realise gravity will take hold but the bit I am interested in is the sense of freedom and weightlessness of the drop. The water below is not the goal. It is a necessity. After a third feeble attempt at stepping off the board, which amounts to little more than my legs giving way, threatening to leave me sitting on the diving platform, I realise that this is not going to happen.
I turn and slope back to the rear of the diving tower where a couple of recent arrivals are looking at me with interest. They walk past me and without hesitation, they reach the edge, pause for a moment and are gone. I hear their triumphant cries, swiftly followed by the thwack! From my new vantage point, I see no water. Just the edge of the board and the blue sky meeting the distant hills of Cornwall. If I jump far enough, maybe I will reach the horizon. I run toward the edge full tilt. I do not stop. With every step the adrenaline and desire build. One step, I’m going to do this. Two steps, I am doing this! Three steps, I am roaring my determination. Four steps, I propel myself toward the edge with gritted teeth. I plant my last step inches inside the board’s wooden deck and stride out into the summer air gulping oxygen in and holding it tight as if it will keep me airborne in balloon-like weightlessness. The feeling is magnificent. Arms and legs still trying to do the job that they do on terra-firma as I fall and then just long enough after my flight begins, THWACK! The sound of the sea swallowing me whole. The churning green water holds me in suspended animation monetarily before I reach out for the sunlight above. As I breach the surface, the gulls cry and the pebbles cheer. I am invincible.
One of the interesting aspects of bursting into the middle-aged bracket is the biological imperative for risk aversion. As a younger man, I have taken all kinds of risks. This is true of all of us to some extent, of that I am sure. My own particular brand of invincible was intrinsically linked to the belief that I was done for and had nothing to lose. Regardless of its origins, it held me in good stead for many adventures and some truly ridiculous decisions. Every risky decision made was always preceded by a diving board moment of some kind. That lingering moment of crippling self-doubt and fear which ultimately drove me into a move of reckless abandon. Rarely have I thought things through logically.
The last such significant reckless move came at 35. I am 6 months before my 50th birthday at the time of writing and I find myself at the edge of the diving board. The Sound of the pension and end of life plan is conspicuous by its absence. The job prospects are melting away like ice cream in the midday sun. The sticky residue of transferable skills more of a stain than a bona fide CV. My bricks and mortar investment is reduced to a set of house keys in a brown jiffy bag addressed to the Mortgage company with a short note saying “This has been emotional. I can’t do this anymore”. The negative equity burns my exposed skin. The salt exasperates the stinging. In the distance, I see the rolling hills of freedom. They are the daunting stages of a thousand cities. The willing ears of hungry audiences. The beauty of the spoken word. If I just jump hard enough…………
Coming in 2018; Alexander Rhodes. “One Foot In The Rave” and a UK tour of poetry. Details to follow.
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Alexander Rhodes Poet