THE SEA THE SEA
On my last visit to the faded seaside frontage that is Seaton Carew, I dropped off a photo I had been lent to scan. It is a black and white picture of the outside of the Rink, looking quite depressing really, with a car parked outside, a lone passerby and what looks like boarded up windows. It’s the only pic I’ve ever seen showing the entire frontage and it doesn’t immediately occur to me that this would make an ideal 40th wedding anniversary gift. But that, complete with biro inscription on the envelope is what Nancy O’Connor’s husband gave her as a memento of happy times.
He has passed away now and she’s very protective of the photo – asking her cousin John to ring me to make sure I will be returning it forthwith. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and memories more powerful than mere actuality.
I have heard this from other people; it seems the Rink was a magical place that didn’t display its secrets obviously. I am put in mind of some sort of fairytale environment…like the stories I read when I was a child where there was something to be revealed behind a forbidding door, or perhaps treasure stored in a room which can only be accessed via a secret passage hidden in the roots of a forbidding tree (as in the Tinderbox by Hans Andersen).
Having delivered the photo back – waking John from an impromptu kip in his armchair – I ask him if he thinks Nancy might be up for a telephone interview.
“Ask her yourself” he says…and hands me the phone
“mmmm” says I…”I would rather you spoke to her first as I know she doesn’t like strangers bothering her.”
“I’ll show you the secret code” says John. He dials and lets the phone ring twice then hangs up. Then rings again. Nancy answers.
“I’ve got Neil Armstrong here” says John “he wants to ask you something.” He thrusts the phone into my hand and makes an aside to me…
“nothing like doing these things when they occur to you” he says with a wry smile. I don’t think John was ever backwards in coming forwards.
THE PHONE IS SET ON SUCH A HIGH VOLUME…
“HELLO NANCY” I SAY “I WAS JUST WONDERING IF YOU WOULD BE SO KIND AS TO CHAT WITH ME ON THE PHONE SOMETIME SO I CAN RECORD IT? NOT NOW BUT WE CAN ARRANGE A TIME THAT SUITS?”
Nancy sounds hale and hearty and laughs a lot – again not the impression I had gleaned of a lady who ‘doesn’t get out much these days’. I think of the room beneath the tree…and that Nancy lives in a similar place in my imagination. I guess ,as I probably won’t ever meet her face to face, that this is where she will remain for me; an illustration with a voice, in some ways more potent precisely because of that.
When I left John’s house my next stop was an opening at Hartlepool gallery, but the light was so impressive, so theatrical, that I had to park the car and take a wander along the sea front. That seemed a wasted opportunity, so I returned to the car, got out my camera gear and took some beautiful footage of the sea, with Teesside in the distance, and also, looking North, back to the Headland of Hartlepool. Long shadows, lone figures; a timeless atmosphere.
I have recently visited Mark Wallinger’s installation in the Baltic and, staring through my lens, I was reminded of his 2011 film ‘construction site’ where a group of men erect scaffolding on a beach, framing the seas foreshortened height, and almost touching the horizon line. I was seeing that view through my own lens but this time a small figure of a man running backwards on the sand in silhouette entered my canvas; three similarly sketched children apparently chasing him, as if part of a deliberately contrived, poignant, cinematic panorama.
He was in fact filming them as he ran backwards, unaware that I was also filming him, filming them…
I was glad I brought my camera .