The introduction and part 1 of Sea Changes are here.
Part 2 of Sea Changes is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here and number 5 is here.
The media reaction to the tragedy gathers fervour. Dan Gowt does not know what is about to happen to him.
The dead had made landfall in more than one way. They had been the People’s People, opined a columnist hitherto best known for having been punched by an actor he had tried to interview outside a night club at 3 a.m. He added that those who could not feel for the People’s People were not People. Another journalist fought back real tears as her cameraman homed in on a salt-soaked teddy rolling slowly on the edge of the sea—for which she would deservedly win that year’s Excite! Social Conscience Prize (formerly the Thanatos Pesticides Shield).
For John and a few important others, that week brought contradictory emotions—horror, guilt, moral certainty, satisfaction at being proved right and a sense that great affairs had somehow been set in train. To them, the recumbent ones were a standing reproach, a symbol of all that should be altered. They were exhibits in the case against everything that was wrong. They were polychromatic pilgrims, MLKs for the XBox generation, Chés for today, drowned James Deans, rebels and martyrs, dead in the name of love, saintly for being silent, idealized for being unmet. They were enzymes of change. They represented a billion whorls of life passing and repassing south to north, east to west, First to Second to Third, poor to rich, fresh to stale, surging to senescent. People just like you and me (morally better than you and me)—fleeing war, famine, poverty, disease, and smothering tradition, shuffling towards our setting sun, coughing, crying, sighing and dying en route, to be trampled by illimitable followers with no possessions except authenticity, and always ill children held in always stick-like arms. They were dry scarecrows waiting to be woken into life—an army coming in peace, hoping for crumbs from the groaning tables of those whose cars they would wash, whose children they would nanny and care homes they would staff. They were bringing colour and vitality— enlightenment and folk-wisdom—welfare state salvation and low wages. Our world was dying. The tide had turned, and sea-longing was filling everyone with a desire to see the wide-open countries of the North. The world’s They were on their way.
But there were some who could not comprehend, and who would do anything to preserve their privilege. Standing athwart history was a perverse coalition—businessmen, bankers, landowners, the military, white-bread holidaymakers who strolled blithely along beaches ignoring the imploring, populist politicians, pudgy provincials. These had thrown up bristling barricades against the future—fear and forms, police and procedures, guns and indirect discrimination, meeting tears with tear gas.
Others tried to understand, but they were imprisoned by age and class. John put his own parents in this category. As a means of overcompensating for his unhappiness at school, at home John had always sneered at the platitudes of his father—what he would later term the “blanditudes”—even rolling his eyes and yawning ostentatiously in the front pew while his father held forth from the Jacobean pulpit at St Botolph’s, peering down like the mildest of deities onto dwindling polyestered congregants before leading them in new hymns they neither knew nor cared for. Looking back now, John could see that Daddy had always been moral but muddled, too Anglican-enmeshed and middle- of-the road to live up to the family’s heretical heritage.
Leydens had lived in their part of Devon since at least the 15th century, and over centuries which they had helped to make turbulent had combined Protestant fundamentalism with political radicalism—“an hereditary taint of democratic revolutionism,” as a 19th-century Tory had written in the Quarterly Review. Some Leydens had hazarded their lives for their beliefs; two brothers had actually been martyred under Queen Mary, and their neglected monument still stood in the nearby market town. But none had ever recanted. Atheist though he was, John was proud of his ancestors’ determined dangerousness, and saw himself as following in their tradition. It was, in fact, the only tradition he valued. Like them, he wasn’t afraid to take unpopular stances despite considerable personal sacrifice.
He now took a slightly kinder view of his father’s Biblical commentaries, which had been well-meaning and informed by post-structuralism— but they were still Biblical, written in a wisteria-clad rectory beside a 14th-century church down the far end of an oak-embowered Neolithic trackway. Where was the risk or relevance in that? Like all his generation and class, Daddy had no idea what it was like to feel the sting of social exclusion. He was still festering away there in Devon, although now in Leyden Hall (he had retired from the Church), still writing letters to the Times, some of which were published, on matters ranging from moral decline and welfare cuts to the fine spiritual example set by Dr. Martin Luther King.
His safe stolidity was complemented by Mummy’s cushion-making and easy listening. Her sole concept of caring was to send off conscience- salving large cheques to various charities. John had never made the mistake of simply sending money to charities. What was needed was revolutionary reform rather than palliative care. Everything was linked; all boats must rise at the same time. His parents had never engaged in such deep analysis, or attempted to view the world’s wrongs as different aspects of a universal problem. He had often tried to explain this to them, but it had been a waste of time.
He had left all this behind as soon as he could, and by the time he had finished Oxford, he felt had effectively resigned from his compromised class and joined The Conspiracy of Us—the alert, liberal, open, noble, generous, cultured, committed and courageous—just a few who saw the big picture, and brave enough to say what must be said. He had never looked back, except in faint anger.
He rarely saw his parents now, but spoke to his mother quite often— mostly in relation to financial matters. But now she would also moan about their health and ask when he was coming down to see them. He found her crude moral blackmail quite amusing—as was the way they tried to exert financial control through his yearly allowance. They had even bought him his flat in a flagrant attempt to buy his favour. But he was too independent-minded to be fooled like that—and anyway weren’t there more important things to do, for the world’s sake? John was supremely aware that his was A Good Work, and he hummed as his hands flew facilely across the laptop keyboard.
Dylan Ekinutu-Jones was in his Africana/retro furnished flat overlooking where the Hackney Marshes had been, half-listening to a play called The Undocumented. The Examiner’s “Culture Czar” had recommended it—“a coruscating, compassionate, sassy, streetwise, earthy and enlightened bildungsroman following the lives of six sans papiers as they take a rollercoaster roadtrip through Europe’s underbelly. A ballsy fable for our times.”
But he found the thing unconvincing—it had been written by a minor Scottish aristocrat who pretended he was a working-class Glaswegian— and his mind strayed restlessly to the real-life drama up at the impossibly sequestered-sounding Crisby St. Nicholas.
Like John, Dylan also saw the dead as symbols, but he also felt an illogical empathy with the dead. It was a reaction based on an misplaced sense of consanguinity. He thought they-could-have-been-me-or-my- dad. It was—the odd expression came suddenly—a blood-pact. The dead had been like him, he felt—unwanted, unappreciated, unloved. They had lost the battle against prejudice and persecution, against the hypocritical, hated, embraced, envied West; it was the same battle he had always fought, was fighting, would always fight until, like them, he fell storming the bastion. He read the details over and over, and hot tears started to his eyes. It was all so unfair.
The House had been recalled to discuss the crisis and all week Members displaced their displeasure at being recalled from holiday by vying with each other to apostrophize History in the most hyperbolical terms.
From Parliament on cross-party wings flew a statement condemning “the inhumane trade in people’s misery” and “the racism that blights lives and shames us all.” Richard Simpson’s energetic contribution at the first debate was wonderfully representative: “Mr Speaker, ‘onourable members, this is not a time for sadness but for anger. ANGER! We need haction to make sure such fings never ‘appen agine. We need a full hinvestigation, and we need it NOW!”
He sat down to huzzas and frantic waving of papers. The House rushed and resounded like trees in a gale. The place smelled passion and decisiveness, and it rose to their heads like the Members’ claret. The PM had parried with appropriate expressions, but looking at the surging House, he was conscious that he had failed to gauge the mood as well as Simpson.“Look at that shit Spitson,” he thought.“He’s loving every second.”
On Friday night, maroon-blazered Jim Moore, “Pinner’s Perry Como,” troubadour to lower-middle-class women and gay connoisseurs of kitsch, had halted his sell-out West End show to announce a moment’s silence “for all the world’s unwanted.” Many members of his audience, prone anyway to lachrymosity, found emotion welling up as the gilt cherub-decorated theatre subsided into fidgety quietude—still except for thousands of thronging ghosts, the imminent unrequited future asking “Why?”
Afterwards, when he sat at the baby grand to strum the first chords and hum the first lines of “A Babe is Born”—when the lights played on his well-styled hair and well-made shirt, and seemed to be making his eyes mist—all dams began to break, and the hall was awash with uterine upset, streaming faces flickeringly lit by several thousand provided safety lighters.
“It was truly the ‘Best of ’ Jim Moore,” one columnist wrote feelingly, “a spine-tingling moment when one felt that good old-fashioned compassion can still move mountains. Moore is a man of bounding sincerity, with almost too much heart than is good for him.”
“Moore does More” was the Meteor’s view.“Big-hearted Jim moved his audience to TEARS last night as he sang to raise money for the Bodies on the Beach. Fans SOBBED in the plush New Parnassus Theatre in London’s West End as the millionaire singer brought the house down by singing “A Babe is Born” to a CAPACITY crowd. Then the crowd dug deep to raise NEARLY £80K for refugees. Goodonyer!”
Also on Friday evening, in a huge converted warehouse on the edge of London, Atrocities Against Civilians, notorious for deaf-making volumes, depressive lyrics, drugs and the “polysexualism” of vocalist Scum (of which Imogen Williams had had recent disappointing experience), had halted halfway through their anthem “Dead God” and said that they would only play the rest if the audience stumped up £70,000 “for those poor fuckers on the beach who only wanted a better life for themselves and their kids. Nowo’imean?”
The cheering and stomping audience—white collar workers dressed mostly in black—did know what he meant and delved for their credit cards while the drums kept up an insistent pounding and Scum alternately harangued them and snorted cocaine from the top of an amplifier: “Come on you tossers! We wanna see your fuckin’ money! No money, no music!” The audience groaned and swayed as they paid. For almost half an hour, harassed venue staff passed through the crowd collecting card details and cash, while Atrocities’ drummer beat his kit with unrelenting amphetamine-induced energy. Then suddenly the drums crashed back into familiar pulsations, the guitars growled, the giant torchières flared, and Dead God restarted in all its manic might, Scum filling the stage with flailing arms and filthy mouth, like some angular Anti-Christ.
At the end, after the band had departed the stage with a final flurry of scatology and sweat, and the audience was thinking about nannies to be relieved of their charges, the huge screen behind the stage displayed “£81,045 and counting...” A tired untidy cheer came up from the exiting fans, faltering as they sniffed the cool night air coming through the opened doors.
The crowds outside St Peter’s bent their heads as the Pope entreated Urbis et orbis to pray for all lost souls—cut adrift by war and injustice, and beset by perils—for we are all travellers on life’s dangerous pilgrimage—indifference should never be a sentiment for human beings. The words of the tiny, fragile figure boomed around the vast square below the stern gaze of outsize stone saints, and far beyond to pierce Catholic hearts from Coimbra to Cuzco.
Although nominally Catholic, Dylan was less impressed, and commented in his blog,“His white Holiness and his so-white Curia are part of the problem, not the solution. His exhortation wasn’t translated into a single Asian or African language. What message does that send out? The Vatican is as out of touch on racism as it is on “family values.” They’re all at See on this burning issue. Rome needs a new and more representative Establishment.”
Meanwhile in Eastshire, there was a special service from Williamstow Minster. Sensitively-selected schoolchildren trilled a song that had sprung into existence that very week. “A Land That’s Free to Make Us Proud” had been written in just a few minutes by a Pentecostalist on the day the bodies were found, and fortunately overheard by a radio producer who happened to have been passing the church in West London. It had been recorded in a rush and played repeatedly since, a classic-in-the-making:
We’re sending out a message to all people, From mosque and dome to synagogue and steeple.
We’re sending out a message to the world – The flag of Jesus’ love has been unfurled.
Now it’s time to send our love out to the stars,
And raise our voices clear and high and loud –
It’s time to shout our passion near and far
And build a land that’s free to make us proud!
The words rose moistly into the Norman arches and nave, capering around the grotesque capitals that had looked down for eight centuries on bored Catholics, then bored Anglicans. The radio programme The Rite Stuff broadcast the service live into the homes of thousands of ladies with shelves of self-help books and wall calendars showing kittens sleeping in flower pots. The winsome sound washed over kindly ladies roasting beef and Yorkshire puddings, or looking out from PVC conservatories over immaculate gardens studded with resin statuettes.
Crisby went one even better with an unprecedented ecumenical event, as Jimmy the Team Vicar held a joint service on an unseasonably damp afternoon, with representatives of the Methodists, Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Unitarians, and the Catholics. There were local councillors, representatives of the emergency services, the Scouts, Guides, Women’s Institute, village hall and playing-field committees, the local papers, and almost all of the villagers, including the Gowts. The local MP Roger Swithin had turned up and was standing over near the Coast Channel cameras, looking very pious—although everyone had heard that he generally did not trouble the local churches with his presence on Sundays, being too busy with constituency business in the shape of the married woman who chaired the district council. There were also several black and Asian people—the first Dan had ever seen on the beach. He reproached himself for noting the fact.
There were also five strangers who called themselves the Icthys Brethren. They wore thin robes with stylized fish emblems and their bare feet were linked at the ankles by real chains. They bore hand-lettered signs— “Pilgrimage Against Prejudice” and “Walking the World to Wake the World.” Dan noticed that one of them was shivering helplessly, and his eyes had a disconcerting distant glitter, as if contemplating the shores of Jordan. Dan liked religion well enough—it did him good to go to church once in a while, and in any case, it was expected of you. He also found something reassuring about seeing old churches—but he could never understand the sort of impulse that could make people wander the country looking—he felt guilty thinking it—ridiculous. He wondered how his useful week’s work—all the crops in, and good ones, to fill people’s bellies—would weight against those of these fish-men.
Behind the Brethren stood Crisby’s school—33 fidgety children, resentful and embarrassed, especially the boys, all carrying pink balloons with heart designs and little tied-on teddy bears.
There were two guitarists, a flautist, a keyboardist with his own little amplifier, two cornet players seconded from the local Salvation Army and two tambourinists. They led the congregation through “For Those in Peril on the Sea”—a strong performance, sincerely sung—then“Psalm for the Poor,” written originally for schools but quickly withdrawn for being too specifically Christian. The calypso chorus went:
This is a psalm for the poor,
A song for all the world –
It’s time to open the doors
And let the sun shine through – The su-uu-u-un shine through.
The sun wasn’t shining through today, as light, large rain began to splash soundlessly on the sand.“Just as well the harvest is in and stowed,” Dan mused. The playing and singing were ragged, but the clerics struggled gamely, tapping their feet in time as rain splattered sand onto their shoes and the hems of their cassocks. Dan wondered what it must be like to drown. He shuddered and tried to concentrate on the lyric. But it wasn’t as good as that other song—the one he’d heard so much on the radio, something about “A Land That’s Free.”
The clerics each spoke shortly, the funereal assemblage sheltered under gaily-striped golf umbrellas. Their denominational differences were suspended, subsumed within the greater story of a giant wave of misery, rushing through the hot countries to cast up its destitute victims on the bad conscience of the North. We were all Peoples of the Book, which was a comfort wasn’t it, and their grieving relatives must find it helpful at this difficult time to know that the whole world is bound up with them in sorrow. Prayers went out to them all, from us all. The Icthys Brethren were walking the world to wake the world, and would welcome your sponsorship.
And so to the climax—a mass release of balloons, to represent those souls now ascending to A Better Place. All watched in mild interest as the balloons and their tiny ursine hitchhikers ascended against the drizzle and were taken by a breeze to be pushed out over the sea. Then there were Amens on behalf of the international community, and a scuttling for cars. Hatty and Clarrie joined in the scuttle, but Dan waited behind for a moment, standing still looking over the scuffed-up strand—at the dark clouds passing slowly, the scudding balloons and the cratered sand. “Poor bastards!” he said out loud. He turned and walked slowly after the others.
Next Tuesday or maybe first Tuesday in the New Year - Part 7
Until then, Merry Christmas!!!
Copies of Sea Changes are available from Amazon (a few copies of the first edition still available)
…........................................................................................- Derek Turner has appeared in a number of top-notch news outlets, including Taki's, Chronicles and the Times.
Follow him on Twitter: Follow @DerekTurner1964
or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Some recent articles from Derek Turner:MUDDLING THROUGH (OR NOT) WITH MULTICULTURALISM
Taking back the city
FALSE FLAGS, AND TANGLED GROWTHS
FLIGHTS OF FANCY