We slept on the promenade again last night, not exactly ‘on’ the prom, we were on the road that runs behind just under it over by St Michaels church, we both like sleeping under the bell tower of that place, in my minds eye we are under protection, in his shadow so to speak. I wondered about that for a little while, it seemed odd to think St Michael had a shadow, but then maybe it was because of it, that he became a Saint, I digress.
Parking restrictions are 8am-6pm in this town but there they start at 9am, there are 6 bays outside the Lyme Bay House Hotel next door that have a two hour free parking, so technically we can sleep in till 11am if need be, undisturbed except perhaps by road cleaners who come by at around 4.30am everyday, it feels good there
We’d run one of the waitresses home to Dawlish Warren last night then breezed back along the coast road to town, when your happy you know the next move and yet enjoying the moment your in, everything effortless, unknown and yet anticipated.
A parking bay had been empty, we just rolled in, stepped out and stepped up onto the promenade, a bottle of red wine in hand, sat on the first bench we came too and listened to the sea, chatting and watching the illuminated container ships loaded with ball clay, exported out from here since the early 1700’s, slide silently out of port through the narrow mouth of the Teign and into the darkness guided by illuminated flashing pilots-tugs boats, as one left another great beast slid into port, lights on the blackness of ocean and dark indigo sky sliding silently by, everything hushed by the endless hypnotic blanket of the ocean, the high tide breaking just below us against the sea wall, both of us happy and silly, we have been happy ever since we got into Teignmouth, apparently the last place in England to be invaded by a foreign force when the French ransacked the place in 1690
Living this way has its challenges for sure; its real rewards are slow to reveal. It has been such a long time since either of us have seen a TV, that’s not a complaint or a judgment it just is, Radio 4 is our connection with the drama of the world, and we catch headlines on newspaper racks when we fill up with Diesel, it’s always a lure to see what’s happened or what is presented as what’s happened. Listening to the radio, we often turn to look at one another with disbelieving eyes, do those running the trap doors, the lights and the curtains, really not see the beauty in the scenery? Do they not notice the small stuff? at times we are angry at them and at others we are deeply sad for them.
We do consider ourselves lucky, we are continuously grateful, we are expecting magic and so it seems to be all around us, living this way, the small things are noticed. Magic is not all harry potter, magic is right there under your nose.
We sat there chatting, pinching ourselves at the beauty we saw, the beauty of a container ship sliding noiselessly into the blackness reminding ourselves of the seemingly random happenings, noticing little things, and large silent things, it seems to keep that river flowing into and through our lives.
I remember my dear friend Zelda Danziger in Albuquerque pulling me up pointedly one day
“Your not lucky mick, you made it happen, it’s your choice”
We’d decided to do a few less festivals, this year, as last year the almost constant damp and rain in the north of England living in Pearl, had at times been a debilitating, we’d noted the sun symbols on the weather app were mostly in the south, so we’d decided to base ourselves somewhere there and drive north for the festivals this year.
After the Alps Orsi had flown home to Hungary and I’d driven across to pick her up, we’d then driven back through, Slovenia, Italy and France together, but the priority once back in the UK was to go to Blackpool as my little brother Stephen had died unexpectedly and so there were things to attend to.
From there we’d shone our combined beams towards the imagined sun kissed lands of southern England we’d not known where to but we always seem to gravitate to the sea so I’d said, on the surface a cavalier, but underneath expectant
“Let’s go to Torquay”
So that was that, southwards ho, we set sail in Pearl our Santa Maria, a little apprehensively, as we hadn’t known what to expect. After a 7-hour drive we found ourselves parked up on the sea front of this little seaside town at the estuary end of the river Teign. The wide beautiful harbour behind us, and a wide open promenade and the English channel in front of us, union jacks fluttering above, Jurassic red cliffs framing either side, a gem of an old battered pier being loved slowly back to full gloss, salt resistant life, its boards and railings led your eye out to a glittering horizon.
That scene and the wide ocean vista had called us down from the road above, we’d done a double take on the way in, it slowed us down, the late afternoon sun had been, twinkling and on the chalky blue sea, it felt fresh and gentle, the atmosphere of the place settled lightly onto our shoulders, our hearts had opened, instinct said “yes” We stepped out and started as we always do, just walking the streets, mapping it in our unconscious, people had said ‘welcome to Teignmouth’ it had puzzled and disarmed us.
I’d been driving for weeks, I’d wanted to rest, but next day Orsi had gone into Hungarian pioneer work ethic high alert, printed out our CV’s and dragged me out of Pearl, we began literally knocking on every door in town where there might be part time work, Orsi wears her heart on her sleeve and got a job almost immediately at the Finley & Brown café on Bank street in its busy steaming broiling oily kitchen.
I got a paper round for a newsagents on Teign Street, working for a lovely couple called Will & Mary. A 5.30am start, Orsi went Jogging along the beach underneath the promenade between the railway line and the tide, I laughed that I was back on a paper round, but Pearl proved to be a little too large for the tiny streets up there on the hillsides above the town, I had to reluctantly let it go. I’d also applied for a postman job, the handyman for the local council and various pub jobs all proved to be stony ground and I began to slip a gear.
Eventually Shaldon on the other side of the mouth of the River Teign tugged at us so we walked around and across the Bridge to try the pubs and its beach side cafes we’d spied across there
Eventually, we came upon the bustling Clipper Café right on the quayside, who it so happened were looking for staff to run their barbecue. I’d gone in as Orsi already had a job at that point. Kelly the bright beautiful red headed manageress had asked where my partner was, I pointed through the glass doors to Orsi stood on the other side of the street
“Get her over hear” she’d said excitedly
We’d chatted briefly, then left CV’s and walked out with the words “angels” ringing in our ears
It was to be a vegetarian & seafood barbecue, they were looking for somebody with ideas and Orsi it has to be said had ideas and recipes, it was also a decent hourly wage
We’d told Kelly what we did and the festivals we’d committed too, she’d said
“Consider it staff Holidays, already booked, come and work for us”
Eight weeks on we were still pinching ourselves
So we moored up in that safe harbor, literally. We worked out on the beach, we ran, we swam in the sea everyday and everyday weather permitting late afternoon to twilight, we were out there on the waters edge cooking wonderful healthy food, watching the amazing ebb and flow of the tide rushing in and out through the mouth of the Teign
Each day from the that vantage point we watched kids in wet suits diving off the quay into the strong incoming tides, carrying them away up to the bridge half a mile away, “tide flying” they call it, right up till after dark, when the bars closed, it never failed to make me smile, it never failed to amaze Orsi, the kids coming past us shivering and shaking then diving back into the rushing tide heads bobbing, away and out of sight, nobody batted an eye lid, was a joy
So no, no TV, the front room is the street we’re parked in, and we’ve begun to zone in on and engage with things we’d not normally pay much attention too, it started last year of course but we’ve had the time here to observe a town more fully.
We’d arrived in early June when all the new Seagull chicks were balls of brown fluff, late at night we’d seen many pass by the van, wandering up and down the narrow deserted streets cheeping pathetically looking for a way back up to the roof tops where they’d tumbled from. The first time we saw one I got out and picked it up and we fed it, it caused great concern with taxi drivers and bouncers outside a nearby pub who saw me
They shouted across aggressively “Put it down … PUT it down, leave it !!
I hadn’t understood, but as the weeks went on we saw a lot more wandering the streets late at night, always it seemed to be, after the pubs had shut and I’m not sure where they ended up as we haven’t seen any dead ones, though we’ve seen the mature gulls attack those earth bound flightless youngsters many times. Sea Gulls are an unforgiving lot.
I recall being batted in the face by a Gull in Scarborough last year, a full sandwich taken right out my hand, we’d been bullied by them in Whitby and had to retreat from the prom with our supper under our jackets. But here we’ve had the time to watch them and have come to respect them, noticed their beauty, their quick alert eyes measuring us side on, noticed that they have territory are all paired, heard their heavy feet padding up and down the roof of the van in the early mornings, Seagulls have energy, they are strong and beautiful in the air.
After work at The Clipper we’d sit on the sea wall hidden just behind the London Inn in Shaldon as the veil of many a summer evening was finally and imperceptibly drawn, eating our staff meal, feet dangling above a little beach with its little moored boats below
We came to know a pair of Herring Gulls we called Sid & Sally. Sally always just above and behind us, her head popping and bobbing up over a roof top whilst Sid came right down to us, walking up and down the wall, cooing and gurgling wanting to engage, they are wild things and it’s not to be forgotten, but we were quiet and they over time very cautiously engaged with us, we enjoyed their company very much in those quiet hours in that quiet place
Over in teignmouth we often saw a lady who we’ve come to know as ‘Pru’ a 65 year old, who often bursts in upon our quiet moments late at night riding a disabled scooter, wizzing up and down the promenade, the cross of St George flying wildly behind her, pushing her humming chair to its limit up and down the access ramps, often whooping to herself grinning from ear to ear as she tears by.
I met her one night at Weatherspoons when I’d gone in to use the loos just before they’d closed; she’d been sat at the bar in her Electric Chariot having her 6 shot espresso before she took off that evening
I’d just said “hello” and she’d burst into conversation, from then on she always waves as she flies by, sometimes she’ll pull in and tell us the news, she always makes us laugh.
We like Gino, Kelly’s Italian ‘6,4’partner too, the head Chef and manager who has given us free range to the stores and the kitchen, I have learned a lot from him already just watching him interact with the customers, he often reminds me of Oliver Hardy, the way he rolls his eyes when something is not quite right with the staff or food. Orsi has been lifted of the ground happy with the opportunity to create delicious and unusual food, we have dived in, fish to water. I’ve loved prepping the fish, the scallops and the veggies and cooking on the barbecue. People regularly came back to check out what we are doing and what Orsi had come up with on a particular day, she was in her element.
A few weeks in the mythical mackerel had not appeared, people had begun talking and grumbling, then one morning two small boys arrived at the ice cream Kiosk with a bucket of 39 Mackerel. The head waitress had driven a hard bargain, got them down from £30 to two tubs of ice cream, its tough out there on the dock side, but deal done. I offered to fillet them as I’d done the Salmon earlier in the week, we are vegetarian, but have made our peace with it, we don’t eat it and won’t fish for it, but I knew it would be a remarkable experience, anatomical if you like, seeing the wonder of creation, right there in front of me on the blue chopping board. I wasn’t wrong
A few days before I’d been watching the men fishing for Salmon from the beach in front of the Clipper, I noted how roughly they treated them, instead of taking care to untangle them, I’d winced as they’d cruelly pulled them through the nets tearing their scales off whilst still they were still alive. I promised I would say a prayer for them. Later to my surprise they’d brought the two magnificent Salmon up to the Clipper, and I just happened to be stood next to Gino who was negotiating with them to fillet them first, so I offered, I thought I could learn something valuable and I would get the chance to say that prayer over them. They were a male and a female, the female had a sack full of fertilized eggs, which seemed a tragedy to me, all the way across the ocean, so close to the spawning grounds, the precious golden cargo would never to be laid. That journey must have been going on for thousands of years, before over fishing and mindless tradition had reduced them, I figured a prayer was part of that ancient cycle, the mystery and the beauty in it, I wanted to connect with ancestors and the spirit of the river, it had saddened me, I was prepared to be the one to handle them gently, to feel them, to be aware of them, a prayer and gentle hands was all I had to offer.
One of the Chefs had shown me how to fillet the first one, I’d watched like a hawk, then did the other. In my minds eye, I was the tender hands, rather like washing down a body, I took great care. The same with the mackerel, it took around 3 hours to do the 39 of them, people were hungry for them but seemed to treat the Mackerel as second rate as if they were less than the mighty Salmon simply because there was more of them, abundance breeds carelessness.
But close up the Mackerel are so beautiful, striped iridescent blue green and silver. I ran the sharp knife along their bellies, slipped my fingers inside and gently removed their innards. I saved everything, chopped their spines into 4 parts and sliced their heads into halves, then when finished took it all down to the waters edge and returned the remains to the ocean and the tides, it wasn’t missed by the gulls of course, and I’d wanted it to go around as many as possible
A great flock of herring gulls fell upon me, squabbled, and fought, the younger brown chicks learning what it was to be a Herring Gull at mealtime; it was a highly charged hilarious scrum. When the tub was empty and feathers were being smoothed down. I poured the last of the blood back into the river knelt and said a quiet prayer and finished with a “thank you” then walked back up to the Clipper
That evening we sold nearly every piece
We were listening to the Radio the other afternoon, sat in the car park high above a place called Labrador bay a mile out of Shaldon looking out onto the ocean, a man had said
“Don’t try to be the person your parents wanted you to be, for there lies misery”
He went on, “When a person comes to the end of their life and they look back, it will always be the moment they learnt something new that they’ll remember, and will still be clear in their minds, giving meaning to their life, everyday is filled with possibility to learn something new and to see things anew” I sat up straight and looked beyond the horizon, it registered with deep clear clarity, like a bell ringing.
The first week we arrived I’d switched my radar on, eagle eyes scanned the town for promise, possibilities, amenities and conveniences. I’d dragged Orsi along back roads, paths, tracks and trails, down alleys and through short cuts, then along the harbor side and docks. I noted free parking and the restrictions, found Teignmouth Rugby Football ground car park by the railway tracks. When you are switched on to things, some things are obvious. I’d spoken to the manager, primarily for a job but mentioned we were parked there and would we be ok? He nodded“At your own risk, but no overnight parking”
Which was fine by us as we liked the wings of St Michael and the sound of the sea at night
Across the road is a launderette one of the places I’ve been working on new songs. Once a week I sit outside while the laundry tumbles and Orsi is away jogging somewhere, re-working the songs I’d written for The Fits over to acoustic, where to be honest I am much more comfortable, it’s sounding good and perhaps another reason for these feelings of contentment, and maybe why I haven’t posted for such a long time; the muse, Cynthia, demands attention, if the results are to be worthwhile,
“Submersion is where I’m at” she has reminded me many times.
We also park up under the trees on the Den Crescent, the green lawns laid out in front of us, beautiful flower beds at either side, directly across the lawns are public toilets underneath the Beachcomber café, the outside loo’s as I call them.
We are very aware and grateful of any luxury, the showers and the toilets are a blessing, hot running water, lockable cubicles and flushing loos something about it never fails to make me laugh, each morning as I stepped out from Pearl with my towel under my arm, the people having breakfast in the beachcomber looking down on us as we crossed the lawns, it put a mischievous spring into my feet every time, its something I never fail to say ‘thank you’ for. Orsi tries to be a little more inconspicuous walking around the edge of the lawns, I tell her
“They can still see you”
And she is always mortified and that too always makes me laugh
I like to find the history of a place so I dug a little and found references to an ancient battle here between the Saxons and the Ancient Britton’s in around 927 it seems the Saxons were victorious and later founded St Nicolas church in Ringmore across the estuary, just a stones throw from Shaldon.
Teignmouth seems to have ebbed and flowed in significance over the centuries rather like the tide that flows in to that harbour, big highs and quick lows. In the 1400’s it was known for it’s fishing and was regularly attacked by Flemish pirates. Its importance waned again in the 15th century due to the estuary silting up because of the tin mining up on the moors above. This was cleared and its significance rose again with the cod fishing off newfoundland in the 16-1700’s and then the building of the Quays in the early 1800’s by the Templer family and the coming of the railway in 1846
Also a point of interest for me, I discovered that the stone used to build the 1830 London Bridge that I’d visited on lake Havasu in Arizona had been taken from a Haytor Quarries just up the road from here and brought to the quays along the Templer way to Shaldon where we parked up many on nights looking across the Teign toward Dartmoor. I loved it there
And then the cherry on the cake as far as we were concerned, a confirmation that there really is magic in the world. We’d been so busy getting ourselves jobs and getting the lay of the town, then one morning I’d stepped out the side door onto the lawns of the Den to saunter across for my morning shower and there right in front of us was a circus setting up, I stooped in my tracks, unbelievable, had we missed it or had it just appeared? Charlie Chipperfields big top was mushrooming right outside the window
“Orsi… “ I called back into the van. “Guess what… there’s a circus in front of us”
It was astonishing, and they had parked all round us, so it looked as if we were part of the circus, nobody bothered us. It really made us laugh. The circus come to us, there we were right in the midst of it. A few mornings later on the way back from the showers, Orsi had heard Hungarian voices, she’d come back and said proudly and comically
“They are Hungarians.. !!”
Orsi can be very funny, we checked number plates, they were Romanians and Hungarians. So next day when I appeared from under the beachcomber with my damp towel under my arm, there she was chatting away with them. They were it seems a family group of traditional acrobats, strongmen and defiers of death, who were working there way across Europe.
“You see, you see” Orsi was saying all morning and I did see, you couldn’t miss it, and the magic in it didn’t pass me by either
That night after a glass of wine in the cab, we stepped out from Pearl and into the big top to watch them. They were amazing, both of us we were noticeably surprised about how much we enjoying it, perhaps we’d become jaded with all that online shock and awe and TV addiction. It was a big reality jolt too see those people doing incredible acts right there in front of us, full of joy and pride in a half empty tent in a small almost unheard of English seaside town. We looked around the big top and noted all the stage hands watching breathlessly, eyes glittering with pride as the acrobats did their incredible show, it brought tears to both our eyes, they were the real deal, show people and they sure put one on
We sat for the next few days and nights with a birds eye view of back stage watching the performers going in and out, their interactions, cooing and pawing their pet dogs. There was ring master though neither of us could understand a word he was saying during the performance, but we gathered it was something grand, his lover the beautiful feisty amazon ring dancer with the big thighs and leather boots, the Estonian clown who somehow seemed dangerous to me was often engrossed in his mobile phone, The amazing Italian roller scatters who in daylight seemed really quite ordinary and the super fit jaunty high wire acrobats hanging out with the wheel of death superstars, it was amazing to witness it all and brought home to us just how far out we’ve sailed.
The two of us I don’t think have ever been so content, or so sure we are on the right road.
As we talked last night we both realized that these are some of the happiest days of our lives, simply because we are not distracted, The circus arriving seemed to bring it all home to us, instinct had paid off. We are just here in this little fishing – tourist town, we look at everyone closely, we see all the etiquette, the manners, unhealthiness, the confusion, the conversations, the culture, the young and the old, it all looks beautiful to us, we are learning.
Storms will no doubt roll in at times and we’ll perhaps be swept away by them, but they will and do pass and then the world will at times is simple and ordinary, but through it all is magical and simply remarkable and does reflect back at you how you feel it seems. .
M & O,
I have so loved reading your stories in and around Teignmouth my childhood town.
You have made it appear as wonderous as I’d seen since it being a young curious teenager, sneaking off school in lunch break. I’d whisk off my footwear and stroll in the waters edge feeling amazed by the shear beauty of the sea; the reflections, light tinkling in my eyes, the cook swirls of warm salty water around my feet and the stunning birds that would accompany me in my own little world of imagination.
“Oh, to be free” ….. Xx
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