‘I was asked to write an essay for Elementum Volume Two: GAP.
The following is an extract. The original title was The Security of Impermanence.’
There are often storms here between October and April. In 2013/14 there were a succession that built over the weeks through from December to February. On Valentine’s Day 2014 the sea was the biggest I’ve seen it. Immense waves seemed to move in slow motion with the weight of water they carried. They hammered into the cliffs, taking the front layer of slate clean off. Rocks suspended in the waves ground into surfaces scouring out new pools. Seven metre waves on a 7.7 metre spring tide cut the front face off the dunes and took thousands of tons of sand straight out to sea. The upper beach level was left 3 metres lower by the end of the month. When the storms subsided and I was able to get to the littoral in safety it was transformed, all weed and all other life too, prawns, mussels, winkles, blennies and crabs, were gone. The sea was a milky soup of ground up plant and animal matter. Then gradually through the spring the algae returned, the mussels reseeded and by midsummer the rock falls had been buried by sand and the pools were re-inhabited.
I photographed the beach through that year to keep a record of the new changes. The edge of the dunes, which had been left a vertical drop of three metres, gradually formed a slope towards the sea again. The sea had taken the sand but old plastic buried in the dunes floated to the top. I found crisp packets from the 1970s and 80s, a 1950s Parker pen and a blue ‘Noddy’ toothbrush like one I’d had as a child. When a French fishing boat ran aground in the same storm I found a survival manual, how to pull a man into a life raft, light a fire with no matches, make a rough shelter out of branches – in French. What would it have been like to run aground here centuries ago? The French fishermen were rescued by the Padstow Lifeboat but in the past you might have been wrecked in a cove and never found. Ships have traded along this coast for at least two thousand years, for tin and copper and stone. I have found the ribs of oak ships and the wooden pegs which held them together and a copper plate milled in Swansea from the hull of a warship. I have also found six human teeth exposed in the turf by backwash from the waves. Who did they belong to? A sailor from a ship lost a few centuries back or someone from a much earlier time?