Friday, 11 May 2007

Gwyneth Paltrow, quicksand and walking on water with Matthew Hollis

I was at Wells-Next-to-Sea in Norfolk at their annual poetry festival this past week-end. Sarah Law, Matthew Hollis, Blake Morrison, Alan Brownjohn amongst others were reading.
I arrived early on the Friday afternoon and decided to walk on Holkham Beach. Those familiar with the final scene in Shakespeare in Love will recall Gwyneth Paltrow (she of the extended neck) walking purposefully across a vast expanse of beach supposedly arriving on the shore of the Americas…this was in fact Holkham Beach. I walked purposefully across the sand towards the sea, mindful of the signs that informed me that the tide could come in rapidly and that I should ensure I stay alert. The sea was so far away it seemed only the notion of a sea, something grey heaving on the horizon and wafting salt in my direction. I continued to walk purposefully towards it in a reverse Gywneth Paltrow tracking shot.

For some strange reason halfway into no-mans land between dunes and sea I started to think about quicksand. There had been no signs that mentioned quicksand but perhaps I had not seen them. Perhaps Norfolk coastal folk had pulled them down in an effort to reduce the numbers of people pretending to be Gwyneth Paltrow. When the concept of quicksand enters the psyche, the earth beneath your feet begins to feel less solid, wind blown ridges take on the appearance of slight eddies on the surface of something moist and shifting. I rapidly began scrolling through all the films I had ever seen that contained the hero/heroine escaping from quicksand. Trying not to move at all and some brave compatriot crawling out on a plank or throwing an old college scarf to be grabbed were the only memories I could muster. Perhaps planks had been placed down for Ms Paltrow to walk upon in her last shot, their use on the surface of the sand disguised by the cunning use of photoshop type filmic trickery? I had no quick-thinking companion to throw me an old school tie or girl-guide belt. There was a lady walking a small terrier way in the distance but this animal looked physically incapable of pulling a small rubber ball from a bowl of porridge let alone an overgrown poet from the sucking sands by the scruff of her anorak.

At such moments I discover that there is a stupid perversity that shapes my ends, rough hew them though I may. It was ridiculous that I thought there were unmarked quicksands, I thought, I should overcome this neurotic fancy on my part and plough on safe in the knowledge that this sand wasn’t going anywhere. The sea didn’t seem to be going anywhere either, I sat on a dune and watched it intently for signs of in or out. Perhaps the whole thing was like the Truman Show and it was an optical illusion created to give my particular show a natural boundary. I became fourteen again and flipped into 'are we really here at all or the figment of someones imagination', is this all an illusion but then I realised I was merely re-running the Matrix in my head.
I walked back towards the cheery little beach huts on the edge of the pine forest, stretching my neck just a tad in homage to Gwyneth and clicking the heels of my trainers together, ‘There is no place like home, there is no place like home.’ I did not sink, I survived to listen to some fine readings, especially by Matthew Hollis, who read a poemthat involved the scientific concept that the crest of a wave can support the weight of a human. If I’d have known that earlier it might have served to make me confident that should the tide have come in I could have walked on water in order to avoid the quicksand. Suspiciously during the whole of the week-end in Wells I never saw the tide come in, it seemed to remain permanently out at least during the times I was around near the quay…Wells does have something of the Truman show about it at times.

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