Agatha Christie’s heroine Anne Bedingfield, in The Man in the Brown Suit, said of surfing: “you are either vigorously cursing or idiotically pleased with yourself”. Christie herself was keen on the sport, and one of the entries in Alex Wade’s Amazing Surfing Stories playfully speculates that when she disappeared for eleven days in December 1926 she was in fact riding the waves at Bridlington, on the Yorkshire coast.
Surfing offers danger, communion with nature and the possibility of high-speed grace, all without the hassle and expense of ski lifts, and, as with many “extreme” sports, discussion among its enthusiasts can oscillate between self-satisfation and incomprehensibility. It is therefore especially pleasing that Wade’s second book on the subject, following Surf Nation (2008), is so accessible and diverting.
There are a great many stories here, all short and true. We hear about world championships, shark attacks and three-wave holddowns, drug addictions, a stranding and the feeling of riding “Jaws” – one of the world’s most destructive waves – at night. The language is at once literary and idiomatic. “Stoked”, “amped” and “gnarly” could sit uneasily alongside “terrible grandeur” and the “reeling perfection of Thurso East”, but Wade comes across as so steeped in respect for the ocean that the overriding impression is of authenticity. A thirteen-year-old girl who continued to surf competitively after her arm was bitten off by a shark says simply, “people in car crashes don’t stop driving”.
The book succeeds through a confluence of subject matter and structure. Some of these stories will transport us, others may pass us by, and the feeling is eerily akin to that of surfing itself. Wade achieves a subtly different moral note in each piece, and even those dealing with death or suicide feel bound by a spirit of generosity and the value of saying “yes”.
It is a pity that Wiley Nautical do the author few favours. The layout is unwieldy, typographical errors lurk like sea urchins, and the book went to press before an exuberant reference to Lance Armstrong could be cut. Fortunately these detract no more than do bumps and grazes after a day among the waves.
Wandered into Soho this afternoon with Harry in search of camera shops (yes). Checked out The Photographer's Gallery and loved the Bert Hardy exhibition. Meandered here and there, each step a gesture of defiance to my hangover, and then, in an attempt to find a particular camera shop, found that we'd retraced our steps and were in Bury Place, near the British Museum.
In Bury Place there is, of course, a fine bookshop - no less a place than the London Review book shop. Never able to resist bookshops, especially ones that sell proper books, I declared to Harry and my hangover that we would enter.
I had in mind buying a collection of Flann O'Brien's short stories for Caroline, but once inside couldn't help but wonder: would they have Flack's Last Shift in stock?
I approached the table of new hardback fiction and scanned its offerings. Flack was not among them. C'est la vie, I thought, because I always think in French whenever something I've written is not where I'd like it to be. On y va, I said to myself, because it's the only other French term I know.
Soon enough, I'd found some O'Brien short stories and also spotted Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. I'd heard of this book a long time ago and was happy to add it to O'Brien. And then, as I approached the counter, what did I see but Flack's Last Shift on the very same hardback fiction table I'd scoured earlier, but atop a display tower, beaming proudly toward any and all-comers?
Needless to say my hangover apologised for making me so blind and I mentioned that I'd written the book to the booksellers, Claire and Charlie. I offered to sign it, too, assuring Claire that "I really am me". How could she doubt such a concrete demonstration of selfhood? No one could, it would be as futile as trying to fire a cannonball from a spud gun.
And so I signed the book, and asked Harry to capture Flack at the top of the stack.
It's been a great 24 hours or so in London. Tomorrow I'm heading to Monocle 24 to chat about Flack, and then it's back to Wiltshire to see Caroline and the two beauties pictured here.
The connection between calf injuries and a writer's ability to produce a half-decent novel is so well-known that I need not restate it here. Suffice to say that picking up a calf injury in Tuesday night's footy struck me as a sign, or, if you like, an omen - or maybe even a harbinger - of doom.
Yes, I thought, my novel Flack's Last Shift - published today - is surely The Worst Book In The World.
This feeling was accentuated by my performance on the field, itself rendered anonymous not just by a knackered calf, knackered body, old age and general lack of ability but by food poisoning on Monday night.
I put in an undistinguished shift summed up by the following exchange:
"How did you think Alex played tonight?" said a player, after the game.
"Don't be a fool - he wasn't there," said the other.
"Yes he was! But then again, hang on, you're right - he wasn't."
In vain did I stand before them, nursing my calf.
Having achieved such real, genuine and meaningful anonymity, it was with mounting apprehension, not to say invisibility, that I got to today, this very day, the day Flack's Last Shift is in bookshops and on Amazon. And then, out of the blue, Al Mackinnon turned up. Catching up with one of life's good people was long overdue and Al generously revealed a lifetime of photographic tips to my son Harry, as I battled to finish all my work so that I can set off from Cornwall in about an hour and enjoy the launch party for Flack tonight at a do in Soho.
As Edward Fennell puts it in today's Times:
The joy of being a law firm outside the institutionalised City legal elite is that you can relax and kick out a bit. That’s why I like the style of Soho’s Simons Muirhead & Burton, which tonight hosts the launch of legal thriller Flack’s Last Shift (Blue Mark Books) by lawyer and writer Alex Wade. The story focuses on the behind-the-scenes intrigues and chicanery of life as a top newspaper’s “night lawyer”. It’s like The Night Manager — but involves putting the newspaper to bed rather than guests.
Just over a week to go and then Flack's Last Shift is unleashed on a world that is as unsuspecting as it is indifferent. That sounds self-defeating but, in fact, it is the best way to gear up for having a novel hit the streets. I.e, as good old Seneca tells us: expect the worst, and then anything else is a pleasant surprise.
I've tried surfing in high heels many times, but I've just never been convinced that it's practical. Maud le Car would beg to differ. Suitably inspired, I'm tottering down to the beach, surfboard under arm, to try again.
A nice book landed in the hall the other day, the postman having propelled it through the letter box with unusual force. It was joined by another, and then another, and together they were welcome additions to one that arrived a while ago, though whether they will be happy to be in the company of my novel, Flack's Last Shift - due out in a few weeks - is not known.
The first arrival was Golden Lily. This is the story of Lijia Xu, Asia's first dinghy sailing gold medallist. Hers is a remarkable story. "You must comply with every instruction and have no right to say a single 'no'." Lily, as she is known, was told this at the Army training camp at which she, in common with all Chinese athletes, began her Olympic training. I recall a similar edict when I was a trainee solicitor but even so I had considerably more freedom than Lily. That she succeeded so well is all the more admirable given injuries that seriously scuppered her bid for glory. A very good and inspirational read.
The second book through the letter box was The First Indian. As its name suggests, this is the tale of another first, this time that of Dilip Donde, who, in 2010, became the first Indian sailor to complete a solo circumnavigation under sail - a fine effort accomplished by little more than 200 people to date. I haven't finished this book yet but so far it's excellent - an accessible and warm read.
Another in the 'to finish' category is Around the Coast in 80 Waves by Jonathan Bennett. This has only just been delivered and I'd say I'm 80 or so pages into what is an appealing and witty read. Moreover, it's a book that features my good friend Aerial Attack, though perhaps criminally without reference to any of his attacks, aerial or otherwise. A good addition to the ever-burgeoning British surf lit library.
Before this deluge of watery words I was submerged in One Breath, by Adam Skolnick, which recounts the tragic death of Nick Mevoli while freediving. I reviewed this book for the TLS and was complimentary about it, for good reason. Skolnick ably describes the technicalities of freediving and brilliantly captures Mevoli's exuberant and yet tormented character. Interestingly, New Zealander Will Trubridge, who features often in One Breath, has just set a new freediving world record of 122 metres. If you ask me diving down 122 metres is as mad as it is impressive; if you want to understand better what motivates the likes of Trubridge, check out One Breath.
Now then, will these books be pleased that another one is soon to enter the world? I don't know. But the cover of Flack's Last Shift is below and it's published on 9 June.
My favourite coconut water brand, COCO-DIAMONDICO, is currently running a competition. If you buy COCO-DIAMONDICO, you can not only be really healthy but also win a holiday. And not just any old holiday. No, that would be rubbish. If you win a COCO-DIAMONDICO holiday, you get to go to THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD.
Because of this, on a recent trip to A SUPERMARKET I bought every carton of Vita-Coco. When I got home I did the competition. Did I win? No.
So I'm not going anywhere - at the moment. I have another 793 entry slips to try, but you're only allowed to do one a day so it may take some time before I get to go to THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD.
This is typical of the coconut water lover's life. It's all joy and tropics and upside and balm.
In a less ecstatic development, I walked my dogs. I walk them twice a day, every day, come rain or shine. I love my dogs (Rio, the old one, and Maya, the not so old one) possibly as much as I love the idea of a holiday in THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. Which is why I've posted photos of them (and their black lab mate, Polly) here.
Today we went to an old Cornish cove. I closed my eyes and, for a second, it was as if neither holidays in best places in the world nor coconut water mattered.