In an unprecedented twist the mother of the shark accused of trying to eat Australian three-time World Champion surfer Mick Fanning has declared "Enough is enough."
Mrs J Shark, of J-Bay, South Africa, held a press release three minutes from yesterday in which she said: "My son was out for his usual swim when he found his favourite route blocked by a surfer sitting on a board, apparently waiting to 'ride a wave'. He politely asked the surfer to move by nibbling playfully at his ankle. The surfer then punched him on the back, just underneath his scary fin. It was a disgraceful and unprovoked attack."
Other members of the shark community agreed.
"If you borrow money at stupid rates of interest and fail to pay it back, you've no one but yourself to blame," said Mr Lone Shark. "Or as we sharks like to say, if you can't stand the heat you should get out of the water."
Joining the chorus of disapproval at Fanning's underwater punch were three wise men, four horsemen and Jeremy Clarkson. Said Clarkson: "I'd like to commend the shark for not eating Fanning when he received that punch. If only I'd shown the same kind of restraint. I'd still be presenting Top Gear and we'd be plotting a shark special."
Mrs J Shark's son insisted on maintaining a dignified silence, swimming off and refusing all overtures to speak to the media, sell his story and write an updated autobiography. It was left only for Mrs J Shark to say: "My son didn't do what came naturally. He wasn't himself. He thought for a mad moment that he was a dolphin. Please leave him alone and allow him the space and time he needs to return to normal."
I rarely write this blog any more. Woe is me. The lack of writing is not through lack of interest in surfing but because these days I am always too busy. What am I busy doing? Why, all kinds of thing, but mainly working, which means writing, but not this kind of writing, which is a shame, for me anyway, because when I write this kind of writing I write like some sort of fool which is what my headmaster once called me, or rather asked me, for his words were: "Wade, are you some sort of a fool?"
I always enjoy thinking of this question, which was prompted by a terrible crime. The head was a maths teacher and asked his class to stand up and swivel round in an anti-clockwise direction. I was about 13 and a total dunce at maths. Like a fool, I swivelled clockwise. The head promptly tore into me. He and I had what could best be described as a relationship of cordial hatred; he assumed I'd swivelled clockwise deliberately, to subvert his class.
How I wish this level of cunning had been mine! But it wasn't. I was just an idiot. But what was the head getting at when he asked "Are you some sort of a fool?" Surely one is a fool, or one is not a fool? What sort of a fool was he thinking I might have been?
The answer, perhaps, is a writerly fool, someone who insists on trying to make a living out of this most doomed of professions despite the clear mathematical, not to mention anecdotal, evidence to the effect that a career in mathematics is less foolish.
But there is also honour in foolishness, which is why I remain stoked to be writing Winter's Tale - Waves, Swords and Wisdom - The Story of Russell Winter. Russ and I have had a couple of decent chats and the writing is underway. Tim Nunn sent me this great pic the other day, and it neatly encapsulates why Russ is not some of a fool but instead the UK's most successful ever surfer.
This rarely written blog resurfaces. Am stoked to have had this piece in the Freelance column of last week's Times Literary Supplement, about QPR, the American writer Robert Coover and football. Things are also looking very good for an agreement to write a book about/with a key figure in European surfing. More soon.
All perks come to an end someday. This law of being a freelance writer is as immutable as my good friend Aerial Attack's First Law of Surfing. Just as the surf will pump at precisely the moment Aerial Attack is prevented from going surfing, so it is that I will have to bid a tearful farewell to nice things lent to me by PRs and other kind souls.
And so it was that I said farewell to the Peugeot 5008 MPV, loaned to me by, well, Peugeot. As you can see from the pic above, this MPV does what it says on the tin, room-wise: oodles of space, so much so that it even accommodated my Meyerhoffer, which is a few inches the long side of 9ft.
The car took Caroline and I on a number of pleasing journeys, pleasing because this machine drives so smoothly that sometimes Caroline forgot that I was driving. Often enough, she protests that my driving makes her car sick, but not this time. Look - here she is, a picture of calm:
And here I am, snapped via a mobile phone looking like the proud owner of just the right kind of car, one that works, drives nicely and has whizzy SatNav, as opposed to mine, which failed its MoT today and is set to cost me a small fortune.
I like the Peugeot 5008. Can I have it back, please?
Yesterday I posted a piece about the late Neil Watson, a key figure in the UK surf scence who sadly died in early December. I mentioned that today I'd post something that might have made Neil smile. Here goes...
As I wrote yesterday, Neil and I became good friends, albeit that we only met once. Neil kept an eye on my writing - and a fine eye, at that. So fine that not only was he astute to when I'd got it right or wrong, he also enjoyed spotting when I'd been lucky enough to get something rarely seen in today's journalism: The Perk.
"Best blag ever?!" wrote Neil, when he noted that I was in Hawaii, writing a piece for the Telegraph. I confessed that it wasn't bad, thanks especially to the help of Billabong in getting me there.
Ten years or so ago The Perk was a regular facet of journalism. The recession has largely done for it but every now and then The Perk still happens. I fancy that Neil would smile at the generosity of the good folk at Peugeot, who have lent me a 5008 MPV. My brief is simple: to tell them whether I think the car is any good for an active lifestyle. In return, I can have it for three weeks.
So - with Neil smiling at my shoulder, for rarely does one get lent a nice new car for three weeks - what's it like?
To find out, I drove the MPV - that's a multi-purpose vehicle, if I'm not mistaken - to Huddersfield last Friday. It was loaded up with my son Harry's kit: he's a musician, and after his hols in Cornwall I was taking him back to Huddersfield Uni, where he's studying music. The 5008 drove like a dream and I enjoyed the Sat Nav, which I've never had in a car before (a consequence of always buying relatively high mileage VW Passats and driving them into the ground). There's oodles of room in the car, fantastic visibility and a great sound system. The only thing that took some getting used to was the height and the reversing camera. I like to see where I'm driving, when reversing, rather than look into a video screen - but, in fairness, I think a driver is supposed to do both.
On Saturday Harry and I drove via Todmorden, which I remembered from walking the Pennine Way many years ago, to Burnley FC, where not even the comfort of the 5008 could make up for QPR's abject performance and 2-1 defeat.
Sunday, though, was better, as Harry's photos show. We headed into the Peak District and had a great day. The drive home took six and a half hours and was smooth as you like.
This week I hope to find a wave or two. Peugeot say I can load the car up with boards, which feels a bit cheeky given its pristine condition and the amount of sand that'll therefore end up in it. At this, though, I know that Neil would simply smile, shake his head, and tell me to get on with it. Off I go, then, in search of surf...
I'm honoured to have written the obituary of Neil Watson in today's Times. I'm grateful to his son Dan for his help at such a difficult time, and have thought a lot about Neil these past few weeks. He was an unsung hero of the UK surf scene and a good man. I'll be posting something very different in a day or so - something that I know would have made Neil smile - but meantime here are some words that are more personal than those in today's paper. Photos courtesy of Dan.
Neil Watson, 22 September 1944 to 3 December 2014
The man who came to visit me looked more Hawaiian than any British surfer I’ve ever seen. Dark features, sculpted face, full head of hair, a strong frame and a powerful presence – Neil Watson was a man apart.
We talked in my house in Porthcurno, west Cornwall. Neil knew this part of the world well. He’d honeymooned in Cornwall in 1969 with his wife Pauline, and returned year after year for 40 years. In Cornwall, he learnt to surf, way back when; he continued to surf in Cornwall on each trip he made but it was in East Anglia that Neil blazed a trail.
Neil knew every break on the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline. He knew that this stretch of Britain gets good surf – on its day.
Neil hardly ever missed an East Anglian surf day.
Perhaps because he was there when surfing first took hold in Britain, and because he rode waves in an area that isn’t number one on surfers’ wish lists, Neil was deeply protective of UK surfing. He cherished it, nurtured it, believed in it. He encouraged the surfers in his neck of the woods and taught his son, Dan, to surf. They would later ride European waves but Neil’s surfing heart was as British as they come.
That time in Porthcurno was our only meeting, but Neil and I kept in touch regularly, chatting on the phone, emailing, sometimes even – generationally challenged as we were – texting. I knew how hard Pauline’s loss hit him, and was struck by what a strong and wonderful marriage the couple had had. Neil spoke of his children, Dan and daughter Justine, and I knew how much he loved them both. But most of the time Neil and I discussed two things dear to the pair of us – writing and surfing.
Neil was an unsung hero of British surf writing. He had good judgement, a respect for the facts, and an unostentatious style that told it as it was. His prose was clear and clean – like perfect barrel. He took a damn good photo, too.
I was honoured when Neil said he’d like to see the chapters, as I wrote them, of Amazing Surfing Stories. His feedback was spot on, all the way through. If I lapsed into indulgence, Neil let me know. If I got it right, he was happy to say so. I knew that I could trust his every word.
Now that Neil isn’t around I’m at a loss. Only a few weeks ago we were talking about an interesting but challenging surf writing project. I was looking forward to running chapters past him, as I wrote them, as I’d been lucky enough to do before.
We’d become friends, talking about our personal lives, music, kids and, above all else, writing and surfing. Curiously, only now, thanks to a chat with Dan, do I realise that Neil and Dan were surfing the same Portuguese breaks as me back in August and September 1993. We’d all headed to the same part of the world for a surf trip. I like the thought that we might have been in the line-up together back then, without knowing it. Maybe it was ever thus; maybe this unknown interconnectedness sums up surfing.
I count myself lucky to have known Neil, and, as will be the case for UK surfers everywhere, especially in East Anglia, I will miss him hugely. I was privileged to be able to dedicate Amazing Surfing Stories to Neil Watson, the Man in the East himself.
Ten years ago I went to interview a bloke called Lord Neidpath. He is an aristocrat who owns Stanway House. His Lorship wanted to publicise the amazing single-jet fountain at the house. It's a big old thing that goes a long way up in the air.
I did my research and discovered that Lord Neidpath (a) is one of UKIP's backers and (b) was once into trepanation (the drilling of holes in the head).
Arriving at the ancestral seat, I was ushered down a long corridor into his Lordship's study. I was then asked: "Now then, what is it that you want to talk about?" This was a strange question given that the interview had been set up by a PR. I said that I was here to write a nice profile piece to publicise the rock 'n' roll new fountain. I also said that I'd done some background reading and was interested in his Lordship's experience of trepanation.
Lord Neidpath then said: "Right, you have to go. We have to terminate the interview at once."
Pardon? said I.
"That's it, the interview is over. I had some chap from the Telegraph here the other day. Seemed nice enough, like you, but I made it clear that we weren't going to talk about that. Then he wrote about it."
I promise not to write about trepanation, said I. We won't talk about it at all.
"No, it's no good. Come on, out."
I was miffed. I'd driven two hours to get to Stanway House and being summarily ejected after about three polite sentences was a waste of my time. I tried one more tactic.
I'm a solicitor by trade, I said. I'll give you an undertaking as a solicitor that I will not write about trepanation at all. An undertaking is a serious thing!
"No. Come out, out."
With that, his Lordship took me back down the long corridor, opened the door and chucked me out. As I went I said to him: "Well, this has been a complete waste of my time but I don't suppose you care about that." Lord Neidpath tutted dismissively and said you can't trust journalists.
I was thinking about this incident earlier this morning when my thoughts turned to UKIP. I hate UKIP. They're such a bunch of tossers.
So I thought I'd write about what happened, again. It was, after all, covered by The Times with the text below, under the immortal headline:
Lord’s questioner as popular as a hole in the head
LORD NEIDPATH, who once taught international relations to the former US President Bill Clinton, is happy to talk about Stanway House, his Gloucestershire ancestral seat, which is, for at least a couple of months, open to the public.
But he’s not so happy to talk about his past, and specifically, trepanation, the 1960s fad of drilling holes in one’s head to induce feelings of wellbeing, in which the good lord indulged in his more carefree youth.
A journalist for one of the Cotswolds county magazines, was shown the door when he dared to mention the dread subject. “I’m afraid we have to terminate the interview at once,” said Lord Neidpath. The intrepid hack promised that he would refrain from all such questioning, to no avail. “You can never trust a journalist,” said Neidpath, ushering the poor fellow from the house.
Pictured courtesy of Wikipedia: a head.
I am nearing the end of Thomas Bernhard’s magnificent Woodcutters, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. It has been an exceptional read, one of real quality, and I am nearing its end, because I am closer to the last page than the first, and so, without anyone saying I am wrong, I am nearing the end – the conclusion – of Bernhard’s Woodcutters, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. Bernhard's Woodcutters is a book that chops through the guff of Viennese bourgeois society with the mercilessness of a man sitting in a wing chair, observing the people at a party around him, condemning them with a fusillade of contempt and disgust, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. Nearer the end than the beginning, the book strikes me as the sort of thing that Michael Rees would like, the sort of thing that Michael Rees has already read, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. Woodcutters is the sort of book Michael Rees would read, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. Its concatenation of pointless detail, its sense of alienation, its remorseless absurdity, these are things that Michael Rees would like, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair as all around me people arrived for a party and, in the corner, a man sat in a wing chair, lambasting everyone but especially an actor who had yet to arrive and so was keeping everyone waiting for the pike that the hostess, the insufferable Mrs A, had prepared, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. What could be worse than waiting for an actor to arrive, a pike going cold, said the man in the wing chair, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. Nothing could be worse but, as I neared the end of Woodcutters, a book by Thomas Bernhard that Michael Rees must already have read if I know anything about Michael Rees, I thought: nothing could be worse than knowing that a pike is going cold, while an actor chomps through his lines in a theatre, or a village hall, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair, while across the hall a man sitting in a wing chair said he had always hated Viennese society but especially bourgeois Viennese society but never more than tonight, as we waited for the actor to arrive, the pike going cold, we thought, sitting in our chairs. I am further away from the beginning of Woodcutters than the end, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair, prompting the man in the wing chair, as if having read my mind, to say that I must nearly have finished it, we said, sitting in our chairs, his a wing chair, mine wingless but yellow, we said, sitting in our chairs waiting for the actor to arrive, knowing that the pike was going cold, something that I could not comment on so far as Michael Rees is concerned because I do not know his views on pikes, or actors, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair. But I do know his views on Thomas Bernhard, whose book Woodcutters I have nearly finished, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair, because, if I am not mistaken, Michael Rees has quite a Bernhard collection and suggested, some time ago, that I read The Lime Works, I thought, in the yellow armchair. This was a book which I read so much of that it was finished, by me, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair, while near me the man in the wing chair said that he thought that Michael Rees might even have been influenced by Thomas Bernhard, but he couldn't be sure, sitting in the wing chair, and neither could I, sitting in the yellow chair. But, I thought, sitting in the yellow armchair, Woodcutters really is very good, even if its style might not be to everyone’s taste.
Never any time to write this blog anymore. Woe is me.
Woe also was a bloke called Phil back in April. Somehow this bit of mindless surf rage passed me by when it happened. Yesterday I was chatting to Steve Bough, once of Wavelength and now of Wavelength again, and he mentioned it. "Google Bude surf rage and see what you think," said Steve. "It's outrageous."
And it sure is.
Trouble is, on one of my rare surfs the other day I heard of similar grief at a break up the coast a bit. I was at Sennen, and a local told me of a load of aggro perpetrated by not one but two people who'd say they were locals too, at their spot, on some poor hapless beginners who found this very public and accessible place, donned wetsuits and had the temerity to paddle out and try and catch a few waves.
Guys, do you have to? I mean, do you want to be like the non-dude in this footage? Angry. Stupid. Intolerant. Mean-spirited. Selfish. Petty. Thinking you're big but just being small.
That's my view anyway. Feel free to cast me from the water next time I'm there. As to when this will be, it will be a while. A summer of sea swimming has given me a painful ear infection. Also, and by way of returning to a perennial theme, I've yet again lost my confidence when surfing. My metal neck, my serially-broken ribs and my shoulder-devoid-of-cartilage just make me think that in a dynamic environment like the sea I'm going to get injured. The result is paddling for waves but not really wanting them. The result of this result is ending a session with no more than a couple of waves (usually quite nice ones), as if a part of me has beaten another part of me, against that part of me's better judgement.
In other news, I had a day of hiking with writer Philip Marsden last Friday. Philip proved a fine guide to Rough Tor and other places on Bodmin Moor. No wonder, for he has a new book out, Rising Ground, which admirably examines what our collective (and individual) sense of place is, with the emphasis on Cornwall. This I'll be writing up for The Telegraph, who also ran this piece on SUP the other day (I am really not that fat, honest; I had to wear a lifejacket, rubber band, all that jazz). A run of Telegraph pieces continues with something on the Barnabas soon and this Saturday I will be researching yet another: chessboxing.
Yes, chessboxing. Twelve rounds in which I will alternately box and play chess. The winner is the first person to knock out his (or her) opponent or win by checkmate. I've asked (a) that no one hits me on the head or in the face - the neck wouldn't take it; (b) that no one hits me on my right shoulder - it'd be agony, and (c) that no one hits me on my left lower ribs - they'd just break again.
Maybe, when all is said and done, I should concentrate on the chess side of this assignment.
Pictured courtesy of Christopher Pledger: this was actually my only fall. Except for the second fall when I tried to emulate Jason Bergin and do a flash turn. That much is true.