I love the water. Always have. As a child, I loved to swim in, guddle in, and play in water.
My holidays tended to be near the sea in Scotland – good for swimming, but better for jumping around the rocks and guddling in rock pools to find out what was under every stone.
And there was plenty. Life everywhere. The rocks were covered in limpets, whelks and barnacles; the rock pools with fry, shrimps, crabs, hermit crabs and anemones.
It was amazing to just watch as they scooted around eating and trying to protect the food they’d found. I’d go fishing and actually catch fish.
Fast forward 30 years and the kind of wonder that I used to find in things like this seems to have gone out of my life. Office jobs may pay decently, but they tend to be dull.
The buzz that I used to get from working in pressure situations globally has gone, to be replaced with tedious work that allows me to be with my wife and kids.
The home office with the view of the sea (admittedly, over a few roofs), goes to keep my wife happy; we move to the country.
And I discover I’d forgotten just how important the sea is to me until I am isolated, surrounded by hills, but with a wife who seems happy with sheep, goats, chickens, and home educated kids.
But I’m not happy. I was an only child, and got a flat when I was on my own. I didn’t live with anyone until just before getting married at 35.
This idea that someone else should be involved in every decision is just messed up for me. Our kids are great, but like any father, having 2 boys under 7 is a bit full-on, and can be the cause of great frustration at times.
My own time just goes, and there’s little chance of getting time alone by the sea. The forest beside us just doesn’t cut it for me. So I end up feeling lost, confused, isolated and frustrated, yet without really having a single sound good reason why.
I don’t want to live feeling like this, but I also don’t want to pay the cost of taking my wife away from where she is happy to somewhere that I might be. It’s expensive for a start, and not worth taking the risk with the hope that this will improve things.
Then I hear about this group called The ManKind Project, who just might be able to help with this.
So, I go for a weekend with these guys. The weekend is certainly unique in my life so far, but I just can’t shake the feeling off that I can’t immerse myself enough to fully give in to all the things that I should be doing and feeling here, or that I’m just thinking too much about stuff, but can’t stop doing it.
Yet I end up after the weekend notably calmer and a little happier, but still feeling that the whole experience was just a bit weird.
I’ll take some strategies from it that might help me day to day, and I honestly think it has, but I don’t really consider that this “entry into manhood” thing was really necessary.
Two months later, I’m off for an interview. The usual nerves are already kicking in at 6am that morning as I get my shirt, suit and tie gathered up.
And there, beside the tie, is a little reminder of my Adventure weekend – a necklace, of sorts! I stare at it for a few seconds and then pick it up. It goes around my neck, and a couple of days later I have a job offer.
What exactly was the connection of my reminder is thing though? Why was I so drawn to it, and what did I draw from it? A few months later I think I can answer that question. To me, it links me back to the place where I felt the strength of other men behind me and where there were times when I felt strong within myself.
So now, when I start to feel angry or frustrated, both of which still happen, I have somewhere else to go for strength. I don’t wear it all the time – it’s upstairs in a drawer – but it’s there when I need to turn anger into strength, and I thank the group of men who helped me to do that.
Mission & Purpose
But with all that said, I’d like to go back to the start of this piece. Yep, that’s my purpose: As a man among men, I create a healthier world by evangelising the need for clean seas.
And even though I no longer live by the sea, I’d ask you to consider a few things.
The sea is the source of life on this planet. Whatever happens with all the human threats of global warming, financial meltdown, peak oil, epidemic disease, terrorism, chemical or nuclear destruction, the sea will remain unmoved, and will be there to bring forth life again.
It’s still the bottom of our food chain and the main source of all unfiltered fresh water to give us life on land, yet while the oceans are immense enough to take a lot of abuse, they’re not immune to the damage we’re causing.
There are currently 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean. The amount of plastic being washed up on UK beaches has doubled in the past 15 years.
Many types of these plastics can absorb further toxic chemicals before being ingested by marine creatures, and these enter the human food chain.
Over 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds each year die due to ingestion of, or entanglement in, this waste.
Unprocessed sewage is regularly dumped into the sea through combined sewage outflows designed solely to discharge untreated human sewage directly into the sea when the sewage system is overloaded.
In cold seawater, the human-derived bacteria it contains can survive for 20 years or more, and come back into the food chain either through seafood or affect swimmers, surfers, divers or other water users who ingest it from the seawater.
As our species grows, we’re seeing the effect of the massive impact we’re having on the planet.
The state of the sea is not the only problem that we’ve got on this planet, but it’s one that’s in dire need of more attention than it currently gets.
Because when I look in a rock pool now, there’s a whole lot less life there than there was 30 years ago.
I work with Surfers Against Sewage, not just for me, not just for the water users, and not just for the human species, but for the future of life on this planet. See www.sas.org.uk for more details on the problems I’ve touched on here.
FYI – To Guddle: (verb) to catch (fish) by groping with the hands under the banks or stones of a stream.