This is not an invitation to my alliterative best friend to display her martial arts, arm wrestling or pillow pugilism skills. It is rather a memory from three decades ago.
Let me explain.
In the far off days when I was a young and naive banker, someone in Personnel made the decision that it would be good for my development and leadership skills if I were to attend an Outward Bound course, which would instantly transform me into a dynamic and assertive leader. I hope they claimed a refund if that was there hope, but nevertheless the experience has stayed with me, and shaped the person I am now. This was the first true adventure of my life, and without it I may not have pursued so many of the others that I have experienced since. The three weeks of mountain skills, rock climbing, canoeing, fell running and so on weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they gave me a love of landscape and the outdoors that more recently has taken me to Asia and Africa as well as many more wet (and occasionally not so wet) days in England’s Lake District.
One of the many activities that I undertook for the first (and only time as it happens) was Orienteering. There are checkpoint symbols dotted about the promenade near to where I live, but I have never seen anyone use them, so I don’t know how popular the sport is these days. Has it been overtaken by geo-tagging? Anyway, in our case the route we ran was to be nowhere near as flat or open as the Seaburn coast. We were to race through a densely planted pine forest.
For the most part, this wasn’t a problem, with pathways and fire breaks to run along in search of the red and white markers that signified a control point, but often as we neared our objective we would realise from our maps that the actual objective was not on the road or footpath. It was somewhere in between, requiring a plunge into stiff brush with the added bonus of sharp pine needles that pierced clothing from every angle. Our instructor laughed uncharitably at our cuts and scratches as we completed the course, and asked how we had enjoyed pushing our way through these natural barriers. The technical term for such terrain he told us was “fight”. It must have seemed appropriate for I still remember it clearly over thirty years later.
I was reminded of it again today, though not because I was doing battle with pine trees. The UK has been battered by wintry conditions that have brought heavy snow and disruption to much of the country, and whilst we on the North East coastline have escaped the whiteness, the cold and driving winds have made their presence felt here regardless.
It was as I parked the car ready to take some pictures that the term “fight” returned to mind. Fighting to control the car door from being forced to angles that its hinges had never anticipated, fighting close the boot as the wind inverted the parcel shelf into a wedge that prevented closure, fighting to remain steady enough on my feet to keep an image in focus. I failed at the first attempt, but this plant amply demonstrates the conditions I was facing, as did the grasses nearby.
On the beach I am accustomed to seeing the wave tops turned to spume by the power of the wind. What I am not so used to it seeing it spread right up the beach by the forces at work.
Here the fight was to make progress against the forces of Euros and the fight to catch your breath as the wind whipped it away from you. As I looked into the distance I could see great eruptions of white water and knew immediately that I must head that way for a shot that I have long wanted to capture; waves breaking over the Roker lighthouse.
When I got there I positioned myself on the bridge over Roker Ravine, both for shelter and the fact that its parapet was at perfect height to support my camera. I was working with both teleconverter and zoom lens so wanted to be as steady as possible.
I focused on the lighthouse, and waited.
I recomposed the shot slightly. And waited.
I fired off a few test shots. And waited.
Though I was wearing my photography gloves which give snug protection but for a small circular hole in each thumb and forefinger which can be stretched to allow flesh access to controls, the heat conducting properties of camera and lens were chilling my fingers uncomfortably.
I changed my autofocus point. And waited.
At no point did any wave reach the North pier with sufficient force to be thrust skywards and over the lighthouse. There were a couple of minor attempts which made nice enough pictures, but nothing with the drama that I was seeking.
Was the tide too far out to be deep enough? Or too far out for waves to be forming at the right spot. I don’t know. What I do know is that at the South pier, where there is no lighthouse to provide a benchmark for height, all hell was breaking loose. It must have been down to the angle of the wind but in the fight for the picture I wanted today I lost.
I did get a consolation prize though.
Postscript – 24th March
The following morning saw very similar conditions, still no waves over the lighthouse, but some drama nevertheless. The wind had brought down a lamppost yesterday, and in a mood of caution the local council decided to fell another half dozen just to be cautious!