The Seventh Wave

Sting – Love Is The Seventh Wave

Hearing the weather forecast predicting high winds this morning my intention was to head for the coast in the hope of giant waves breaking over the pier, and more impressively, the lighthouse.  The tide was almost at its high point when I arrived, but there was no sign of monster waves, just more of the bright sunshine that challenged me yesterday.

Still the sun at least provided some backlighting for the spray that the wind was whipping off the wave tops.  This was one of those occasions, in contrast to yesterday, where I think it’s acceptable to have the highlights burn out to pure white as you can see on the left of these images.

Deciding not to go for a portrait in this harsh light I returned later in the afternoon as the sun was starting to set.  It was now at me back as I faced out to sea, giving perfect lighting for the white wave crests and breaking foam.

The sun’s position in the sky had another benefit; casting shadows that revealed the patterns on the sand created by other waves.

Yet it was something else caught by the light that please me most.  A large “cloud” of sea birds, too distant to identify but probably dippers like these, was wheeling about the sky.  Initially impressive for the black shapes they were throwing against the sky’s blue backdrop, as I raised the camera they turned again and the sun caught their pale underbellies in a flash of white.  Sadly their shape disintegrated at the same moment, but they still make a striking sight, like a multitude of stars (though I can’t spot any constellations).

Still no portrait, but as I walked up the shore I spotted a body-boarder retrieving a child’s football from the water, to the delight of his mother.  This was Thomas, still wet from his activity, and with that low sun I had no problem getting that detail into the shot.  (Click on it to enlarge and you’ll see what I mean!)

Fly the flag!

Unless you’ve been in the farthest reaches of the Hindu Kush recently, you can’t help but have noticed that apart from the hullabaloo about the impending Olympics, the country is having “a bit of do” to celebrate Queen Liz having been on the throne for the last 60 years.

Despite our British Reserve, this is one of those occasions when, with a lot of encouragement from the supermarkets, we hoist the flag and string out the bunting as if it’s V.E. Day once again.

On a stretch of coastline like ours however, flags are a common sight.  There are flags that promote the fact that our sea water and beaches reach cleanliness standards, flags that show that our beaches are well managed (though not last weekend!) and flags that show where it is safe to swim and where to use motorised offshore craft.

Whilst the award flags fly all year until the coastal winds and salt spray disintegrate them, the flags that provide guidance appear at the beginning of June and are placed on the beach every day for the next three months.  Between the red and yellow flags (where it is safe to swim) the areas is patrolled by those responsible for their deployment.  The lifeguards.  The flag above their observation point denotes their origin – they are seasonal employees of the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

I’ve always been familiar with the work of the RNLI (they’ve existed for best part of 200 years) both through growing up on the coast and being fascinated with the different vessels and launch methods they have adopted, and through the regular appeals that Blue Peter made over the years.  (It also helps that the first ever purpose-built lifeboat is still on display just up the road in South Shields.)  The RNLI are a charity, and for all they are seen as an essential element in saving lives around our shores, they would not exist without public donations, and the efforts of volunteers.

About ten years ago now they extended their operations beyond the famous orange lifeboats that they are associated with, and began to provide Lifeguard services initially on the surfing beaches of the South West, but this has rapidly grown to over 160 units spread around the country.  Last year the lifeguards alone saved more than 100 lives and went to the assistance of over 18,000 people.

So today being the first of June, the lifeguards are on patrol.  They’ve spent the last month honing their first aid and life saving skills and they’re ready for action.  Like their “Baywatch” equivalents they dress predominantly in red, but there the similarity stops.  Even at the height of summer, the North Sea is pretty cool, so rather than the Pamela Anderson swimsuit…

I met Thomas when I was out today – he was even sweeping sand off the promenade – what a public-spirited individual.  I’ve never needed his services or those of his colleagues, but I’m really glad they’re there, so if you have a pound or two left over after toasting Her Majesty this weekend, I know of a good cause.

Hot and Cold…

…well not exactly hot for those of us on the North Sea coasts, but compared to recent weeks today felt like the height of summer.  Layers of clothing were shed and the world and his wife headed for the beach (leaving their children at school of course).

Now I know I try to see myself as a non-discriminatory kind of guy, but if I’m honest whilst not knowingly racist or sexist I am a snob.  Consequently my normal photography playground was off-limits today; the combination of a sunny beach with pubs, chip shops, slot machines and Morrisons all within easy reach will be a magnet to those who will leave the place awash with litter, before returning tomorrow to do it all again.

I didn’t have to go far to get away though as you can see.  The Roker Marina is close at hand, but a quieter experience on a day like today.  Quieter that is until the shrieks of teenage girls on this unlikely vessel disturbed the air.

I assumed they were screaming in case they fell in, but once out into clear water they disproved that theory immediately.

Even the motor-sport enthusiasts racing around the perimeter were making less noise – (not sure who won though!)

Then there were those who were content to sit in the sun and people-watch as others went by.  As a photographer I do this all of the time, usually in the search for a good face to photograph, but in a more leisurely context I might take this a stage further.

I read an interesting book a few years back about reading people; the things we give away about ourselves by our appearance and body language.  This is cold reading, the technique used by tricksters and “mediums” to  convince people that they know more about you than they really do.  It’s a probability game where they make statements that are probably correct and then based on the level of reaction pursue that further or move on to a different subject before you begin to challenge their powers.  Derren Brown has used the technique on several occasions to debunk a variety of scams.

A cold reader meeting me for example, would probably mention that I’ve put on a little weight recently.  They’ve never met me before so how could they know that?  Yet a little observation would reveal that the belt I commonly wear is worn around the next notch, showing that it has been fastened tighter frequently in the past.  Were the notch the other way, they might enquire as to whether I’d suffered some illness recently.

Educated guess-work, yet in America where lawyers have the right to screen jurors for signs of any bias against their client the technique is regularly used (and used to try to produce juries that might be inclined to think a certain way).

I don’t profess any expertise in this field, but if I was a betting man I’d say that my subject today, Thomas, had been out in a boat.

Why would I think that?  The collar and tie look a little formal, but then many of the older generation don’t feel properly dressed without them, but on such a warm day the hat and sweater suggest that he’s been somewhere a little more exposed.  Elementary my dear Watson.

Oh yes, and there’s the matter of the dried sea-spray on the left lens of his glasses.  Move over Benedict Cumberbatch!  😉