Saturday, 26 February 2011

Ocean Man (or The Old Man and The Sea).

Carpe Diem. That has always been my motto. It's a latin phrase meaning "stay in bed". When life has me pinned against the wall or when the chips are down or even when I realise I have a gig in Leicester in 11 hours time I just say to myself "Michael, carpe diem: stay in bed". It's certainly got me out of a few scrapes. When there's a knock on the door: carpe diem. When I realise I have to go to Lewisham Shopping Centre: carpe diem. When I look on Twitter and a complete cunt tells me that James Corden is returning to Doctor Who: carpe diem. It's my motto, my mantra and my plan for life. Carpe diem: stay in bed. Even when it's a case of ego postulo laboro. I'll let you figure that out yourself.

We left Hong Kong on Sunday for Phuket and three days off. It was going to be sun, sea and sand until gig-day on Wednesday. Brilliant. I love the sun. I might be the whitest man on this planet but I love blazing hot sunshine. The hotter the better. And, despite me being the colour of very pale snow, I never burn. My skin is jet white and therefore relects the sun back on itself and somehow it's me that ends up burning the sun. I know that one day I will end up being the chief reason why the sun gets skin cancer. I also quite like sand mainly because I laugh at how irrationally angry it makes other people. "Bloody sand! It gets EVERYWHERE!!!" No, it doesn't. YOU take it everywhere. Sand would just stay on the beach if it had a choice. And that's my choice too. Lying on the sand and making the sun sick. Lovely. Oh, but the sea.

The sea. That's not for me at all. I like looking at it but I couldn't bear to touch it. I very much treat the sea in the complete opposite way to how I treat myself. I don't hate the sea, of course, I'm just scared of it and for very good reason. When I was 6 my parents took me to see Jaws.


The evil bastards. It was 1975 and the Legge family were holidaying in a caravan in Ireland during the summer and after the film I was utterly traumatised. On the drive back to the caravan I talked constantly about how I wasn't scared of Jaws at all, despite hiding my face in my Dad's jumper during the two-holes-in-the-sunken-boat scene. I bragged a lot about how if Jaws was here I would beat him up with my bare hands yet later that night I was scared to ask for a glass of water in case a Great White Shark came out of the tap. After that I got obsessed with sharks. I only read shark books from the library and tried to learn the names of all the deadliest sharks that terrified me: the blue shark, shortfin mako, the tiger shark, Bruce. They all terrified me and I couldn't stop looking at them. I asked my parents to take me to see Jaws again and once again I was shit scared of it. I paddled about in the sea any chance I could after that but I was always worried that Jaws would get me. Not any shark mind, it was definitely Jaws. A few shark obsessed years went by and Jaws 2 came out. And that was it. The SAME beach got attacked by the SAME kind of shark and was destroyed by the SAME MAN? This was too much of a coincidence. I never got into the sea again.

That's the rationale that my mind used when I was a child and still uses to this very day. When people say that it's safe to swim "here" I just think well, that's what happened on Amity Island, isn't it? That was "safe". Yet TWO Great White Sharks, the deadliest animal known to man, hunted and killed there. I mean, are you really telling me that sharks can't get lost? Not even one of them can go off course and end up here in Rhyl? I think not, matey. And then they roll their stupid eyes and say "Well, just paddle in the water for a bit. You'll like it". IDIOTS! A shark can attack and kill in 1mm of water and just because it definitely can't doesn't mean I'm wrong. Plus there are other animals in the sea. Jelly fish, crabs and seaweed. Alright, seaweed isn't technically an animal but evil fish could be hiding in it and, anyway, it feels all funny on my leg. I don't like it.

You might think I'm being completely stupid but this is how I have thought since 1975. I've had a 35 year old phobia of the sea and I definitely haven't been in the sea since I was about 10. Sometime in the '90's, I went on holiday to Majorca with my then girlfriend who was hell bent on curing me of my phobia. She loved swimming in the sea and wanted me to love it too. The dick. She worked hard on persuading me to get in the sea and eventually I compromised and agreed to get into a pedalo shaped like a rubber duck. We went 8 feet out into the sea when I started gasping for air. She smiled at me and told me that if I relaxed I'd enjoy it. I must have shouted bitch a thousand times that day. I say day, I lasted about two minutes before she steered the pedalo back to dry land. It was nice that she cared but obviously she wasn't prepared to be called a cunt by a fully grown man in a yellow rubber duckie. Not that she gave up. The next year we went to Florida and I accidentally ended up in a tiny row boat (it's a long story but I was definitely tricked). I was uncomfortable in the boat but she assured me that these were safe waters. That's when I saw the dorsal fin appear.


It was the pedalo all over again although this time I had a reason to be shouting at her. A shark was about 20 feet from us and I was about to die. She explained that it was a dolphin and that dolphins were harmless. What a stupid bastard she was. What? ALL dolphins are harmless? There's no chance that ONE of them will go "Fuck this" and just attack? What? I suppose all dolphins are the same to you, eh? Racist.

We split up soon after that. I think she still sees the dolphin. Weirdly, although I'm scared of the sea, I love big boats. Not keen on dinghies but give me a yacht or a big catamaran any day. And in Phuket that's just what happened. We got an invitation by a very rich man to go island hopping on his million pound catamaran. YES! This is a proper holiday now. We can sunbathe on the deck, drink beer and keep singing Rio in our heads. It's going to be brilliant.

But when I got on board that's when carpe diem hit me. Stay in bed. Why hadn't I just stayed in bed? EVERYONE is going to get off this boat at some stage and I'll just be on my own with them all thinking I'm a weirdo. Why is a 42 year old man scared of a film he saw when he was 6? Why won't he listen to us explaining how safe the water is? Why won't he just get over it and get in? The answer is very simple: JAWS. Jaws will get me the second I dip my big toe in there. It WILL happen. This isn't a guess, it WILL happen. Then we anchored off a very secluded beach that just looked like everyone's idea of paradise perfection. I'm surrounded by utter beauty on a glorious day on a beach in the middle of nowhere. If I don't get in the sea now I never will.

Of course, I had no intentions of actually getting in the sea. I'm not mental. I'll never be back here again and to say I swam in this sea would be a huge personal achievement but my phobia controls me and, anyway, everyone had been talking about the deadly sea snakes that are found in this part of the Andaman Sea and...HOLY FUCK, I'M IN THE SEA! I'M FUCKING SWIMMING IN THE SEA. I'M SWIMMING IN THE SEA. CAN YOU SEE ME, MUM? I'M IN THE SEA SWIMMING ALL BY MYSELF!!!

Not only did I swim in the sea but when I got back on the catamaran I quickly got back in the sea. This might seem like nothing to you but it feels like I just knocked a wall down. It would have been nice to say that I walked on a pretty deserted beach on an island off the coast of Thailand but to say I swam there just makes me feel like a very proud child you got a B+ in his exams. I did pretty good.

I didn't think too much about swimming in the sea that day. I only thought about NOT swimming in the sea. For hours. But it was beautiful and it was right there and it never would be again. It was now. I had to sieze the day. I'd like to see the latin phrase for that.

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