It's only natural: metaphors at the beach

Nature has a way of making everything in its power symbolic of something or other. Here’s a selection of potential metaphors I collected from Bridlington beach – free to a good home.

  • Clumps of ruined sandcastles that once stood proud and tall
  • Jagged fragments of mussel shells that’ll scratch you if you don’t watch out
  • The tide that already looks distant is retreating even further
  • The UV rays you don’t feel because of the breeze, which doesn’t make them any less harmful
  • Lines drawn in the sand that become less defined with time, replaced with natural grooves that no one can affect or influence
  • If you hold sand too tightly it slips between your fingers
  • Each individually brilliant grain of it looking generally the same in the company of many others
  • Seagulls swooping for anything neglected, which their numbers suggest they always find
  • Flags flapping so violently you can’t tell what they represent
  • The blurred glimmer of light from inside the public loos
  • Sunglasses hiding what people are thinking, or where they’re looking
  • Pools of water built on sand where footprints disappear faster than they’re formed
  • The apartments overlooking are pristine – but no one’s home
  • Ball games undermined by the wind they thought wouldn’t matter
  • A motorised dinghy no match for the chopping waves, even though it tries harder
  • Swimming shorts holding on to the thighs they cover – but only when wet
  • A toddler cries next to a mossy wall that’s a thousand shades of green
  • You’ve got to blink, not rub, the sand out of your eyes
  • Everyone confuses seaweed pods with bubblewrap at some point
  • Baseball caps clinging to matted fringes, clinging to sweaty foreheads
  • Contextless feathers intriguing no one
  • A parked tour bus’s livery framed accidentally perfectly between a gap in the railings
  • It’s easy to forget the seagulls look sideways rather than forwards
  • The metal detector man searching for value he can’t see
  • Territorially placed volleyball nets
  • How funny that everyone knows to plan around the cooling of the day
  • How difficult it is to get up when you’ve been sat down for so long


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On finding out my ex-girlfriend was cheating on me

An open letter.

Today, nearly four years after our six-year relationship ended, I found out you were cheating on me.

Things had started off so well between us, in that first naïve summer when neither of us had any worries in the world. Then I went back to university, and you went back home to save up for your first year at drama school.

Was it then that it happened?

We lived 250 miles away, and it was challenging. It seemed particularly tough for you, who had a job washing pots and was jealous at the thought of me living a more exciting student life in which you worried my head would be turned. But I’m a decent person and I stayed faithful. I wished you’d believed me. You needed reassurance so I texted and called you with regular updates, sometimes 30 times a day. And whether I was reading at home, walking to the library, at a gig, or wherever, I was always honest. Every two or three weeks you knew exactly where I was anyway – with you, at your parents’ house, where I spent my student loan travelling to.

Was it then that it happened?

Later that year we hit a rocky patch. It was my second year living in a big city and I was changing. While it was still tough seeing you wave me off from the station platform after spending another weekend together, once I was at the other end I had exciting stuff going on that you were never part of – and didn’t want to understand. One day in the holidays I tried to end our relationship. You begged me to stay and I wasn’t strong enough to see it through, so we gave it another go. That night I told myself things would get easier when you went to drama school, but to be honest it felt like a missed opportunity.

Was it then that it happened?

And things did get easier. You were busier and happier at drama school. You still wanted to know what I was up to and with whom. You said you wouldn’t get upset when I told you, but whenever it involved a female friend, you did. I would spend hours reassuring you, often missing out on conversations and memories with the people around me because of the lengthy phonecalls and texts needed to put your mind at ease. I tried to lead by example by never questioning where you were going or which friends you were spending time with, but it didn’t work. A lesser man would have just lied to you. Despite that, I was excited to visit you. The train prices had gone up, but I got the one at 5am so I could afford it.

Was it then that it happened?

The weeks and months were flying by and pretty soon I was in my final year. We were both doing well and I was optimistic about our future. I was going to be a writer – you an actress. Together we would embody the virtues of following your dreams, doing what you were born to do, and working your ass off to get where you want to be. I knew we could do it.

Was it then that it happened?

After I graduated I went travelling. I remember being our goodbyes at the bus station. It felt like the end of that first summer – just, wrong. Every day I was out there was a countdown to seeing you again. My fingers were sore from writing about you in my journal. I knew that when I returned, you were the girl I would settle down with. I wasn’t afraid of committing. Being away from you for so long gave me that clarity. I remember the teary international phonecall from a payphone somewhere, when I said I was at the halfway point of my journey, and I was now pretty much on my way back to you.

Was it then that it happened?

When I got back, I got a job in the city where you were studying. For a while I lived with you and your flatmates, but I knew it was temporary, because we weren’t ready to take that step just yet. At least I was in the same city as you, and we could see each other all the time. With everything we’d been through, all the train journeys and long-distance calls, we’d really earned that right.

Was it then that it happened?

A year later I took a job out of the city. It was a career decision and we agreed it would be better to give you that extra time to study for your final exams and performances. Sometimes you doubted yourself, and I’d try to motivate you by saying stuff like “you’re special”, “look at how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved. You just need to keep at it and it’ll happen. It could happen tomorrow”, and “in the end you either succeed or you give up”. I couldn’t bear you to give up on your dreams. Too many people do that. When you graduated with 1st class honours, you thanked me for it. But I said it was all you.

Was it then that it happened?

You moved back home after graduating, and got yourself an agent! Things were looking up. See, I told you things would work out if we stuck at it. We visited each other every few weeks or so, but before long I was in a situation where I needed to find another flat, and we took the opportunity to move in together. We went for a drink to celebrate signing the contract. When you went to the bathroom I remember thinking how happy I was that you’d convinced me to stay with you all those years before.

Was it then that it happened?

I took care of the rent – you helped out with the bills. It made sense, because I was the one with the permanent income. Even if it wasn’t a very good one, it made me feel good to provide. I was happy to support you in getting your acting career started. You couldn’t get a full-time job anyway, because you needed to be available for auditions. You did a few adverts and local theatre jobs here and there, and we celebrated each and every success.

Was it then that it happened?

You seemed tired when we were coming home from spending New Year’s with some of your family down south. When we got back you looked at me and said you were going to stay with your mum and dad for a while, because you needed to think things over. I thought you were kidding. You said: “I might come back in five minutes, or I might never come back,” and left. Our luggage was still on the floor.

It wasn’t nice not knowing. I didn’t want to tell friends and family in case you did come back and they knew we were having problems. I was in limbo. Whenever I’d hear a car slow down outside I thought it was you. But it never was and I got over it and moved to another city to start my next chapter.

I wish you had told me when you started to want different things, rather than do what you did. But thank you. Thank you for adding another twist in the narrative of triumph my life will eventually become. There will be more knocks to come I’m sure. Along with the bullies at scouts, the doubting school teachers and the father who left me as a two-year-old boy, you are part of the crowd who inspires me to go further and better to prove wrong.


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Never wake me up: an extract


Cannick was hired at a hotel and started a few days later. Tahoe hung around for a while and got a job herself. She called her grandma in Thunder Bay and told her she’d visit in a few weeks’ time but wouldn’t be able to stay as long as she’d originally planned. She washed dishes in a café on the outskirts of town, and strangely it was one of the cleaners from the Greyhound terminal that day who gave her the job.

They stayed in the hostel for a couple of months, and moved into their own apartment the day before Halloween. Their next door neighbours threw a party and invited them in, so they met a whole bunch of people there. By the end of the year their friends and family were visiting them and telling them how happy they looked. And they were.

At some point they stopped living paycheque to paycheque and started saving. At around the same time Tahoe went to the bathroom and came out holding a pregnancy test. It was the third one she’d taken so she was pretty sure. It took them a few more months and a promotion for them to get a deposit together for a house, and everything went through before the twins came along.

“Where does the time go,” said Cannick. He was sat in his friend Kelvin’s back garden, holding a glass of water and watching Kit and Elodie play with a plastic gardening shovel.

Elodie was getting fed up of Kit dragging her around by her feet, so she was holding the shovel like a fencer would hold a sword to ward him off. Kit used his size to wrestle it from her and hold it high above his head so she couldn’t get it. She thrashed her arms around to try. His wide-set nose wrinkled as he laughed.

“Does that look alright to you?” he said.

“I guess if one of them hits the other over the head with it you might have a problem,” said Kelvin, climbing up off his deck chair. “I’m going to get another beer. Want one?”

“No thanks,” said Cannick. “You know I don’t drink, right?”

Kelvin stopped. “No way. How long?”

“Five years. I was such a mess you wouldn’t believe it,” said Cannick. “One day at a time.”

Kelvin raised his eyebrows as he disappeared through his French windows. Cannick got up and went over to the twins. The grass was cooler than he thought it would be as his bare feet stroked the neatly trimmed blades and daisies. He’d been outside for most of the afternoon and things had changed over the four hours or so.

“Kit, Elodie, come on, let’s find you something safer to play with,” said Cannick, wrestling the shovel from Kit’s 18-month-old fingers. He pointed towards a pair of tennis balls and nudged them both in that direction. Then he jogged back to the patio where he took his seat again. There was laughter inside the house. The hiss of another beer bottle opening and the clinking of the bottle top dropping onto the floor preceded Kelvin coming back out. He had a huge smile on his face when he did. He smiled at Cannick and then at the twins on his way to his deck chair, before collapsing into it.

“Tennis balls can’t do much harm can they?” he said.

Cannick laughed.

“Unless one of them’s the next Roger Federer,” added Kelvin. “Or the Williams sisters.”

An aeroplane appeared out of the clouds to the west and buzzed over the horizon towards the east. The journey it took, across the green treetops of Van Wallegham Park and the lake nearby, held their attention for half a minute or so. It was the first time Cannick had really taken in his surroundings at Kelvin’s place.

“Show off,” said Kelvin. He took a swig of his beer and added: “That guy flies over here every Sunday. Just when I’m kicking back thinking about how good my life is, there he flies to show me his is even better. His name is Phil Thomas, or Thomas Phillips, or something like that.”

“Just think about how many bigger planes he sees when he’s up there,” said Cannick. He got up and stretched. “Anyway man, we’d better go. It’s getting towards these guys’ feeding time. Thanks for having us.”

“Pleasure. Give my best to Tahoe. Would have been nice to see her today. Hope she’s OK,” said Kelvin.

“She’s fine, just a little under the weather. Summer colds, you know how it is,” said Cannick, walking over to Kit and Elodie. “When did you last see her?”

“Must have been when these two guys were born,” said Kelvin.

Cannick picked up the kids and walked over to Kelvin. “No way,” he said. “We’ll definitely sort something out soon. Say goodbye to uncle Kelvin, kids.”

The twins said nothing.

“They’re tired. we’d better get going,” said Cannick. He made for the side gate that led to the sloped driveway out front. “See you soon, give my best to Tadila.”

“Will do, Cannick. Safe journey.”

With the kids firmly in their baby seats, Cannick got behind the wheel and shut his door.

“Hey Cannick,” said Kelvin. He came up to the window on the driver’s side and gestured for Cannick to wind it down, which he did.

“Hey man,” said Cannick.

Kelvin folded his arms on the door and leaned in uncomfortably close.

“Is everything alright with you and Tahoe?” he said after a while.

Cannick nodded.

“If there’s something going on and you think we can help, well, we’re here anytime,” said Kelvin.

Kelvin studied him for a second and then saw the twins in the back, staring back at him blankly.

“OK then,” he added. “Like I said, it’d be great to see you guys soon. Safe journey.”

Kelvin patted the top of the car a couple of times as a goodbye. He didn’t look back as he walked towards his front door. Cannick took a couple of deep breaths before he turned on the ignition and let the car roll down the driveway.


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VIDEO: People of York

I was honoured to feature in the latest instalment of Plastic Fortune's YouTube documentary series People of York, in which creative people in our city talk about the projects they're working on, what inspires them, and what they think about York.

Having finished my first short story collection Pillow Talk for Insomniacs, I'm now working on a longer novella. You can read the first extract here.


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