Painting a Smile


A piece of extended imaginative prose I wrote about my coast a few years ago…

Holland Haven is upon the Essex Edge where sea defences have recently been transformed from the old fashioned wooden Groynes, those wide-toothed combs for Giants, now reborn as fishtail promontories of imported geology surrounded by deepened levels of sand, so deep that each old concrete or wooden stairway down to the sea has been buried up to the neck within swathes of newly wide-spread beachhead.
The waves find it impossible to climb these man-made heaps of gritty yellow, but how long will tidal surges be outdone by these dunes let alone by the rocky two-fingered fishtails intended somehow to trick such surges away from the shore?
That trick seems to be based upon a pattern of angles by hidden geometry whereby these sea defences sweep water into confusions of direction, causing tide to neutralise tide, one in ebb, the other in flow. The quenching of thirsty energy with each swell and counterswell of mutual gulping.
The Holland Haven local laughed at me when I told him about my theories upon the mysterious nature of the fishtails and heightened sand. He was a strange man who seemed to spend his time taking photographs of these new sea defences with his battered iPad. He had a wealth of photographs, he told me, showing the building of them from scratch. Also photos of this area before the coming of the fishtail builders. He was not interested in science or engineering, however, he told me, but he was more of an artist who, by some instinctive framing, preserved the shapes and sculptures of man-made structures interacting with natural ones. An open air Tate Gallery.
He suddenly pointed at what looked like a variegated flotsam of bric-a-brac bobbing gradually into view around the tip of the nearest rocky fishtail. I squinted my eyes to see at what he was now repeatedly clicking his iPad screen. Floating there were what appeared to me to be framed paintings, all a bit worse for wear from being in the sea. They clunked and clicked together upon the tide, at first seeming to approach the beach where we stood, then growing more distant, each move forward immediately followed by a move back, the trend being to travel parallel with the Edge of Essex, not inward nor outward. We walked to keep pace with them, getting nearer to an area of the coast where yellow mechanical diggers and lorries were still building the fishtails and other sea defences. We would soon be stopped in our tracks by barbed wire.
That’s the Mona Lisa, he suddenly said, as I watched one painting, looking remarkably like that actual iconic portrait from the Louvre, as it bobbed out of sight behind a few randomly piled rocks.
‘Surely a copy,’ I said confidently with a smile.
‘Nope,’ he said coolly, ‘that’s the original.’
He had taken a quick iPad snap of my face and its smile.
He then took a cursory iPad snap of the rocks around which the painting had vanished upon some tidal current nobody could have explained or predicted, least of all the engineers who had created this current from the random positioning of several fishtails and heaped-up sand.
A bit like painting a smile.

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