Late afternoon in the airless office, what to do? Alf looked out of the hermetically sealed window at the blue sky and the approaching evening haze creeping in from the coast. The coming evening suggested warm air, no wind and possibilities.
There was Southerndown,Rest Bay or Llantwitt Major to look at on the way home. All likely to yield disappointment due to the very light swell that the Celtic wireless had hinted to him earlier.
What to do? Go west?Alf picked up the phone and rung The Fish.
”Wotcha. I’m headed down your way for a surf. There’s bugger all swell so it’s got to be The Wurm.”
There was a pause whilst The Fish took in the information and noted the familiar entrée to negotiation.” Llangennith would be quicker or what about the reefs?”
”Nah, there’s not enough swell. The Wurm will show. I’ll see you at the Rhossili car park at six?”
Another pause, the Fish, weighed up the negotiation’s progress so far and decided to capitulate early on so as to not waste time but Alf could no be allowed complete triumph.
”I’ll see you out on the Head, I’ve got to finish this plastering.”
”Please yourself. See you out there.”
Alf’s car gunned along the motorway. A white smear on the sand banks just beyond the black industrial morass of Port Talbot added to the anticipation and urgency that built up as every mile passed. Progress slowed to a frustrating crawl as Swansea came into view. The promise of the powder blue sky fringed by gloom out in Swansea Bay contrasted with the grey utilitarianism of the industrial units that pushed in from either side of the road. Alf was not to be denied by the cloying urban conformity of the rush hour traffic. The car slid across junctions and up residential streets until escape was completed into the early summer dappled lanes of the Gower. The network of small roads that appeared to go nowhere opened up for the car as it followed the familiar route like a dog following a scent. Three Cliffs Bay and then Oxwich Bay yielded to the cars progress.Vista’s from the winding road framed the low woodlands, rocky outcrops and the steep little cym’s that give this Welsh peninsular it’s Middle Earth quality. Onwards past Horton and finally to Rhossili, the car reached it’s resting place.
Alf jumped out and took in the panoramic view of Rhossili bay and Llangennith in the distance.There was a one to two foot glassy swell gamely closing out on the flat shoreline. His attention turned to the majesty of Wurm’s Head.
The promontory is a crooked finger that impudently punctuates the tip of the Gower. An obscene gesture across the Bristol channel to the English. There is a metacarpal and a phalanx to the digit that are linked by a narrow isthmus . The finger becomes detached from the mainland by mid tide. A clamber out to the end across the jagged limestone takes 40 minutes each way. There has to be some planning for a session here.
Alf focussed on the far tip. His experienced eye settled on some capping white water. The reef was not shallow enough to break yet. The next 40 minutes would uncover The Wurm. He noticed that the gloom had started to press in from the horizon and that the towering tip at the end was partially shrouded in mist.
He set off at a trot. He negotiated the cliff and started the laborious clamber. Every so often he stopped and looked across at the distant reef. Each set lumped up a little more . Alf quickened his pace each time. At last he reached the small bay to the southern side of the rocky finger tip. The evening sun was now obscured by thick fog. The mainland had vanished and even the high cliff at the tip had become a looming indistinct and slightly menacing presence.
Alf was alone.
He timed the sets by waiting for the lobster pot buoys close to the rocks to reappear after the swell passed under them. He jumped off the wave cut platform and stroked out to the peak. Alf caught two or three chest height waves. The peak was not yet the steep tricky right that Alf knew would make its entrance any time now as the tide dropped out further. He took another bigger long right this time, as he kicked out he spotted an indistinct figure clambering along the isthmus. Alf recognised the distinctive lope of The Fish with his board tucked under his arm.
”Late as usual” Alf muttered to himself as he stroked out again to the peak. As Alf sat waiting for the next wave he noticed a change in the patina of the grey water beyond the far tip. This was it , the first set of consequence started to move towards Alf.
Alf assessed the peak as it started to roll in to the take off zone. It was bigger than he had expected. He started to paddle. The wave drew hard off the reef and Alf felt his board lurch down the face. He jumped to his feet and the board released completely for a split second . Alf made the steep drop and scanned along the wave. It was a really good size and still drawing fiercely off the reef. He pumped the board and fixed on a point down the wave. At that moment a black line cut through the face of the wave.
This was the last thing that Alf ever saw.
The Fish just like Alf had punctuated his journey along the promontory with regular stops to check out the growing swell. Eventually he reached the rock shelf and looked out onto the small bay. He could not see Alf but concentrated on timing the sets before the jump off. As he paddled out he could still not see Alf. He reached the peak and sat up on his board.
”Where the hell is he?” The Fish thought to himself. ”Has his board broken , has his leash snapped?.” A quick look at the rock shelf gave no answers. Just then The Fish’s attention was drawn by a big wave forming in front of him. He stroked in and dropped over the steep ledge. The wave sucked and pulled off the reef. As The Fish bottom turned a large object thrust out of the wave face just in font of him. Aghast he focused on the obscene figure.
Alf’s body was suspended by a black line looped around his neck with deadly tension. His face was blue, the eyes bulging and expressionless and his tongue thrust from his mouth like an engorged red fish. A lobster pot buoy plunged down the face of the wave and the terrible tension on the line increased. Another buoy at the crest of the wave further along the line dunked violently out of view. The buoys were attached by the black line that had fatally become a sub-marine gibbet.
The Fish straightened out and fell off his board.When he resurfaced the body was gone. Only the bobbing lobster pot buoys remained. He looked through the fog up at the summitless cliff and then towards the mainland.The image of the obscene marine gibbet seared itself into his mind.
The Fish started to search for his dead friend.