Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Last Whale

Today I am proud to introduce the first chapter of a new story written by Sat.
New chapters will be uploaded weekly on Saturdays so don't forget to check back for more.

This is the story of The Last Whale.

Chapter 1, A Beginning

The global village, the G8 summit, world economy (or lack of it), sports, my car, emissions, our future, the children, my house, a holiday, career, my partner, my health, our food, my day, my sleep, my dreams, I don’t understand where it all fits….together!

From the moment I awake to the moment I sit down, what time, what reflective, useful, me time do I get?  How do I make sense of it all when it doesn’t stop, when I can’t stop, when if I did stop what on earth would I find?

I can’t help others in far away countries, I have to save the rainforest, how can I adopt a child when I have trouble looking after my own, yet I should, I should.

They’re out there, people, ruining everything around me and what can I do to make a difference to that!  Where do I look, what should I put my energy into, what is right, how should I live?

So I do what everybody does, I work, find a partner, bring up children and try and make something of myself, of my life, and hope that on the way I bump into destiny, my destiny.  I hope that all the wrongs in the world will sort themselves out, that they will gradually get better.  I help where I can, by this donation or that support, doing on red nose day, then maybe, just maybe it will all be enough.

So this evening, after kids lights out, I flump, as one does, in front of the tube that brings me news of all the things I can’t do much about and which reminds me of the whirly burly of thoughts in my head.

I’m a sad act, sitting on the sofa like this. I should be doing something, something more.  But I’m tired and it’s been a long day and I just want to relax.  So I watch the tube and wish my cares away.

Damn button, never works first time.  Click over the channel, no more news! Ah, a nature programme, the sea, I like the sea, oh and that bloke, the narrator, I like him, this’ll do.

“Far away, deep in the blue dark oceans beyond the everyday thoughts of man, in the
cold and calm womb of the sea, swim two majestic and soulful creatures of enormous
In these depths where light filters through the waves like gossamer curtains, and the sun plays gently on their huge blue hides, the supporting and peaceful womb of the sea surrounds these age old creatures.
There is a meditative, timeless ambience that follows their gentle and slow rhythmic undulations on uncharted courses, for untold miles.
This majestic couple are like any other indigenous life in the sea, and have captured the hearts of mankind and our imaginations since time immemorial.
That is, until now.  Because these are two of the last Blue Whales in the world.”

The familiar image of the naturalist wheeling out his poetic and informative story had more than the usual interest to at least one member of the watching public.

Frank Markham had just been appointed to be environmental journalist for one of the worlds leading newspapers and as such studied his subject at every opportunity.

His first few months would determine his success. He needed a big story. He had a feeling that he had just got a sniff of one but couldn’t work out why.

The narrator continued:

“In the frozen lands to the north of their present course, are the Canusu Indians, a tribe that has inhabited the Northern, frozen wastes for centuries.
It is their interdependence with all of the creatures and the habitat around them that modern man knows about, but sadly doesn’t seem to fully comprehend.
While we keep on damaging and destroying the world around us, it is here, where survival depends on all five senses and many years of intimacy with nature, that a new story is being told in the thick atmospheres of seal oil fires.
It begins with how the Indians are the greatest of tribes because they refused the outsiders magic.  Yet it carries on to observe that however lucky they are to be Indians, they are still luckier to be the ‘creative in the middle’, a term that defines their part in the food chain, taking from here and there, but never taking all.
The sung story continues still further to include how blessed they are to witness the world and it’s working, before it climbs to a warning that chills to the bone even quicker than Karnukha, the ice gods, breath.
The ice cap is melting.  Although the Indians see it a different way.  The story tells that it is the tears of the Whales because they can no longer come home, and it tells that the tears are filling the ocean and flooding the world.
If Arnah the sea god cannot help them, then the tears will keep on flowing until the world is drowned.
So the Canusu cry with the sea and then pray for the safe return of the whales.  Many songs are sung before each such meeting is done, and then the waiting goes on.
Next year will see the whales complete again their course around the world. Will it be their last? Do the Canusu sing in vain?"

Eighteen months later

The rough seas bite hard against his skin and the salt spray stings his cheeks and cuts at the corners of his eyes.

Markhams’ beard is full of salt and his hands are numb and sore with the wet and cold.

The deck of the Everglade sways from side to side in the heavy swell of a temperamental Pacific, and the decks below are awash with the invading sea.

For Markham this is a once in a lifetime journey.  Reporting on environmental issues had started out as a normal job with no special significance or interest, but had very soon metamorphosed into a burning passion, consuming his personal as well as his working life.

It had been a post that, like any other, needed research into the issues, long hours of phone and footwork trying to catch interviews and creating stories from the endless streams of information pouring out of the Green party and various save this or that offices.

That seemed a long time ago now. Between then and now was a journey of a different kind, a journey from one attitude to another, a leap across a chasm with no possibility of return.

On one side he had stood in a dark and dingy London pub full of backchat, pints and pies. Fast food, sex, stories, and people flashed through his life with no emphasis on any particular thing, except to keep on moving.

There were pills for the headaches and pills for the acid. In the car existed a chaos of wrappers and ash, and at home, of washing and washing up.

He'd had a working wife who suffered attacks of the nags and had a bored and barely willing body. Pity there were no pills for that.

The distance he’d travelled since then seemed immense, greater even than the ocean which he now attempted to plough through and which seemed so dwarfing as it peaked and troughed around him without care or thought for his very existence.

He leaned on the metal rail and held it for steadiness and security.  It was a firm reminder that he was really here. Not that he needed reminding so much, more that the journey was providing a respite from the world, and an opportunity to reflect in solitude on the changes that had indeed occurred with their own inevitable steps.

“Mr Markham! I don’t think this is a good place to stand. It’s going to get rougher. You might be better off in your cabin now, until its blown over.”

Frank turns to look into the huddled face of the captain and simply nods. He seemed a goodish sort; although Markham didn’t really know him very well, he had helped Frank with the details of his journey when he’d first arrived in Lagos looking for a ship to join and that had sort of made them comrades.

As he made his way to his cabin, Markham reflected on the journey to Lagos.  His thoughts reeled back across the months as he traced the line of events that led to being here.

It had started on the first morning of his new appointment, after that whale programme. The first thing that he’d done was to contact Greenpeace and ask for information on the Blue Whale. The girl there had been sort of helpful and had promised to send a leaflet to his home concerning whales and their hunting.  If he wanted any further information he could call again.

Jack had been wandering the floor with paper in his hand trying to yell at someone above the phones and general hubbub created by an ‘open plan’ office environment.

“Jack have you got a minute?”
“Where the fuck is Bob?” He turned his cluttered mind toward Frank, “What is it Frank?
“I want to follow up an assignment on the last two Blue Whales. They’re readership interest and I can get a lot of sympathy out of it.”
“Frank you’ve only just got the job. Stay with Pete and learn the ropes huh!”
“What’s to learn, I’m a reporter for Christ’s sake, I know a story and this is a story.”
“Alright, look, put it together and leave it on my desk. I’ll look at it sometime Ok?”

It wasn’t Ok but Jack had been right. He’d started to write out a brief but it was too flimsy, not enough detail or information, meat, if you’ll excuse the term.

Pete, however, wasn’t an exciting prospect either.  He didn’t drink beer, had given up smoking and seemed to enjoy himself in his own little world ever since he’d been given permission to follow ‘green’ issues.

Markham had spent the first few days trying to get to know the guy better.  He’d asked lots of questions but just seemed to get unsatisfactory answers. Pete, it seemed, was slowly turning more and more green at the gills.

On their first day Markham remembered asking what to look for. Pete could only be twenty seven or eight, he’d started wearing cotton check brown shirts and loose clothing with his jeans. Oh and those damn phrases, like ‘cool’.  Why do all these people stereotype themselves so much?

He hadn’t always been like that.  Markham could remember having several pints and a good laugh with the lads at the local and Pete was usually there. That was until about two months into the environmental page.

Over coffee and herb tea, (Pete carried his own teabags), Frank had asked for the pointers.

“So what’s the angle then Pete?”
“Well what I’m into at the moment is wave and wind power. The professors have come up with a theory and it makes sense. We can supply all of the country’s needs if we combine three or four alternative ‘natural’ sources of power but it will still need nuclear and that’s a no no. The problem is that the government has spent millions on nuclear and fossil forms of power, so they don’t want to know about saying they were wrong and having to spend new money on alternatives, quite frankly they just don’t want to”.

“So what’s the scam? Someone taking a back-hander or what?”

Pete frowned, “You really are a died in the wool reporter aren’t you. It’s difficult to pinpoint, too much red tape.  You’ll find a lot of it in this job, we’re at the front of change and no one likes change, especially the government, they think it’ll lose them votes”.

Frank was agitated, “So what’s the point?”

“The point is that we’re going to rack and ruin. Look. It’s hard to grasp hold of, but we’re going to run out of fossil fuels in the early twenty first century and the new ‘green paper’ isn’t specific enough about their commitments. We could end up in a lot of trouble. The country racing to produce power when it’s too late sort of thing, the ramifications on our lifestyle alone are staggering.”

“So what’s the story now?”  (fourth time and counting...)

Pete literally gave in. “Well I’m doing a lot of research at the moment.  There isn’t much time, I’ve got a deadline in two days. Jack wants the four of us in the department to keep alternating stories. It’s mainly due to the amount of new information we have to collate and make sense of. By the way, that’s what I’ll be looking to you for initially. I know research is going bananas collecting as much as they can, but we haven’t got any stocking fillers so we can spend time on bigger issues.”

It was all too much for Frank, “Hang on a minute I don’t get it, there’s no real cover up and no single person to blame! So what’s the issue? What are you going to print?”

Pete smiled. “It’s not a normal reporting issue Frank. Usually you point the finger somewhere when there’s trouble or an ‘in vogue’ debate on someone’s inefficiency. What’s so and so going to do about this and that, and why did this come up in the first place. The environmental issue is still so young that anyone can say ‘we didn’t see it coming’ or ‘no one was appointed to it then but they are now'," Pete waggled two fingers in the air to emphasise the well known phrases. Markham had only ever seen it done before on American T.V. and it hadn’t looked right then and it certainly didn’t feel right now. Pete continued, “What we have to do is to point out how bad things really are and how bad they could be if we don’t do something constructive about it. It’s more of an informative role really, sort of magazine reporting if you like.”

Frank couldn’t believe his ears. This was looking more and more boring. He hung his head and stared into his empty coffee cup.

Pete ventured a last couple of words, “Look Frank, I know it doesn’t seem like much, but what we’re doing is important.  Get into it and you’ll see I’m right.”

He paused, looked at the top of Markhams’ head and smiled. He seemed to confirm something that he’d been thinking, “anyway, for now what I need is for you to look into the paraphernalia of things that surround green issues. A lot of people that are into green are also into alternative medicine and religion and all sorts of extras.

I need short page fillers of the relationship these people have with other things they do and what that might mean to our society in the future, acupuncture, massage, that sort of thing.”

Frank remembered brightening a little.  “Ok, a look into the loonies could be fun for a while.”

At this Pete had looked perturbed but obviously decided to let it go for a while. They stood up and went their separate ways. Pete to the professors papers and Markham to research to get some sort of idea on who to look into as a page filler.

He rests his feet against the metal bar at the foot of his steel bed and sips back a drop of whisky from the lip of the bottle. The ship rolls from side to side and nurses him into a reminiscent half sleep.

The first few weeks had been pretty boring. Initially he'd had no interest in herbal teas or foreign religion, but he’d gradually forced his interest from the immediate news churned out of the official offices of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and had got to grips with Pete’s request for surrounding material.

He soon found that Pete had been right. Some of these people had strange disjointed ideas about life, and most of them didn’t seem to be very plugged in to reality.

He did however notice that each and every one, whether a masseur or meditator, believed one hundred percent in whatever they were doing. He remembered thinking that at least they didn’t walk around the streets proclaiming doom and gloom.

He’d started with the required ‘small’ issues, bearing away from acupuncture, holistic medicine and others that were usually covered by in-depth features, and tried reflexology. Massage of the feet that relates to all other parts of the body, bringing healing without drugs. Nothing major of course, more for body maintenance and relaxation.

He’d had to admit after his first visit he’d felt better for the massage, even though the woman had made him wash his feet first. It had been a nice stocking filler so to speak.

There had been many others. Alexander technique was one that he had found fascinating. He’d been shown the examples of people that had been horribly disfigured by their own posture.  Their backs bent and legs askew, they had obviously been suffering discomfort in many ways before embarking on a course of treatment that left them straighter, taller and seemingly happier for the experience. It had been a truly educational piece that had left him watching other people’s bodies and postures for days afterwards.

It took a few weeks however before he realised that he was running from therapy to therapy like a frightened cat. He hadn't known why, but he had begun to feel as if he were changing, slipping into a time stream outside of his normal habits.

The hooded cloak of reportive investigation normally gave him the protection of an ‘arms length’ approach to anything new. This was, of course, the ideal attitude for a member of the fourth estate to adopt. A truly observational and objective approach that neither interfered nor judged.

However he was aware that he was becoming increasingly curious about the many options available. They seemed to have a collective thread about them, something in the background. He began to feel like a closet window shopper. The kind of person that browsed shops for things that he couldn’t possibly afford and didn’t want anyway and who never browsed the shops for things that he could afford or did want. It was a very safe existence.

Inevitably this would be frustrating. He began to differentiate between his desire to explore and his unwillingness to be involved. He was determined not to be taken in by the beguiling smiles and helpful nature of the people that he interviewed. Even so, he had come away from most encounters with a feeling that he’d somehow left out an important question or had simply not taken things seriously enough.

Some of these people had inevitably proved to be wishy washy air heads, charlatans with no real substance and he became good at highlighting them as such in his column. But some of them... It wasn’t something that one could easily pinpoint.

At the pub, none of his friends wanted to discuss what he was doing unless it was to take the piss. This was mildly frustrating after a while as he did want to talk about his work and what he experienced in the course of things, but no one wanted to listen really.

He remembered having a system where he would look in the mirror and imagine himself in a home-knit sleeveless jumper. That usually put him off ideas about possible future changes and anyway, this was a job, not something that he personally wanted to get involved in.

Still there were aspects that intrigued him somewhere. He remembered his first reluctant concession to the experiences of the past few weeks with his rather generous purchase of a ‘Save the Whale’ badge from a stall at a small fair.

Not a huge confirmation of his conflict or interest, but an undeniable action of participating in a cause, a statement of opinion. Something he wouldn't have done before.

He smiles now at how tiny a move this had really been and at the time how weighty it had seemed.

He remembered wearing it self consciously on his lapel with a mixture of scepticism and pride. He didn’t want to be labelled a ‘greenie’ but on the other hand he did believe in the whales. Not only as a story, but as a crime that could be avoided. The combination of his enthusiasm for a new position at work and the t.v. programme that had provided the vehicle for his interest, was maybe more than it had first appeared.

He had taken in all of the information on the whales that the programme had provided. He had felt the wrong of the situation and helplessness of sitting home, alone, wishing that it could be different.  Wishing, along with perhaps the entire watching public, that we, mankind, hadn’t come to this.  That there should be plenty of whales and that he shouldn’t have to bother about problems outside of, and on top of, his immediate worries.

Maybe it was simply annoyance after all.

The next few days however, proved to be a different kettle of fish.

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