Monthly Archives: May 2014

Panamania – Gnarly Goggles

This footage was shot by Becky after a day surfing on the Isla Burica, a desert island in the far north of Panama. It comes with a song from the Ribbons EP about the upside of heartbreak, and it comes with a story about fear.

Stumbling through the jungle looking for a place to sleep, we find a chicken hanging upside down off a makeshift clothesline, squawking. The chicken seems to belong to a couple of grass-roofed huts. I’m guessing it’s dinner. A couple of horses are tethered nearby. The whole thing is like something out of Tribe – apart from the surfboards.

The surfboards, which are newer than ours, belong to a pair of sexy, dark-skinned brothers. They tell us about the mythical wave we’ve come to surf – a fast right that breaks over rocks on the far side of an uninhabited island that sits half a mile offshore, guarding the unmanned coastal border between Panama and Costa Rica. Meeting the brothers is a stroke of luck. We expected to have to paddle across the channel, but they offer us a ride in their inflatable canoe. We arrange to meet them at dawn.

It’s dawn. I feel sick. This might be because all I’ve consumed is very strong black coffee, brewed like porridge over a driftwood fire. Or it might be exhaustion due to the massively effortful journey to get here. A two-day hike from the Caribbean to the Pacific involving several boats, four increasingly decrepit collectivos, one night in the Pension Balboa (named after the local beer) overlooking an all-night bar specializing in ear-splitting Reggaeton (I spent most of the sleepless hours watching staggering drunks try to mount their long-suffering horses), another collectivo (zero suspension), a very painful two-hour walk in the midday heat through the jungle with boards, backpacks and enough food to last a week, the chance encounter with the brothers, a sleepless night in a hammock wondering if those very strange lights out at sea are drug boats (apparently we are camping in a clearing recently vacated by police looking to catch human mules heading north on foot), and the twenty minute trip across the channel in the squashy inflatable, our four surfboards floating behind us, chained together by their leashes.

I am scared before I even see the wave. This is partly because of its mystery – it’s not on Magic Seaweed or in the Stormrider – and partly because of the hyped-up way the brothers are talking about it. They’re saying it’s a big day, although the channel itself is sheltered from swell, which is why we have to go to the island. I am convinced I won’t be able to handle it. Sure enough, when we finally get close enough I see exactly what I was expecting to see – a hideously hollow wave, full of rocks, and closing out on the bigger sets, which are too big for me. The brothers are amped. They slip and slide over the rocks, wait for a gap between sets long enough to allow them to jump in and paddle maniacally out of the danger zone.

‘Nice little right’ says Becky.

Becky’s brain is wired up differently to mine. This is why surfing with her is so much fun. It’s also why it’s frequently so terrifying.

Panic-stricken, I search for a place to paddle out that does not involve rocks and danger zones.  I don’t see any. This island is made of rocks. Nothing but rocks. And dense coconut forest, and crabs. Not friendly hermit crabs dressed in bottle tops, either, but weird black jumping crabs that hurl themselves through the air like batman, clearing distances upwards of two feet in a nanosecond. I don’t like these crabs. They’re inhuman. I don’t like this island. I don’t like this trip. Life is shit. I want to go home. I want to go home and sit in my shed and watch TV and be safe. But I can’t. It’s too late. I’ve come too far.

I look around for Becky. I’m going to suggest we walk a bit, look for a nicer wave, sack it off. But she’s already gone, slipping and sliding over the rocks like the brothers, falling, dropping her board, picking herself up. One of the brothers manages a very steep take-off and gets a  long ride back to the rocks. He waves at Becky, who is already paddling out. I am still standing rooted to the spot, feeling sick.

These days my life seems to be full of moments like this. Moments where I find myself in a situation so far out of my comfort zone it’s almost funny. Posting things I’ve written, standing up in front of people and singing songs I’ve made, reading from my book in public, dealing with the rejection and failure that comes with being alive and not hiding in my shed watching TV.

Often I’m a pussy. I duck out of waves, miss opportunities, don’t make phone calls. But sometimes I’m not a pussy, and that’s how I’ve finally learned something big and slightly embarrassing.

It’s not life. It’s ME. I’m wearing GNARLY GOGGLES.

I did paddle out that day, and I didn’t die. In fact, as soon as I started focusing on the task in hand rather than the monsters in my mind, I started enjoying myself.

‘Nice little right’ I shouted over to Becky.

I will be singing at the Shine On festival in Totnes on Sunday. A nice little festival. I plan to leave the gnarly goggles at home and enjoy myself. Watch this space.

Free Women have more Fun

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Last week, after spending the weekend getting paid to play records all night in a packed tent with three of my best friends, I borrowed a phrase from Naomi Wolf’s classic The Beauty Myth (‘Free women have more fun’) and stuck it up as my facecrack cover picture. I felt blessed. I enjoy a level of freedom previously unknown to man, and I have a lot of fun.

But as the week went by I got to thinking about what I actually meant by identifying myself with this quote. I got to thinking about freedom.

Freedom is one of those complicated concepts, like fun, that means different things to different people. I happen to be single and childless, but that doesn’t mean married people and parents can’t be free and have fun. I happen to be a woman, but that doesn’t mean men can’t be free and have fun. In fact, the whole quote reads ‘Free women have more fun. Worse, so do free men.’

Why worse?

In The Beauty Myth (published in 1991) Naomi Wolf uses the context of feminism and the diet industry to argue that free people having fun are a danger to society.

Twenty three years later, here’s why I think free people having fun are a danger to society:

1. We spend our money on things we want, rather than on things we’re told to want

2. We’re not afraid of loss and change

3. We know when we have enough and when we have enough we stop working

4. We believe cosmetics are a con

5. We wear lipstick for fun

6. We do not think that all women should look like teenage girls

7. We do not waste our short lives in a desperate attempt to look like teenage girls

8. Sometimes we play loud music and dance like we’re having sex

9. We understand and accept that we will grow old and die

10. We are excellent foragers

Freedom depends on accepting things as they are and enjoying ourselves as we are. Which is never going to sit well with consumer capitalism, which depends on creating dissatisfaction and then selling things that promise to make it better.

In my twenties, desperate to fit in, I was a good little mad person – bulimic, anorexic, depressed, addicted, anxious, overworked, too thin, too fat, bored shitless, broke and desperate. Ripe for manipulation.

Then I fell apart, which was lucky, because I got to put myself back together again on my own terms.

And now I am (relatively) free. Which is not easy, because I have to think for myself ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

But it does mean that I have a lot more fun.

I will be singing songs about love and freedom in the Acorn, Penzance this Saturday (17th May) in support of Rodney Branigan and Tim Snider. I reckon it will be quite fun.