Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Dogfish - courtesy

A fishy tale

HOT columnist Sean O’Shea reflects on how we all have become so busy and tells a fishy tale about goings on down the Stade…

We live in a world in which we often seem to be too busy to hear not only what others have to say to us but even to listen to ourselves, to our own bodies and minds, and to the continuing cries of our small and vulnerable planet which seems to be saying to us in so many ways, hey, listen I’ve had enough of this shit.

So says the wise old man who has been living in one of the caves beyond the Stade for several months now and who still refuses to tell me his name. Some of my friends say that this man is just a figment of my own imagination and has sprung like a Jungian archetype from the depths of my own unconscious.

There is a living to be earned, we have to sell our labour and ourselves on the market, and are grateful if anyone wants to purchase our services or feels convinced by our carefully honed personas and curriculum vitaes. There are also many deadlines to be met, and after that our primary need is to chill… often by obliterating or enhancing our consciousness by means of our preferred stimulants or distractions.

The old man however is not convinced that things have to be like this.

In cultural terms what’s happening here? How have we come to feel so entrapped on a helter skelter which seems increasingly outside our own control?  Well, I’m too busy at present to fathom it out but I will approach the question indirectly by drawing your attention to a fishy tale.


There is this matter of dogfish allegedly discarded all over what some folk refer to as the Fisherman’s Beach. The seagulls do not eat this fish, nobody seems to eat them, want them, care about them, take responsibility for them or clean them up. The stench of their rotting corpses apparently offends the nostrils of some of our tourists, who feel that it is time that these dead fish were cleared away.

The disposal of the dead, whether fish, bird or badger is not my speciality. But I’ll admit to being somewhat intrigued and occasionally horrified by casual encounters with death as I go about my ordinary business or sit quietly listening “to the still sad music of humanity.” (Tintern Abbey, W. Wordsworth)

I don’t live near the beach so purely selfishly speaking I’m not bothered by the smell of dead dogfish. However, just the other day I stumbled over a dead badger as I was rushing to catch my bus into town. I felt torn between a sense of concern that this beautiful animal had met such an untimely end in a horrible way on the public highway, and a sense of annoyance that he had tripped me up and nearly caused me to fall and break a limb.

I used to experience the same conflicting feelings when I was stuck down the Tube in London and informed that we would be going no further as there was a person on the track. A person on the track! My first response was to experience a sense of compassion that  a fellow human being could have got to such a point of despair that they would feel driven to such an act.

However, subsequently I found the following thoughts, addressed to the presumably dead person, racing through my brain. If you want to kill yourself why do you have to do so in a manner which disrupts the plans of everyone else who may still feel that there is some value to life and going from A to B for whatever purpose? There really is no end to some people’s lack of consideration. I was embarrassed by my own petulance but such is the range of disparate and ambivalent feelings that can arise in the human heart and mind in the face of death whether it is that of a human being or an animal.

Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea - www/












Imagine what it might be like to be a being that no one wants to use, eat, exploit, or clear off the planet when it dies and begins to smell. This is a condition that has got to be a lot worse than that of a being who must sell his/her labour on the market in order to live.

The dogfish has a long tail and its body is covered with scales. It is a nocturnal fish that sleeps on the sandy sea bed during the day and feeds mainly at night on a mixed diet of crustaceans and worms. It is undeniably ugly but like ourselves it manages to appeal to at least some of its own species.

The more I researched this unfortunate creature the more I found myself identifying with it. I have long since lost my tail but part of me still feels that I’m an ugly and scaly specimen somewhat awkward in social relations, and often perceived to be unattractive to others of my own kind. I am also a night creature with a liking for crustaceans complemented by the occasional helping of spaghetti.

Unlike the dogfish I have the resources to be able to afford my own funeral so I am confident that when I eventually pass away my remains will not be a cause of public nuisance on the sea shore or on the highway. And I have left explicit instruction and a modest budget to enable those who knew me to make music and party into the small hours after I have been hygienically dispatched.

As to the dead dogfish, yes, I‘m inclined to agree with the tourists. Isn’t beach clearance not part of the remit of the waste disposal department? I have tried in the past writing to the council about the occasional public issue but I have found that they are often much too busy to respond to my appeals. Anyway – hopefully someone somewhere will find the time to do something about the unwanted and demised aquatic vertebrates which are causing concern to some of our visitors at the Fisherman’s Beach.

As to the old man:

His choice had been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries. My choice was to go there to find him beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world.  – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

If you’d like to consult with the old man at the Stade you’d better hurry for I suspect that it’s only a matter of time now before the authorities may try to put an end to his physical and philosophical meanderings, and bang him up in one of those places of confinement which nowadays are euphemistically referred to as care homes.

However by the time this comes to pass I predict that my wily old friend will have commenced his night sea journey and will have left not a trace behind.

  • The Stade is a shingle beach, situated in Hastings Old Town. It has been used for beaching boats for over a thousand years, a use which continues to this day.

SOS June 2013

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Posted 11:44 Friday, Jun 28, 2013 In: SOS

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