The Tide Whisperer – in Tenby.

The Tide Whisperer speaks of many things. It declaims them, from atop a scaffold, a harbour wall – or it signals them from the clifftop.

Mostly, it beams them in, in between those ears, through headphones offering both a private view and a rich, collective experience.

We’re in teams. We gather in the de Valence, in Tenby, on a coolish but viable September evening, passing racks of kit and rakes of guides or staff or stewards on the way in. I’m red.

In the hall, that scaffold supports an almost-anarchic electro-sculpture, alive with scenes around the town, the water, the world. There are presences – on the stage there’s a bloke who might be a fisherman, dragging for something. There’s a woman in shadow, or grief, or both. There’s a chair… and sand… and then a sitter.

Soon enough the screens will break through the chatter and the scaffold will host an entry, a monologue, a man opening the themes. Refuge; flux; the search for harbour. Then urgency, bombs, carnage: we’re driven out, in our teams, to the sea.

There’s a kind of prose-poem playing between those ears, an evocation of things remembered, things left. The ‘Tudor Streets’ walk with us, with the 30 or 40 reds as we carry that context with us to the beach. I wonder if we might have left our shoes and socks, as we traipse across that sand, past the golden cockle-women and the strewn chairs, to the waiting boat.

The sea, then. Central and essential to the piece. We join it for an hour, maybe, in transit or stalled, circling or encircled, at the mercy of – who knows? Pirates? Police? The evil whim of an indifferent or hostile world?

Two stories. That tragic woman – one of the Boat People – and a young, male Russian(?) who transgressed into loving another. Danger and escape, or not.

Sometimes we sit, ‘pointlessly’. Sometimes we ‘make good progress’ through the chop. Always the invitation – the compulsion – to listen and to feel the stories trawl through us. The headphones make us victims; there can be no distraction, no interaction; we can only immerse, not escape.

Ashore, that man from the scaffold is back, in the bandstand. He is Welsh, he is Corbyn-like, he is a refugee: he was Mayor!

We march on, down, again, inevitably, to the auditorium of the harbour, cobbles becoming sand once more. The three central characters and the swaying cockle-choir and the backdrop of the town await: a staging, a denouement between our ears. My friend Jane wept, almost uncontrollably.

So *things I liked*. The whole, the experience, the physical elements – from walkabout to water, to the inescapable word. (Different groups did different things: I’m glad we were mostly on that sea, in our coats, inside our headphones). Impossible not to be affected – subtly or profoundly – by the leaving, the returning, the rise and fall.

Personally though, I am left with a sense that maybe I/we might have been challenged more. Despite the scope of the piece – and the budget – this was traditional community theatre. (I know, I know – community theatre can be wonderful and revelatory, stay with me!)

The stack of tellys was okay but hardly original. I didn’t need the Guernica reference. I felt the character Pearl didn’t need that name. My comfort, in the face of these atrocities, remained relatively un-shredded. This could, of course be my own inadequacy but there’s an argument Tide Whisperer might have screamed or torn at us some more.


Iron Man Wales

In Tenby the wind gathered, cruelly, for the final unforgiving hours of Iron Man Wales, together with that spirit-sapping drizzle familiar to all those who bumble through their local parks. Generous crowds – certainly in the tens of thousands if village clappers and farmstead fans are included – had assembled to heartily cheer the contestants round. Those at the forefront of this appallingly demanding event cruised relatively serenely through both transition and through the town; for those hanging on, the warmth extended to them seemed more essential to that primary goal – completion.

We watched as Sylvain Rota of France swooped impressively through the bike/run changeover, with the kind of faintly absurd ease befitting an unchallenged leader of the wonderfully diverse multitudes. Should we have stayed rooted to that spot, we might have seen allegedly lesser athletes trundle through for a further three or four hours; this prior to the 26 miles 385 yards still to be enjoyed in that increasingly testing seaside weather.

1500 competitors, supported and processed by an army of volunteers and officials hauled themselves in order or disorder through the decidedly nippy waters, the lush countryside and the hugely atmospheric streets around this iconic South Pembrokeshire resort. In view of the stats – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, full marathon – words such as ‘punishing’ spring inadequately to mind. Hard here not to simply express every superlative available to the (medium) literary consciousness and then daub it on every numbered vest.

When it came down to it, along the genuinely splendid Esplanade overlooking Caldey and the by now deserted South Beach, Rota did indeed triumph – his first Iron Man victory – in 8 hours 52 minutes and 43 seconds. Daniel Niederreiter of Austria and Christian Ritter of Germany pursued him home at roughly three minute intervals, followed by first GB athlete Daniel Halksworth in fourth. Joanna Carritt of GB finished an impressive 18th overall.

As I walked away from the finish line some 30 minutes after Rota, a cavalry charge of what looked like solid club athletes were concluding their bike ride on a parallel street. Suggesting finishing times for these individuals around 12 hours.

The fact that the park and ride service from the local airfield was scheduled to run until midnight may give some indication of the frayed edges of such a challenge; I try not to think too precisely about the state the very latest contestants may clock in at. Fear of glibness only prevents me from be-medalling them personally, in this column.

As a venue Tenby rose to this. Following the outstanding success of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event in North Pembrokeshire last weekend, local chests have been thrust out proudly – in certain cases, athletically. But even the sedentary seemed to have stirred to their doorstep or street corner to applaud the whoosh or whirr or gasp and splutter of the passing über-humans. The red-carpeted finish was appropriately ‘rammed’ as we say in Wales, as well as spectacularly TV-friendly. Even in the rain.