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Thursday, September 16, 2004  
The Man on the Cliff


[I was gonna make lots of shit up about The Man on the Cliff, about having had a conversation with him, and I was gonna transcribe this conversation kind of like an interview and freak you all out by blurring the lines between fact and fiction, make him out to be some kind of non-person without a National Insurance Number or a birth certificate or something, and then write about how he’d vanished from his perch two days after I spoke to him, as if he’d been caught or else had to flee or something. But then… well, read on.]

I see the man on the cliff everyday. I walk past him each morning on my way to catch the train to work; he sits in one of the stone shelters at the top, sometimes listening to a transistor radio, sometimes reading a paper, sometimes doing nothing at all. I thought at first that he had a dog, and was taking time out from his dutiful morning walk to enjoy the peace and quiet. But he doesn’t have a dog. And he’s not only there on weekday mornings; the other Saturday afternoon when I walked back up the cliff from town, he was there. On Sunday morning when I pushed my bike up the cliff after cycling to Powderham, he was there. One day last week when I walked up the cliff on my way home from work after leaving early, he was there. I can’t remember a specific instance to prove to myself that he has, but I’m sure that sometimes he’s been lying down on the bench in the shelter, as if he’s been asleep there. Occasionally he has a flask of tea. Well, it could be a flask of anything, but this is England, so it’s probably tea.

At a guess the man on the cliff is in his 40s, maybe 5’10” and probably 12-13 stone. He has glasses and a blue baseball cap without any kind of logo, an anonymous, dark jacket, perhaps blue as well, probably jeans, anonymous (off) white trainers. Just a guy, in short, a totally ordinary guy who seems to spend all day, every day, sitting in the shelter at the top of the cliff and gazing out to sea. I mean, as you can see from the picture above, the view is beautiful, but throughout August there was a lot of heavy rain in the area, and it’s starting to get very cold at night now. Come November it will be perishing…

[And this is as far as I’d got. I’ve been sitting on this since Sunday afternoon, fully intending to flesh it out to 1,000 words or so. But now I can’t. Why not? Because on a Thursday morning I normally drive to work, because I normally play football from 5pm to 6pm, but this week a lot of people are away or indisposed – the few weeks in the run up to a new academic year and start of term throw out everybody’s schedules at a university – so we’re not playing. Which means that I walked down the cliff instead of driving. Which means I would have walked past The Man on the Cliff. Only he wasn’t there. Why not? Because he was standing at the end of my road, holding his rucksack, waiting for me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some paranoid idiot, I don’t think I’m being stalked, but this guy must have noticed me looking at him everyday as I walk past. But surely EVERYONE who walks down the cliff everyday must notice him and look at him? He’s always in the same fucking place. But today he wasn’t. He was standing at the end of my estate, just where I cross the road, which quite freaked me out. So I walked past him as normally as possible, onto the cliff-top, and carried on. But as soon as I’d gone past him, the cunt turned and followed me. Which TOTALLY freaked me out. I’m not ashamed to admit I was scared. THIS GUY APPEARS TO LIVE IN A SHELTER ON TOP OF A CLIFF, that’s not normal. So I walk quite quickly anyway, and he’s not chasing me, so there’s soon some distance between us. I normally look around a lot as I walk, taking in what the morning’s like, angling for potential photographs, so me looking around isn’t unusual. But looking back over my shoulder is. So obviously I can’t do that. At the bottom of the cliff, by the breakwater, I stop and look out to sea, meaning I turn sideways, meaning I can look behind me and see where the hell this guy is. And where is he? At the top of the cliff, LOOKING AT ME. So I walk on, and another couple of hundred yards along the seawall I turn back and look and where is he now? Walking down the cliff.

So now I’m thinking “Do I change my behaviour? Do I get a bus? Do I walk in a maze through Dawlish and try and throw him? Do I phone Emma and get her to come and get me and drive me to work, safe from this nutter who’s following me? If I get onto the train station quick enough will he know where I’ve gone?” But then I think, “Hang on, wtf am I so worried about? Sort it out, you daft git.” So I go onto the train station platform as normal, say Hi to Eddie, say Hi to the couple of people who get the train and work at the university, and listen to “Rise” by Doves on the iPod. And stop worrying about it.

Once before a guy with a beard and nasty eyes followed me all round Dawlish until I ducked into a pub and ordered a scotch with the tiniest dash of coke to steady my nerves. That was years ago, when I was probably only 18. I’ve seen the guy since, pushing a pram. He still has a beard and nasty eyes. Why would anyone follow me?

So yeah. That was my freaky walk down the cliff today. Tomorrow I’m taking a cricket bat to work, just in case.]

NJS

9/16/2004 08:44:00 am

3 Comments:

Blogger Ant - 7:34 pm

Start that fucking novel will you? I'll have a signed 1st edition thanks!

 
Blogger Susie-k - 10:21 pm

I second that - you write well Nick, so stop beggaring about and postponing doing something till you're 30. Start writing now.
Like the photos too.

 
Blogger stephen royle - 3:25 pm

there going to follow you because thet probaly think your wreaid so that why he folloe you

 

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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com


All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005