Try standing on a cliff overlooking the sea. If you can’t get hold of a cliff, go down to the beach, or spit, or whatever land’s end you can find.
Now look as far as you can. We know some things about the sea before us. We know it is wet to touch, salty to taste and that all manner of things can drown in it. We know about the pull of the tides and the action of waves and the wind on the shore. Perhaps we know about the moon and currents – some warm, some cold. All these – the physics of water, the graph of winds, the scale of channels, gives us ideas. Nice rational ideas about geography and horizons, about distances to and from. We imagine ourselves at a fixed point, where land meets sea. We watch waves break and feel grounded, secure in the knowledge that the world is being brought to us. Everything is incoming.
But let us pretend that we do not possess this knowledge or these ideas. Let us imagine that we have come quite unexpectedly on open water, perhaps for the first time in our lives. Might we then question what is fixed and what is not?
Next time you are there – on that cliff or by that shore, leaning on some old seagull-stain – try collecting the land at your back, be it Brighton or Britain, and all that lies therein. Gather the streets and buildings, the brick and glass and clay. Gather the fields and cattle, the woods and the hilltops and say ‘Forward!’ You will see that the waves no longer break on land but on bows. You will feel this island move beneath your feet and slip from its shelf, sliding from the old mooring out into the ocean’s green. The pier no longer withstands the coming storm but goes to meet it, rolling forward, the proud bowsprit of 10 million acres and more. Your shoreline is not an apron for floods but a moving hull, cutting the waterline with its edge. We need not feel stationary by the sea. We can travel as we stand – there is no more waiting for the world to be washed up. Let the nation roll on over the deep and never mind the sea-sick. The only anchor is in your head.