Raised on Radio 002: Message in a Bottle

Extract from a forthcoming book...

There were a million and one reasons to leave my home town and all of them were to get as far away as possible. I don’t remember a single one of them now. Perhaps I’d outgrown the place. Had the foresight to know that if I stayed, nothing would change for me. I may not recall all of those reasons but I do remember a vast sprawling landscape of ‘no future’. On one hand, this is where all my friends where but we were heading into that period of time when you see less and less of each other as jobs and relationships take hold - neither of which I was very much interested in at the time.

So I left - and nobody ever asked me to stay. If they had, maybe I would have stayed where I was but I can’t even begin to imagine what I would have done with myself. I had to go so badly, I couldn't even begin to figure out why everybody else wasn't leaving with me.

By leaving, I threw myself at the mercy of the universe and drifted like a message in a bottle that never smashed on the rocks but neither did it ever beach itself for somebody to crack open... only to find there were was nothing written on the paper anyway even if it did.

I was never the biggest fan of The Police, but Message In A Bottle is a great song in anyone’s book. Prophetic too.

There’s a line in it about how love can mend your life or break your heart that cuts me. It’s very true.

In hindsight, I would say I went looking for love because I couldn’t find any where I was. In hindsight, I can tell you this is probably not true - but I’m a simple creature when it comes to emotions and none of the love looked like I thought it should. Things like that happen when nobody shows you how to live and things never look like they’re supposed to when you get there. Sadly, it takes most of your life to find this out.

There’s no regret to speak of here. I’m pleased I left and just as thankful nobody ever asked me to stay. A bottle floating around on the oceans of the world sees a lot of things it wouldn’t otherwise see and as in life, most of it is irrelevant to everybody except the observer but sometimes when I’m out with the dog, I think about this stuff.

For instance:

There used to be a shop in Oxford Street called The Boot Store where I bought my first pair of cowboy boots. It was five or six years before I needed another pair they were so well made. While I had them, I owned no other shoes of any description. I cycled in them, went to job interviews in them (which would explain a lot), used them to carry things around in. To say they were well loved is a vast understatement. When the sad day came to replace them, I headed for the store only to find it wasn’t there anymore. I always thought (stupidly) that one day I might take my kids there and bond somehow over a great pair of boots. Not that either of my kids would be seen dead in such a thing. Then I became sad because I’d never get to take any of my friends there either. It was like a favourite record or book store closing down and it left a hole.

I should be ashamed of myself. It might have been called The Boot Store and its stock may have been prime beef to me but in the real world, it was nothing but a shoe shop.

A man could catalogue his whole life thinking about things like this.

I did once find an actual message in a bottle in Devon. I always imagined the real thing to be like a prop from a pirate movie: made of glass, ten inches tall with a wide body, slim neck and a cork that fitted perfectly thus keeping the sea at bay. The one I pulled from the sea was a plastic Dettol bottle with the lid screwed on tight. I didn't even have to unscrew it to read the note because I could read it through the clear plastic. It said:

"Hi. If you find this message, write back and we can be pen-pals. Laura."

Underneath her signature was a local Devon address and the date. The date was that very same day. It had probably been in the water all of twenty minutes. I wish I had kept it. Today would be a good day to write back.

It's not a great 'message in a bottle' story but at least there was sea at the beginning.

Maybe some people and their messages are destined to stay in the same place and never leave their hometown. Every time you throw your message out into sea, the tide brings it right back in again because that's where you should be... because there's a plan for you if only you could be patient about it. There has to be some kind of control behind the chaos of the universe. Is that how it manifests itself? In small, insignificant events that everybody forgets the moment they happen?

We all eventually find out that if you listen to the universe it doesn't have to shout at you, but you can spend a lifetime throwing bottles into the sea before you figure that out.

For the record, I didn’t find any love for decades by leaving either. What I did find - which Sting was already acutely aware of - was another hundred million bottles washed up on the shore. All of them still with their corks in place. All of them sending out an SOS to the world - and my best guess is that most of them still are.