Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film, Prospect Cottage, the prompt for the Kick-About No.28, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach began with a simple enough observation. Living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.
When I was a boy, I collected pebbles from the beach, my mother shouting after me, ‘Not too far, love’. Lost to her, I run to the sea, my hands greedy as magpies, the pebbles bright as boiled sweets. This one, no, that one! I’d take them all if I could – if only I could carry them, if only there was time. Home again, turning out my pockets, I look again at my treasures and wonder why I loved them. Why this one? Why that one, my choices as drab as Sundays.
When I was a teenager, I pretended to the lads I walked beside not to see the pebbles at my feet, the ones glossed red as conkers, the ones like speckled eggs. ‘I’ve only eyes for Linda now’, I tell my mates, ‘and for Alice at the chippy, and that big girl over there with the holes in her tights’. But alone again, unseen, I return to the shore, where I take one or two more pebbles into my pockets, sneaking them like cigarettes; and in my too-small room, I look again at all my choices, unhappy at the secret they keep of their colours.
When I went down to the sea as a man, and found myself bending again by the water, the other man who walked with me said, ‘No more shingle, please! We have a beach of our own at home, thanks to you.’ Then he laughs. ‘Just one more then,’ he says, and like the perfect silver pebble I pick from the shoreline, I’m going to keep this moment in the palm of my hand.
Now I am old, I can’t seem to tell one thing from another. I look closely at this man who brings me my food and washes my hair, and I wonder why I loved him. Why this one, I think? But I go on collecting pebbles anyway, my mother saying, ‘Not too far, love’ and lost to her, I run.
When I Was Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach (2021)