on Atlantic Wharf

by Dan

Fat and squat like a docker’s shoulders. Askew like a wisdom tooth left in a mouth too long. Weathered but reflective like the aged shell of a giant tortoise.

Out of time like the tortoise inside that shell. The marine bollard is comforted today.

It gets comfort from the indistinct monosyllabic shouts of workmen on the wind.

Shouts that remind him of dockers.

Shouts of earnest sweat and toil.

Shouts that fill him with hope that he is about to become useful again.

In truth he has felt like a tourist trinket for some years now. An “original feature” but not a useful one. Looking nice is too feminine a fate for an object cast by hard spitting men with poison in their lungs. Perhaps these men have come to wrap coarse ropes and heavy chains round him.

“Bring it on” he thinks “I can take it. I’m as tough today as I was the day I was made!”

A black headed gull alights upon his shiny top.

It is frustrated. Under the water are fish. And molluscs. And all the other things it would like to eat.

But it can’t dive. It is a scavenger, reduced to harrying the dwindling band of tufted ducks trying to startle them and make off with what they have dragged up from beneath the surface. Like the bigger types of seagulls do with children and chips.

It shouts to friends “go on, one’s just come up over there” but like the builders on the wild and windy air its cries are just vague shrieks.

What is under that water? What makes the soup?

Layers of sediment, reeds, coot poo, twigs, coke tins, takeaway cartons, tiny snails and fish.

There are layers of invisible sediment too.

The decision to demolish an old fisherman’s hut, the planning process involved in moving the Norwegian Church, The interviews that employed the people who staffed the tube. The effort made in acquiring of objects for the Cardiff Bay train museum. (in 1989, I posed here for black and white publicity stills with Railroad Bill). A unique community. The Cardiff three, a dozen pubs,. that gig by Prince Buster and Desmond Decker, The Harbour Festival, and one day in the not too distant future, Mermaid quay and Hi-Jinx Theatre and Cardiff Council and the dock itself.

Will they all become the expensive heating system in luxury flats? Will they stand empty as assets or at best be used by people who only use the wharf to run round in expensive lycra? Will they become indicative of Cardiff’s over reach and inevitable decline?

The bollard hasn’t thought about it.

The crane looks like it knows, looks like it can see more, but the crane has not talked to the bollard since 1982 and is still sulking.

I came to stand by the bollard on my lunch hour in February, on the day I was made redundant.

I tried then to imagine a future. But could not have guessed this one. And that’s the point. You never can can you?

For like the bollard I have very much less effect upon history than I thought I did and like the black headed gull, I’ll always be frustrated by my inability to ever get beneath the surface.