On this day in 2016, Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I went for a succulent Chinese meal at the Dynasty in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire. At the end of the meal, they bring your bill with some fortune cookies. Which is nice. However, as Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 is allergic to dairy and fortune cookies contain milk I ended up with two.
When I was a little boy I was fascinated by lighthouses and all I wanted to be “when I grew up” was a lighthouse keeper. Growing a bushy beard, wearing a white sweater, smoking a pipe and telling outlandish tales about hidden treasure and sea monsters to passing groups of four children or more with their dog. Sadly the vast majority of lighthouses in the UK were undergoing an automation process so lighthouse keeping was, it seemed was a dying vocation.
When I was about 10 I went on a holiday to my favourite part of Wales. On this particular visit my parents took me up to see the view over Bardsey Sound and the lighthouse on Bardsey Island from Mynnedd Mawr. It was there that we came across this curious little hut, inside of which was a man, with a powerful telescope and radio equipment.
The man explained to me that he was a Coastguard lookout and his job was to lookout for ships in distress and report on wind and sea conditions. This, I decided immediately, was what I wanted to do for a job when I grew up. Sit in a cabin and look out to sea all day while telling tales of seafaring, pirates and giant squid to passing groups of four or more children with their dogs.
Sadly these days coastguard lookouts are as rare as dodo sausages and, as government funding decreases and technology improves, coastguard lookout has become a job similar to coal miner, fax machine sales man or VHS librarian — virtually non-existent. Indeed, when a few years later I would talk to school careers advisors about a job in the coastguard they would often counter with — “Sorry I don’t have a card for that career” or “You’ll have to ask at the library” or “But you can’t swim very well” or “Have you considered a YTS (low paid apprenticeship) at the local Ford factory?” and instead I became an unemployed multiskilled generalist.
Fortunately the little hut is still there and every year when I go back to this part of Wales I like to visit. Of course the man is probably long dead and his little hut is stripped of telescope and radio equipment, replaced instead by displays of local history, wildlife and birds. But I still think about how, for that brief moment in my life, I knew what I wanted to do in adulthood. I look out to sea and try to spot a ship in distress. But of course boats don’t tend to travel through that stretch of water as much now and you get put on a list when you’re a male and talk to children….