A tale written and illustrated after a few beers at the pub by Steve Williams and Dave Phillips. Most of part 1 first appeared in the IOW Surf Club magazine/newsletter Wight Water in 1981 and ended;
……’$15,000 Sports Council grant some years before………..Well, anyway, Ben and Joan were out tandem surfing one day and, ummm, ah…………………………
Watch for the next exciting episode!
Will they pull off their inside- the-
tube-loop together? Will Ben stab
Joan to death with his credit card?
What will happen to the Oceanic? And
what will the Wasters say? In case
they don’t say anything, you can
finish the story yourself. Start here:
Eventually the full 5 parts to the tale was printed in Wessex Surf Clubs magazine Tube News in Aug 1984 and here is is;
The Exlife File
A Tale of Guts, Thunder and Surfing – by SW & DP
Part One: A Future For The Past?
In the year 2025 the Isle of Wight is a piece of soil, roughly triangular in shape, about 10 miles wide. During the late 1980′s a rapid an unexpected shift in weather patterns led to dominant and very vigorous areas of low pressures tracking east-north-east along an imaginary line from the Azores to Denmark. Complete meteorological nonsense, but who cars?
Ocean swells of unprecedented size and consistency washed out large areas of land from the Needles right through to St Catherine’s so that, in the year in which we speak, the ‘back of the Wight’ as it is known today, has long since succumbed to the relentless erosive power of the sea. Science knew no solution; councils (even Liberal ones), were powerless to resist; the Nettlestone Ladies Circle had a debate about it; and even the mighty National Suss saw all its hard-won lands being washed away by an endless procession of 25 foot close-outs. Fie and lackaday!
The local surfing population, however marvelled at their luck. Between 1987 and 1992 there were only fourteen days without waves, and their only problem was that after particularly violent swells they never knew how the coastline had changed and where they might find themselves tubed next……
Well, medical breakthroughs had become commonplace by the end of the century, so that the invention and production of ‘Exlife’ – the Elixir of life itself – did not create much of a stir. The water supply had long since been laced with all sorts of potions from aphrodisiacs to wart curatives, and society accepted with a shrug when the news broke that Exlife imbued the drinker with increased longevity and a partial return to youthful vigour. But for Rex and Rita, one-time hosts of the long lost Sun Inn, Exlife was the best thing since the ten dollar litre. Aged in the extreme, they snatched at the chance to restore their youth, so that over 90 years old, and with the faculties restored, they took on the stewardship of the ‘Oceanic’, a floating boozer anchored on roughly the same site as the old Sun before it was reclaimed by the sea.
Local Surfing was not left in the soup during this period of explosive development. Members of the Wight Association of Surfing Tube Riders, (W.A.S.T.E.R.S. for short), had multiplied to over 250 by the time Rex and Reet rejuvenated themselves with Exlife. The backbone of their clientele at the Oceanic was mainly wasters who dropped in, and then dropped in for a demi-litre between sets, or rather more at night, to rap about the day’s waves and watch the late, late surf show being performed under the arc lights outside. The Oceanic boasted the very latest in hydro-kinetic technology, (which only really meant that it floated), and it was permanently anchored in the deep channel inshore from Needles reef – artifically laid down with a $15,000 Sports Council grant some years before………….
Well, summer 2005 was a scorcher. Tourists flocked to the Island in unprecedented numbers, stretching the hyperfoil services to the limit. Some may think it strange that the idea of a road link with the mainland in the form of a bridge or tunnel (which had, incidently had its first real public airing as long ago as 1982), had never actually come to fruition. But the plain fact of the matter was that, with erosion continuing at such an alarming pace, there wouldn’t be any Island to link with before long, so the authorities dismissed the idea asa waste of effort and went off to play golf instead. They would have more than enough to occupy them before much longer, anyway…….
However, this trans-Solent hassle did nothing to dampen the Slicks annual ‘beano’ to the Isle of Wight. Mick Slick drank to his heart’s content in the Oceanic; his wife Daph, spent the entire time horizontal on the beach getting as tanned as possible (but only so she could crow about it to the neighbours when she got back home); Darren and Karen, their teenage kids, took advantage of cheap board hire and thrashed it out in the soup with the masses; and Gran Slick spent the time engaged in a mixture of all three. It was with great regret, therefore, that they swayed off back to London, drink-drunk, sun-drunk, and surf-drunk respectively, but more especially as Gran had fallen in with the locals, had decided to retire to the Island, so it meant leaving her behind. Trading the Big Smoke for the Big Stoke, she called.
It was not just the sun, waves or holiday euphoria which persuaded Gran Slick to hanf around, so much as her new-found friends and their unique attitude to life. Also, it will be remembered that Exlife worked ‘miracles’ and this was the biggest single enabling factor of all. For the locals’ part, they liked her – and everyone agreed it was good to see the old trout stoked. None of this is to say that they abondoned their native style for the surfing cult. Exlife rejuventaed the body, but they still conducted themselves according to their age….well, mostly anyway. Sundays they would congregate on the beach by the band stand, genteely sipping a few pre-surf cocktails, while the strains of the palm orchestra, borne aloft by a light offshore, wafted out across the morning sand to the line up. It is true that gran Slick tended to prefer a few litres at the Oceanic with the lads, but felt she ought to socialise with her peers as well. To both these groups of people, she was something of an enigma, and so her fame began to spread – not least because of her rapidly increasing ability in the waves, which, as the more cynical (and less capable) amongst them remaked, correlated closely with her booze consumption.
Now, it will be realised that the whole south coast, not just the Isle of Wight, was something of a retirement hideaway for folks all over the country. Moreover, those most likely to benefit from Exlife came from the same age group. None of this really occured to Gran Slick, or if it did, it didn’t bother her. Why should it? She was having the time of her life! Keeping wet all day with her mates, learning to appreciate the pattern of tide and swell, two-stepping the night away with the palm orchestra under a red harvest moon, getting more razzed than was proper, but simply surfing it off the following morning…. it was an idyllic existence.
But the forces of nature cannot be easily be tampered with. Little did Gran Slick, or indeed anyone, know that the very substance that had made it all possible – Exlife, the exlixir of life itself – was soon to wreak a most terrible revenge.
Part Two: ‘Arry Devo.
Through the door of the Oceanic, into the smoke, beer fumes, and general boozy hubbub, past the bar, under the videostat screen and into the back room, through a door ambiguously labelled ‘This Room Is Available For Private Functions – Enquire At The Bar’.
Inside, an intense game of shove-dollar is in progress. We enter the scene during the beer break, eavesdropping on a conversation between to crusty locals.
‘Where’s ‘Arry tonight?
‘Sill ol’ bugger devoed yesterday’
‘Oh! My missus said she saw a video report about the government trying to sort it out. Sounds like the usual crap to me…..’
Here he tails off, realising his gaffe.
Part Three: Shoob-Dooby-Doo-Whap, Devo-Do-Wap.
Autumn. The sun again moving away from the Tennyson, or what was left of it after the sea had done its work. Exlife coursing through the veins of the Southern Water Underground Authority, and then down the throats of the population. Gran Slick improving her surfing performance with every tide.
In the meantime there were a number of very strange incidents, dotted around the country, which, notwithstanding, hardly even made the local press.. In Aberdeen a respectable solicitor on the verge of retirement ‘disappeared’. The only clue was a large brown mass of material on his office floor.Likewise, a middle aged housewife in Oxford just vanished, apparently. In the post that day had been notification that she had won first prize in the state lottery. The bewildered husband discovered the evidence on the front doormat on arriving home from work: atacky brown mass just inside the door, and the lottery ticket resting neatly on top. These two examples were repeated perhaps half a dozen times more in places a far afield as Penzance and Thurso, Aberystwyth and Cromer.Over a matter of weeks the incidents increased in frquency, made national news and became the talking point in every house in the country.Doctors, Scientists – in fact, all the best brains in medicine – were baffled. There were no common factors to the phenomenon, since it was no respecter of age, sex, class or geographical location. All, that is, except one: the mysterious Brown Mound. Very soon it took on the proportions of an epidemic, there was an emergency debate about it in Parliment (and the Nettlestone Ladies Circle), and eventually it was disclosed that the sudden demise of all these innocents was due to the hitherto undetected side-effect of Exlife. Obviously, the emergence of this most embarressing fact caused problems. The pharmaceutical industry was in uproar; MegaPharm, the offending company, lost credibility overnight, shares plummetted and the board of directors left the country on masse, whilst the Exlife Project Director jumped off the Telecom Tower along with his entire team of research chemists. Um-hmmm!
Perhaps more embarressing still was the unpalatable discovery that these so called Brown Mounds were found to be composed entirely of human waste material..
During these awful weeks of accusation, finger-pointing and counter-accusation, the Exlife Effect, as it offcially became dubbed, continued unabated, Contrary to first assessments of the effect, which said it struck without warning, in certain parts of the country there was a ‘softening’ of the process so that the victim had ample warningof his demise in the familiar form of rather too many visits to the toilet. This might have been due to the hardness of the water in which Exlife was dissolved, (as was the case with Southern England), but everyone was too busy working on an antedote to worry overmuch about that.
In addition to the national chaos, there was a further diruption on a local level. Sparks flew as never before in the hallowed chamber sof the IWCC when it was discovered that council officials had accepted a bribe from a leading tissue manufacturer who wanted to secure a massive contract – this was one of the many emergency measures implemented to relieve ‘distress’. Another included a massive injection of capital into the ‘public amenities’ building programme…… none of which was helped by the striking sewage workers whon demanded a huge wage rise due to the increased workload.
The final insult to the human race came when a government spokeman sheepishly reported on the videostat that Exlife itself was not really at fault, but that confusion had arisen due to a mistake in the mass of written material which inevitably accompanies any major project – and then stammered ‘excuse me’ and rushed off camera looking very full in the face. The blunder had arisen when an overworked secretary made a mistake when typing out the formula for Exlife, for filing in the company vaults. Complications erose because MegaPharm also produces Exlax, an old herbal remedy with an entirely different function to Exlife, and it appeared that the secretary had confused the two.
Meanwhile, the Effest was beginning to pass into local parlance as ‘devoing’ (from the definitive ‘to devo’) or ‘getting the DV’s', both bastardisations of the official work ‘devolving’, first mentioned in a useless government Brown Paper called the ‘Evolution of Devolution’ Hence also the Devo Squad, (coloquially, ‘DS’), which consisted of local task forces empowered to shovel the remains of the victims into plastic sacks and cart them off to collection points for eventual analysis, in the exhaustive search for an antidote. Researchers declared that it was not enough to simply withdraw Exlife from the water supply because once in the digestive system it affected one’s metabolism almost indefinitely, so all they could do was carry on prodding specimens into test tubes and hope for the best.
Part Four: ‘Fiddling While Rome Burns’
“At Least”, said Gran Slick cynically, one autumn day in the line up. “I’ve got an excuse for soiling my suit now, can’t blame it on all those darned outside sets!” “Well your new suits due soon, anyway Gran”, replied one of the other surfers. “Yep”, she answered. “Any day now. One of those Gulskin ones with ‘D’ Seal. Brillian! I reckon we’ve got a responsibility to wear turdproof suits these days…. just a tick, what’s that?… OUTSIDE!” and then, looking down, and with a curl of the lip, “Oh no, not again!”
Yes, pollution at sea was yet another worrying ramification of the Effect – for water folk, at least. It was all very well for devo on land where one’s remains could be disposed of gracefully, but in the water it was a different matter. Even in the early stages, those smitten with the Effect on land always had a sporting chance of reaching a public amenity in time, and ‘do the bizz’ in private. But in the ocean…. It didn’t concern Gran too much: ‘Que Sera’ an all that. Local surfers just carried on in their more or less unflappable way, handling each new swell better than the previous one and since the chill autumn days were now on them forsaking the palm orchestra for the warm atmosphere of the Oceanic whenever they needed refreshment. Strangely, none of their number had done the Big D yet, and though a few pessimists thought it was inevitable, sooner or later, they mainly put their resistance down to an inherent fitness.
It was around this time that great interest was aroused by an archaeological find on a dig on the south west coast of the Island. Bronze Age Skeletons were found encased in a stratum of sandstone about 30 metres up from the beach. At the same time, a descendant of the crank 20th Century Von Mescalin advanced the theory that a human holocaust of a similar nature had occured deep in the deepest past and that the Effect was therefore subtely but indelibly etched into the DNA of the species. Hence, it was only a matter of time and favourable circumstances for the cycle to begin again. Certainly, the Bronze Age finds on the south west coast lent weight to Von Mescalin’s unlikely theory, since the position in which the skeletons were discoveredsuggested that the victims had been deep in a spitting primordial tube at the time of their demise – and that they quite obviously had devoed in the excitement, fright – or a combination of both. Von Mescalin also advanced a meto-scientific theory that environmental conditions then were being duplicated now – ie, massive storm disturbance at sea – and confidently predicted that an absolute mother of a swell was, without doubt, due.
However, none of this took precedent in the media over the central problem of neutralising the Effect, and about the only groups to take much notice of Von Mescalin were those who stood to lose (environmentalists, National Suss etc.), or those who stood to gain (archaeologists, Von Mescalin himself, Gran Slick and friends). What coverage the philosophers ideas did receive was mainly negative, the official view being that the old fool ought to address himself to more pressing problems instead of farting around in dusty archives with weather charts and back issues of Wight Water, Tube News etc. in order to research his theory. it was also “reprehensible to fiddle while Rome burned”, but all Von Mescalin could say to that was “I’m tone deaf and Haly pisses mme off”.
Part Five: Devologue of Disaster
Gran was on her thrid litre of the lunchtime session on a late December Sunday, killing time during a very rare flat spell. After two days without waves she was a bit edgy, a bit bored. At least she could keep herself in trim by paddling out to the Oceanic instead of taking the amphibus like everyone else. Anyway, it was low tide right now, and the meteocast was about due, so she had the landlord switch the videostate to BBC 9 and settled back with a fresh booze to watch it. Most of the other wasters were there too, jaded and surprised at the lack of swell, so they all clustered around the screen in anticipation of what the meteocaster had to offer. Two days of calm seas were almost unprecedented in living memory, and so there was an air of expectancy in the bar of the Oceanic that afternoon: surely it couldn’t go on much longer. Could it?
Anticipation boiled over into delight at the infra-red satellite image which flickered onto the screen – for there, like some global whirligig, lay the deepest, most vigorous depression they’d ever see: it was so-oo-o low! So Von Mescalin was right! This was the big mother of a swell he’d been predicting all along. The moment the meteocast was over, there was a second of stunned silence and then the air was buzzing with cat-calls, loud conversation , hoots, round buying and general euphoria as they began to psyche each other up for the appoaching surf. Plans were made, wagers agreed on, strategies discussed….. that right there was an improptu party at the Oceanic, and no-one would have guessed that, only a few hous before a air of despondency had been hanging over the place.
Monday was awful – like waiting for payday, holidays, the sneeze that never comes and the right wave to try your stick out on, all rolled into one. By evening time everyone was convinced it had to be on the next days tide, about midday. So they waited and waited; minutes turned into hours,each one five times longer than the last, interminable, dragging, endless…..
Tuesday it wass there!! Already it was overhead and building with every set, solid liquid lines marching towards the remnants of the coast. Cool, passive blue consealing awesome power, honed to perfection by a steady north easterly breeze. The depleted island under a pale canopy of winter sun, braced for another onslaught. Nobody ever say such a frenzied rush to go surfin’ as there was that morning at the beach.
Ever got your foot stuck down you wetsuit leg? Tripped over your leash running down the cliff? Had an expectant, thumping pulse before pushing off into the soup?So did they, all of ‘em: Gran Slick almost over the top with it all. DV’s, erosion, Exlife; all forgotten in the headlong rush into the water, so anxious were they for their stoke.
Hands and arms dipping and pulling through cold, thick water, stroking through the medium, head up and eyes in the horizon – watching and ready to react. The board feels right, fresh flakes of wax floating off in its wake: Todays the day.
Gran Slick and the others paddled swiftly out on the rip, taking them under the shadow of the Oceanic, where spectators clustered at windows and out to the artifical Needles Reef, over half a mile from shore. There was much friendly rivalry this day – part of the psyching up process – as everyone laid claim, in advance, to the biggest wave, deepest tube, steepest re-entry; but Gran had become a little detached form it all. To tell the truth, she was just a bit worried. Today was testing time; after her meteoric rise to surfing fame in only a few months, Gran Slick felt she needed to pull out all the stops to maintain respect and keep the kudos flowing.
All the time the swell was building and with each outside set they responded by paddling further out after each wave. It was really pumping – 10, 12, 15? – and yet still not maxed out! Gran’s first few waves were much needed tasters, confidence boosters which were ridden with a competent, if not an explosive finesse. Back at the line up after her fourth such wave, things went quiet for a while – a lull. A false sense of security was just beginning to settle over the area when a call of ‘outside’ sparked off a frantic scratching towards the horizon. This was the Big One! Gran Slick’s insides churned as the realisation dawned that she was directly in line for it as it loomed up before her. No backing out now – this one had her name on it. Blood, Exlife and adrenalin sand in her ears as she swung the board round, paddled deep and hard twice; jumped to her feet and rocketted downwards, fighting the uprush of wind on this waves’s face. A deep, sweeping bottom turn, way out onto the flat, as the fortex threatened to engulf her at any moment, and then another arcing turn off the top sending a sheet of spume high into the air.
Binoculars focussed on Gran Slick from the south west windows of the Oceanic; muted expressions like “Jesus she’s going for this one”, and “Nicely, Gran, shit or bust!” Gran Slicks board performing like a dream, foot to the floor out of the tube and accelerating away with nothing to lose….
She was riding intuitively, riding on nerves and instinct, with no time for thought or rational assessment. It was all happening so fast – yet she’d been on this wave all her life. The stoke was unbelievable! Every manoevre better than the last, flying out of the turns and, well, just plain rad! Ooo-ee!! The boys would love this one! As the wave humped up, steepening for its final attack, Gran Slick marshalled all her faculties – and pulled off the best re-entry of her short career, a vertical magic carpet ride which defied description.
A short career? Too short. Gran Slick glanced up and was horrified at what lay ahead. No time to react, Even less time for evasive action. Shit or bust, she’d said.
As the wave towered over, and threatened to engulf, the venerable floating boozer itself, Gran Slick slammed into the Oceanic – and devoed mightily all over the south west windows.
And so, many years later, long, long after the last particles of soil – all that was left of the once verdant Isle of Wight – had disolved into the ocean, it was still said of the legendary Grans Slick that she brought new meaning to that imortal surfing phrase, “ripping the shit out of it.”