On a coach holiday to Eastbourne the driver took us on a day trip somewhere. On the way we stopped for about twenty minutes at the chalky cliffs at Beachy Head. At 163m it’s the highest sea cliff in Britain and a famous suicide location. We alighted from the coach into the sun and with perfect timing - as the driver was telling us a “suicide watch” chaplain drove by every twenty minutes - such a man did. On average there are 20 jumpers each year. I remember reading a small column-filler in the newspaper where a young woman had jumped to her death and on her body was found a terse note: “Life is simply not for me.”
I don’t like heights and can’t even climb a ladder to scoop leaves out of a gutter. I had a walk out to the edge and felt writhing maggots of nerves in my belly as I looked down. There are a few telephone boxes dotted about with the Samaritans number in them. Globally Beachy Head is in third place for people killing themselves by throwing themselves over a high edge: number one is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and number two is the Aokigahara Woods in Japan.
I’ve met two people who have committed suicide successfully - but not by jumping over Beachy Head. One was the local barber, a colourful character. One weekend morning one of my mum’s friends rang to say police had cordoned off a nearby road as some kids had found a dead body. It worked out that the barber who’d I’d visited many times - a slight likeable gay lad with an extroverted dress sense. Later I heard on the grapevine he’d be selling drugs through his shop on the precinct, wanted to stop but the supplier forced him to continue. The pressure heightened, he cracked and hung himself from a fence post. Once I had a flat to rent out and a mother asked if she could bring her daughter round for a viewing. The daughter arrived with two broken legs. She’d been in a psychiatric section of the hospital and tried to jump out of a high window to kill herself. Thankfully she didn’t like the flat’s deep Victorian bath and didn’t rent the place.
Once I was painting the outside of a flat in Ashton-Under-Lyne and I realised there was no traffic one the road. Police stood in a semi-circle around a man who was stood on a wall which crossed train tracks. Thankfully after about fifteen minutes he was coaxed down and into a waiting ambulance. Probably the worst case of suicide I’ve heard of is a man who threw himself onto electric circular saws in his work shed.
I hated standing on the edge at Beachy Head but I liked the lighthouse. I’m trying to paint with knives and thought that lighthouse would be an easy subject. At the tip I found a wooden board you’d hang on a wall and thought I’d use it as a canvas. Also I found a photograph of it on the internet, printed it and did a painting in one sitting. There was little mixing of paints; mostly it came directly out of the tubes and went onto the board. Here it is. My bed stunk of paint fumes by the time I’d finished. I keep a box of matches to get rid of bad smells.
The lighthouse became operational in 1902 and can be seen from about 9 miles away (it used to be 30 miles but boats have better navigational equipment these days.) It makes two white flashes every twenty seconds. There used to be three wardens but since 1983 it’s fully automatic. Its guardians said there wasn’t enough money to keep the red stripes but £27,000 was raised to give it five coats of red paint.
Rommell doesn’t look impressed…
I took the sky off and started again. Here’s the sky in a pile…