It's something that we all do, only I've done it to the point of nearly being arrested for indecent exposure. Ever since I can remember I've been unable to take a walk down the beach and come home empty handed. Maybe it goes back to ancestral times when we combed the shores for food, so we ended up hard wired to gather and hunt down the creatures of the shore. Perhaps it is a more recently evolved material thing and we are secretly looking for bits of gold or buried treasures, or perhaps we think that someone will come along and give us money for our findings. In my daydream, some old school Cadillac will pull up and the driver will open the door for some vaguely familiar TV or movie star with a heavy American accent who says, "Hey there boy. I see you've collected some mighty fine shells. What say I give you a million dollars for them?" More likely though, the shells glittering in water are attraction enough on their own and we just have to possess them. Moreover, they are free and decorative souvenirs of a relaxing day spent somewhere away from the cares of the working world. The trouble is, that I never come properly prepared for such ventures. A sensible person would know that a hand in hand walk on the beach will eventually deteriorate from some sort of glowingly warm Hallmark e moment into a full blown everyone for himself scavenger hunt. A sensible person would bring a bag.
Men's swim wear is can be divided into two basic camps for the purposes of shell gathering. First you have the swimming-focused trunks like the Speedo. The Aussies call them budgie smugglers and other than the budgie there is no packing room for the likes of shells. If you wear one of these contraptions the only shells that you are going to bring home will be limited to how many you can pile up in you hands and balance against your chest.
Second, you have your board shorts. These trunks generally have good sized pockets in the front and maybe even some small ones in the back. Perfect for the surfer, perfect for the wandering scavenger.
The problem really isn't in the process. It's simple enough. Find something shiny in the water, pick it up and put it in your pocket. Done. The problem is that for the true shell connoisseur there is really no "off" switch. The pockets just get fuller and fuller and of course heavier and heavier. At some point you begin a war with gravity that your swimsuit just can't win. You get down to that-one-more shell that is the tipping point, or more precisely, the debriefing point. Now you know that you aren't likely to throw the shell back so you try things like tightening the string around the waist band. After that you try pushing out your belly. Eventually you end up with the string digging into your swollen belly as one hand now hitches up your trunks while the other tries to hold and gather more shells. This is usually when you see the best shell of the day and you have to let go of the waist band for just a second..........
The defining moment, that all important paradigm shift, came when my sister-in-law, Marg, held up a shell and said, "Hey look! A boob!" Sure enough, you didn't have to squint your eyes or be influenced by the power of suggestion, this type of shell looks like the real deal. Viewed from the top, these creatures have a classic breast shape with an areola and a nipple to boot. Depending on the size of the snail, the shell comes in its own versions from A (almost a boob), to B (barely a boob), C (can't complain), to D (Dang!) to DD (Double Dang!) which were the biggest that we found. I'm sure that Davie Jones is keeping the E to H (Help I can't get up!) ones for himself in his locker.
Since Jan does a lot of work fund raising for The Weekend to End Women's Cancers, we figured that somehow we could work these shells into the cause. Unfortunately this now gave us a semi genuine reason for shell collecting. We now no longer even considered walking hand in hand in the setting sun, waves gently lapping at our feet. Oh no, from now on it was going to be a well planned full on assault on the shoreline. It was about to become an "all business now pal, don't be getting in my way, I saw it first" sort or thing. In the spirit of fair play we had to have the latest tide charts set out on the kitchen table so that all of the couples could have an equal shot at setting their watches to the holy grail for gatherers - the beginning of low tide.
Once we got our treasures home we had to figure out exactly what we were going to do with them. The first step was cleaning, as the entire haul smelled like taking a whiff in a garbage bag filled with old running shoes. They were put through various regimes of soap and water and vinegar and water and finally bleach and water and then water and water. This gives you a clean but a somewhat colourless and dull shell. The trick here was going to be to give these objects a more flesh like sheen.
This had now become a science project. Complete with control specimens I had a ) car wax, b) mineral oil, c) car wax with mineral oil over top, d) mineral oil with car wax over top The winner of the most life like was plain mineral oil.
It didn't take a lot of reflection before I had it whittled down to retirement. The way I see it, is that retirement puts you in the place of that charging bull who heads for the alluring bright colour but when he gets there the curtain is pulled away to reveal something unexpected, and unexpected can be many things - just not what you expected. I think that as I was plugging away at workaday life, I thought that retirement meant something like going back to my childhood where I could just play with my friends all of the time, all day long. When I was a kid and wanted to play all I had to do was open the door and start to canvas the street. If there weren't any kids outside at the moment,I just started pounding on doors and asking, "Can ----come out to play?" It never took long to get a crew together and get at the serious business of playing. The reality of retirement life is that most of the boomer/zoomers, like myself, are really only semi retired and have schedules that are so over booked that an aircraft control expert is needed to schedule when you could possibly have coffee with them someday. The result is that you can end up spend a lot of time knocking on your own door, so hopefully you don't have a lot of problems dealing with the person inside.
This weekend, Jan took the ornaments to a craft sale and they were well received. You actually don't buy the item, you just donate and take either a cookie or the ornament. Apparently double D's were the favourite. I won't speculate as to why.
Well it seems that now I have an actual reason to go shell collecting. So if you see a guy stumbling down the beach with his hands full of shells cradled against his chest and his bathing suits pockets bulging and his gut pushed out....well just know that I'm on a mission here.