There are people in and around San Sebastián who can look at the sea and tell you what the weather’s going to be like. People who are as aware of the tides as they are of bus timetables. Nowadays you can get an app to tell you, which is perhaps even more remarkable, and adds a nice salty rime to your smartphone. It is no surprise that water is an important part of life wherever it is found, but it is striking how different its effects can be from place to place. Here in the Bay of Biscay the seafloor shelves off steeply quite close to the shore, and that makes it easy to imagine the people’s take on life to be fatalistic, always aware of the proximity of the edge of the underworld, having a kinship with prehistoric sea monsters. But really it just means there is (or there was) very good fishing to be had without going too far from land.

I was watching BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) last night, because parts of it were filmed round here. The role of the Normandy coast is played by Zarautz, so while the German military command was enjoying a slap-up meal by the beach, I could see a couple of very small rocky islands in the background, where a local delicacy, goose barnacles, grow. People risk their lives to collect these ugly stumps, and they just taste like a load of salty old seapuddle. Franco was still in power when the film was made, and it’s not the first time German soldiers have been welcome here, many of them having nipped along from France for a bit of R&R during the war. Still, it shocks a bit to see the main avenue festooned with swastikas.

And then, of course, Franco oversaw his own peacetime conflicts. I take a perverse pride, a pride of which I’m not proud, in the fact that I could take you to two separate places by the sea where ETA people were shot by the Civil Guard. In one case they, the Civil Guard, even dressed up as female hippies having a picnic in a little cove before whipping their machine guns out from under their kaftans and doing the business. No – this can’t be true. It seems too novelistic to be true, gaudy as a seventies thriller.

Sometimes little whirlwinds whip up out at sea and you wonder what it would take for them to get big enough to be anything more than a minor diversion. There are lots of rickety structures near the sea devoted to the consumption of snacks or beer. Some of them, if you’re really lucky, even have sardines cooked over a charcoal grill.

I once shared a flat with an unemployed trawlerman. He wasn’t very forthcoming on the subject, or indeed any other subject, but he didn’t seem too upset to be no longer working. He spent most of his time stoned out his box staring at the television. His one funny story (well, funny to me) was about when he was due to go off and do his military service and he bogged off on a boat to do his normal stint of fishing instead. The Civil Guard radioed the captain and made him turn back from Newfoundland or wherever. I didn’t like Nestor very much and even now that I am thinking about him I can’t be bothered to wonder where he is or what he’s doing.

I like the destructive power of the sea. Not just the thumping of the waves, but also the slow insidious dismantling of molecules wrought by the salty air. Balconies with peeling paint, railings rusting, sandstone being eaten away. Its effects are particularly poignant on the love locks that have appeared on the railings along a coastal path. You may have heard of this phenomenon – lovers put a padlock somewhere public to symbolise their union. Good news for trees (that don’t get names carved into them any more) and ironmongers (who sell more padlocks), but to me, the symbolism seems unfortunate at the best of times. Here they rust away so rapidly, leaving an air of dilapidation and distress that I relish perhaps more than I really ought to.

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