Gull Stories

Sally Hughes

August 2023

Written and performed for Penarth Outdoor Arts Festival ‘To the Sea’, which was produced and directed by Splatch in collaboration with Vale of Glamorgan Council.

September 16th 2023.

How to begin, this tale of love

How to get your attention, dear listener 

When all around you there’s the busi-ness of city life.

To transform you for a moment or two

And transport you to a new world

Where Gull and child play

In the dance of all life.

How to begin this tale of loss

How to get past the story of separation 

That divides us from our kin.

The Gull asks 

“Let us invite you in to our yarn

As we weave threads of connection

Between people, place and past.”

The Gull, a Mother now

Sits on the railings looking out over the Pier 

Where she has rested all her life

Observing the ways of the two-leggeds. 

Witness to it all, the joy, fear and hope

The dropped ice creams and the snaffled chips. 

The Boy Gull, sitting close

Making his own wonderings about the wanderers he spies

Says, in the way that small folk do…

“Mummy, Mummy, why does the woman walk here everyday at low tide, always going to the end of the pier on the promenade, and then the same below, through the sludgy sand?”

“Oh darling, she’s certain of her uncertainty

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable

Longing for meaning.

Resolving her inner contradictions

Seeking harmony and opening her mind

To all possibilities.

Walking atop the pier she sees expressions of the two-leggeds culture

Walking below, she sees the life that evolves in the pools and puddles that form around the structures.

The constancy of the atoms holding themselves together to form the Piers struts, timeless, yet succumbing to decay.

And she wonders about the contrast.”

The hours pass, and the light changes.

The dogs chase balls propelled by their own two-leggeds

In a mutual display of care and affection.

The tide comes in.

The Boy Gull asks…

“Mummy, Mummy, why did the small girl love her red ball so?”

“Ah, yes, I recall

The small girl who lost her ball that day.

She’d been out on the big boat 

On returning over the gang plank to the Pier

She dropped her ball

Watched it disappear into the sea.

Her shiny, new, beautiful, precious

Beloved red ball.

Is that the girl you mean?”

“Yes, that’s her”

“The small girl loved her things

The two-leggeds do.

They’ve invested parts of themselves in objects

As a way to learn about making relationships when they are small 

Forgetting to shift the attention to each other as they grow,

they find themselves hooked.”

The sky gets dark

The lights come on and the noise gets loud

Two-leggeds getting rowdy now

Behind Mother Gull and Boy Gull.

The sounds of their laughter in the air

Rousing some with disdain.

“Mummy, Mummy, what was the lost girl looking for?

“Ah, the lost girl who lived in the ticket office at the end of the Pier

Who did not hear

And nearly stopped believing in stories.

She walked everyday for many years

As if looking for something.

“She forgot how to listen to the stories of the land

She forgot how to listen to the stories in her body

Tales untold from times past.

But we need those stories now

For our futures to be cast.”

The Boy Gull

Still speckled with the brown jewel-like markings of a young one

Spreads his wings and leaps into the air

Swooping down low

Enjoying the flight

Riding on the waves.

His webbed feet spreading

Body in perfect balance as he takes aim and lands back on the railings. 

“Mummy, Mummy, what did the two grown-up boys find when they jumped from the Pier into the sea?”

“Ah yes, of course, the two grown-up boys

who on a hot summer day at full tide

took themselves into the sea

off the edge of the Pier. 

They languished in the joy of the jump! 

“They lost their minds

And found each other.

They found their souls

and then got a proper telling off from the authorities

which only bolstered their resolve to do it again. 

They crossed a boundary for us all

That we can find freedom.

But freedom is only so if we ALL have it

If it’s just for a few then it’s a privilege.”

“We, the winged-ones

lost our privilege as fellow journey makers long ago. 

When we lost our food and came to know the opportunity of the two-leggeds waste. 

Then they cast us aside, othered us.

Our survival at their disposal unnerves them.

They don’t see the relationship.

They stopped dancing with us

And chose only themselves as partners.

But what is a dance with just one kind?

As the sun went down behind the land 

In the turning of the day

Mother Gull and Boy Gull joined their flock on the cliff.

Together they squawked tales of the best catch of the day

And rested well together. 

For tomorrow brings another story.

Here comes morning and dippers dipping.

Capturing the dances of the two-leggeds in their ritual immersion

With lenses fashioned by the technologies of man.

Forging beauty from the turning of the Earth once more

Into the light

Into the gallery. 

Into the hearts and minds of fellow travellers

As they get out of their minds and into the sea. 

Gulls flock over water. 

Mother Gull and Boy Gull perch on the railing once more. 

Different this time

but the same somehow.

Experience shapes us all.

The morning brings the walkers to the Pier. 

“Mummy, Mummy, why does the small two-legged stand frozen so at that spot there, never going any farther out over the sea?”

“So it’s this story you settle on today, my love.

“What can we learn from the woman who loved the living world and her small child who walked on the pier one morning? 

The boy wouldn’t budge you see

he froze solid the moment he passed the point at which you can see the sea through the slats in the floor of the Pier. 

His Mum tried to reassure and encourage him

But he just wouldn’t move, stuck

caught up in his fear.

“He sees the eerie world beneath

through the gaps in the construction

Forged by machine from tree

And it fills his heart with fear.

The two-leggeds have forgotten their connection to the winged-ones

He’s scared of the height because he’s forgotten the part of himself that can fly.”

“I can fly Mummy, look at me”

And the Boy Gull launches his slender feathered body off into the air, moving his wings in just the right way. 

He’s still learning too.

As he returns and snuggles into Mother Gull, he asks,

In the comfort of knowing the answer from asking many times before, 

but hoping for a new perspective from the telling of the tale this time…

“Mummy, Mummy, why did the Gulls flock on that day when the sky went dark?”

“Gulls have always flocked

It’s how we keep the stories alive.

But on this day

When the Pier still welcomed big ships and dancers

And the two women as old as time made the journey from the top of the valley for a day out at the seaside

A journey they had made together every year for almost their entire lives….

Something extraordinary happened…”

“What happened, Mummy, what happened?”

“The sky went dark

The air rumbled with thundery waves

The sea churned.

The Gulls flocked, hundreds of them from all along the coast.

The wind was warm on their feathers

too warm for this time of year.

The two women old as time sat on the bench they always sit on

The one closest to the Pier.

Watching and telling tales of times past

Recalling sumptuous moments in their deep entanglement.

They tucked into succulent sausages from the chippy

They licked syrupy drips from the ice cream.

Then the seagulls started calling

You know the sound

Louder and louder as time went on

The two women old as time noticed and wondered.

They quieted their friendly chatter

And started to feel shivers of fear

Maybe a little excitement in their bodies 

As the hullabaloo of the seagulls noisy dance heightened

In full murmuration now.

Sweeping back and forth in the big sky

Over the muddy sea.

Suddenly, a not so loud creak 

And another, creaks of age, wood rubbing on metal

The cacophony of the sounds

The squawking Gulls 

The creaking.

People on the Pier had started to notice something strange

Slowly but surely the Pier was starting to move.

The Gulls danced their loud sky dance over and under the Pier

Bizarre and berserk.

And then

Who could have believed it…

A loud slomp sound, and another, and another

As the pier lifted pillar after pillar from its long time standing place in the sludgy sand.

The people shrieked as they ran

Desperate to get back to shore 

For the pier was really moving now.

Boards creaked and groaned

People laughed at the ridiculousness of it

And ran, for their lives.

The two women old as time

Watching from the safe distance of their bench

Watching as pillar by pillar

Slomp by slomp by slomp

The Pier, like a caterpillar, 


Moving legs as body undulates

Started making a path out into the sea.

Moving through the water

Limb by limb

Splashing and sploshing a way out towards Flat Holm

Not looking back, only forward.

Before anyone could make sense of what had happened

The Pier had gone.

A city needs its dreams

And it’s dreamers’ wild freedom.

Dancing a wilder rhythm now

With open hearts

And fire in our bellies

For the good of Earth and the rest of life.

We are at the event horizon

It’s what we do next that counts most for the future of our people.

The Gulls

Perhaps they teach us

Resourcefulness, persistence, intelligence and loyalty.

We still know water and wind

And flesh and bone

We are the keepers of the stories.

Weaving love amongst the loss.

Once spoken, words are free to land where they will.

Into our awakening

Invoking encounters with all life.

And everything that has been, is now and is still to come.

Into webs of meaning and connection that weave themselves between 

With compassion, insight, intuition and clear vision 

Vital and blooming we go

Into dream circles to find a common language.

Making the world together through our stories.

As we wake up to the world and it’s aliveness

In a moment of surrender.

To the sea, to lose our minds and find….”

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