A Tale of Two Clints – Meeting in Marseille

Marseille Shoreline

Marseille’s shoreline glitters under the Mediterranean sun. Legend has it the first messages in bottles were sent in these very waters a couple thousand years ago by a Greek fellow named Theophrastus who hung out with both Plato and Aristotle.

Theophrastus with Scroll


If the legends are true, there must be potsherds somewhere out on that ocean floor from some of his “bottles”. I imagine walking this same shore in an earlier time, stumbling across a sealed clay jug, and opening it to find a note from Theophrastus. If he was really clever, he’d have inscribed the jugs themselves. In that case, we may find evidence yet… But today, July 12th, 2015, I have a different mission. I find myself once more in a foreign land, chasing a chance at friendship.

I’ve been in touch with Clinton and Gwen since I found their bottle, and we’ve decided to meet here in Marseille. They tell me, via Facebook on my friend’s phone, that they have reached the beach. But which one? As more clues and descriptions of nearby statues tumble into my inbox, I wind my way along the coast to them.

Finally, I spot a little bar on the beach–they must be there!

“You found us!” Clinton and Gwen say.

Me and Clinton at Beach Bar in Marseille

I quickly realize that I’m in the presence of yet another pair of star-crossed lovers.

It all started, they tell me, when Clinton was a young man working in the mines of northern England. One day, walking to catch the bus to the Easington Pit coal mine, he saw Gwen looking at him from her bedroom window.

He said, “Hey beautiful, what you looking at?” and she responded “You!”.

Clinton Meeting Gwen

Clinton goes on, “So I said, ‘Well, come on down and you can walk me to my bus and if you want you can meet me off it when I finish work.’ So she did, and we both fell in love.”

And that was pretty much it–they were hooked.

Clinton tells me the story like this:

“We used to love going for midnight walks in the summer. We would look up at the stars on the beach. One night we both saw a shooting star. Gwen said, ‘Make a wish—it will come true.’ So I made my wish. She said ‘Don’t tell me or your wish will not work!’ The only thing I could think of to see if it would work was asking her to marry me. You see, Clint, that was my wish. I could not tell her but ask her (clever devil!). So she said yes.

I had to ask her father for permission because she was too young. Everyone thought she was pregnant but she was not—it was just old fashioned love. Two people who fell in love and are still going strong. Anyway, on our wedding day, my stepfather did not approve it and he put me and Gwen on the streets that night. But our love for each other was too strong, so we just went for a midnight walk that night and we ended up staying at my brother’s. So anyway, Clint, we are still here and still in love. But the next thing is to go to Mexico and have a proper wedding! So when we make the date, you are invited so you can bring your guitar and play us up the aisle, Clint.”

Well, I’ve always wanted to visit Mexico…

Clinton and Gwen Together

After they met and fell in love, they persevered through Clinton’s time in the mines, the harrowing years that followed, and they worked hard together to build a successful family business that started with one shop and has since grown to three, including one Clinton oversees in Peterlee, one Gwen oversees in Seaham, and one in Sunderland, overseen by their son–also named Clinton!

Clinton's Family Cobbler Business

Clinton’s family does a million things at these shops! Everything from fixing shoes, to fixing watches, to engraving–the family has many talents among them.

Clinton in Shop

Knowing their love story, it’s not hard to understand why they are such good business partners. Their resiliency sets a strong example.

Suddenly we are discussing the terrorist attack at the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba in Tunisia in which 30 British tourists were killed and 26 wounded on June 27th, 2015, just two weeks before our meeting. Clinton and Gwen stayed at that exact hotel just a couple years before. All three of us are a bit nervous traveling in Europe at the moment–in addition to the dangerous heat wave, there are also growing terrorism threats from the east, plus the migrant crisis building as folks pour from Syria into European countries and England. Some migrants, desperate to reconnect with family members in England, take the mind-boggling risk of sneaking through the Chunnel from France to England.

We talk about the many things to fear in the world, and how a life lived in fear wouldn’t be worth living. Clinton says he won’t let such things stop him. Gwen notes she’d be a little nervous if it was her son traveling foreign lands, meeting strangers, as I do. But here we sit–total strangers who choose to be inspired by friendship rather than fear.

Clinton and Gwen tell me about their weekend adventures in England’s Lake District. The place sounds so beautiful that, despite basking in the glory of a Mediterranean beach, I find myself wishing I could be there, walking among the lakes, drinking from waterfalls like Gwen and Clinton. This Lake District is, after all, the land where William Wordsworth “wander’d lonely as a cloud” before stumbling upon a flock of daffodils “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze” beside a pond–a dreamy place I hope to visit one day.

Of course, sitting still is tough for adventurous folks, so we get up and stroll along the beaches packed with families and couples canoodling in the sun.

Marseille Beach

Marseille Kids with Raft on Beach

Somehow, on our walk, climate change comes up–perhaps because we are mired in a serious heat wave covering most of western Europe at the moment. While I have no idea what Gwen and Clinton personally believe about climate change, I learn from them that in England, the issue isn’t quite as politically charged as it is in the US, though people do disagree about it. It seems that the divide in the UK is rooted more in geography. Basically it sounds like folks who live along the coast and can see the coast eroding as water levels rise and storms increase understand that the climate is indeed changing, whereas folks who live inland and can’t directly observe the effects of climate change (well, other than record heat in July), don’t seem as convinced. The British Geological Survey explains how climate change affects England’s coast in the videos on this page. What Clinton and Gwen tell me about this aligns with what other folks in Britain tell me as well: Seeing is believing…but also: Out of sight out of mind. Serious research even supports this idea–Check out this study by Cardiff University which explains that people affected by unprecedented severe weather events are more likely to be aware of and concerned about climate change than others.

Here’s the basic difference in perceptions of climate change between America and the UK, as far as I can tell:

Climate Change in America


Climate Change Perceptions in the UK

Anyway, we walk along. We don’t even talk about climate change much, honestly, maybe 2 or 3 minutes. And we don’t offer our individual beliefs–that’s not the point. The point is that we have been brought together here by the things we have in common: a love of family, of adventure, and dedication to the people we hold dear. It is such a joy and a gift to meet people like Clinton and Gwen.

Clinton and Gwen by Water

Strolling along the beach, we find a storm wall where we can snap some photos. Now, as if there weren’t enough weird coincidences with our story so far, it turns out that Clinton and I wore the same outfit on the day of our meeting! Well, almost:

Me, Clinton, and Gwen in Marseille

Finally we wander back to the beach bar and we say goodbye. I watch them walk off into the crowds of people on the street, and, just like that, they are gone.

But, the bond we created endures. Just like the bonds within Clinton and Gwen’s family, between them and their children and their children’s children, just like the bonds in my own family–but this bond transcends culture, distance, and time. As I turn to rejoin my friends on the beach, I am heartened to realize that even as tragic events unfold around the world, as we are taught to fear, hate, and discriminate–still, against all this, there are people like Clinton and Gwen who live with open hearts and minds, refusing to live in fear, and embracing the wonder and complexity of life on our little blue marble. There is hope yet, friends and neighbors. There is hope yet.

We only get one trip on this earth, and Clinton and Gwen make the most of every day. I think of them when I can’t seem to do anything right–and I know what they would do. They would get up, kick it into gear, and keep working toward their goals, loving each other, loving their friends and family openly and with pride, always chasing the horizon.

Clinton with Boy on Bike

A Tale of Two Clints


I am a sucker for the underdog–the unlikely champion, the surprising winner.

That’s why I’ve always valued every message in a bottle the same way: each note has survived the harsh sea against staggering odds, regardless of age. They’re all underdogs!

And yet, there’s something “sexy” about very old MIBs. The media surely loves them! But, to me, a very young message in a bottle is every bit as valuable. That’s because what I value about a MIB is the connection I develop with the sender, not winning an award or getting a title for having the “oldest” message in a bottle. You know what I’d do if I found the world’s oldest message in a bottle? I’d go straight to the sender’s descendants and see if we could be friends!

I understand why many people think that older MIBs are inherently “better” or more important, because they have more mystique, they are more exotic. I get it–I really do. You’re talking to a guy whose vinyl record collection is far bigger than his CD collection, and rivals his MP3 library. I happily wear clothes today I’ve had for well over a decade. I love old stuff.

But even more than old stuff, I love people. I love getting to know new people for the first time, and becoming friends. If I could make a living by visiting all the people I care about and writing about how great they are, I would do it in a heartbeat. A heartbeat!

It is rare, though, for me to meet people on the same page as me about these things.

And that, friends and neighbors, is why I want to tell a story.

This story is about a guy named Clint. Actually, it’s about two guys named Clint, and a woman named Gwen. It’s about adventure, discovery, romance. It’s a story about family, friends, and the rewards that come from keeping an open heart and an open mind. And, in a world we can’t seem to stop trashing, it is about the treasure you can find if you slow down and look closely.


June 2013. I am with my parents on a Caribbean adventure. Every day is us spending time together, catching up, dreaming and scheming, beachcombing, always looking for something, never knowing what until it smacks us.

One morning, the weather is funky, so my mom wisely hangs out at home. My dad and I, because we just don’t know better, decide to head out on an adventure to an uninhabited island in search of beach trash and treasure. The sky is dark, ominous. We paddle to the island in little kayaks.

Kayaking with Dad

They feel so safe and secure to our little human bodies–but on the scale of planet Earth, where the clouds that hang over us are the size of whole cities, the kayaks are little toys bobbing on the ocean. Little corks. A single rogue wave would turn us into mere memories. But there we are, paddling out to this little island that actually doesn’t even have a name on Google maps…

There’s no place I’d rather be.


OK OK OK. I lied. The island is not totally uninhabited. It is home to a species of Iguana called the Rock Iguana.

Rock Iguana

This lizard is a pocket-sized dinosaur. Well, maybe if you have big pockets. They’re about as long as a conch-beater, if you know what that is. If not, imagine a baseball bat about 8-10 inches too short. That’s the length of the Rock Iguana. And they are so cool! But they are also threatened–the other other thing that lives here is the native mutt canine–totally adorable dogs, but, if left to live in the wild, a real menace to native wildlife.

Courtesy: Potcake Place

Courtesy: Potcake Place

To these dogs, Rock Iguanas taste like candy. For a while, this anonymous island Dad and I are visiting was thought to be barren of Rock Iguanas. Thankfully, we see several on our visit. Not a ton, but several. It’s amazing to think how many unique species may be vanishing even in places where there are no humans, simply because we’ve left other destroyers (like feral dogs, adorable as they may be) in our wake.


Dad and I make landfall mid-morning and, despite the threatening weather, charge ahead. We change out our footwear and begin to “pound the sand” as we say.

Clint and Dad

In my family, every adventure has its own particular vibe created by the sights and sounds of the day. This adventure unfolds the same way as we discover the strange gifts of the beach. We run into Minnie Mouse…

Minnie Mouse

A creepy baby with a wine bottle on a log, left by a previous visitor (minus the torso):

Creepy Baby with Wine Bottle

And the standard mucky plastic trash everywhere, silently creating a plastic layer over the earth safely out of view from most of us. Pine needles rain down, binding the plastic trash in place, covering plastic shrapnel for miles and miles…

Plastic Trash and Pine Needles

We walk on, as always, in awe of the contrast between the stunning natural beauty of these beaches we love and the staggering plastic pollution wreaking havoc on the place.

As I walk I find myself wondering if I will find a message in a bottle, and if so, what it will look like. Of course, there’s no guarantee of finding anything, so I’m just hoping to find something. But the truth is…there’s this part of me that’s greedy for a big glass bottle with a beautiful sepia-toned note inside from decades ago…Wouldn’t that be cool?! Like Janet’s message in a bottle–you just don’t see that kind of thing every day!

All of a sudden, it happens–the feeling that shoots through my body like lightning where I know something important has just happened but my brain hasn’t sorted it out yet. And then I see it:

Clinton and Gwen's Bottle First Sighting

That flash of red and white rolled up inside a bottle–I know it’s a message in a bottle!

I pick it up and instantly see it’s a map of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And there’s writing inside! We’ve got a live one! So I call in the wardrobe department before posing–you know, it’s important to look clean and fancy in these moments:

Me with Clinton and Gwen's Bottle on the Beach

The paper looks like its strong enough that I could take it out of the bottle right then, but I decide to take it home first.

Dad and I continue hiking for a while before heading home. I find one more bottle with shredded fragments of ancient paper–a hopeless case, but I bring it home anyway.

We load our packs and ourselves back into the kayaks, and paddle back through the increasingly choppy waves, against the wind. By the time we reach the home island, we are whipped.


Once we get cleaned up we decide that the paper inside this bottle looks supple enough to be removed without damaging it. So we give it a try!

Opening Gwen and Clinton's Bottle

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When we lay the message out flat, here’s what we find (with home address blocked, of course!)

Clinton and Gwen's Message

A beautiful message! The ink is still clearly visible, and there’s tons of writing! AND it’s on a map! I remember at first we thought it might be a treasure map–kudos to Clinton and Gwen for choosing a great piece of paper to write on :-)

Clinton and Gwen… wow–this guy had my same name! Well, actually my name is just Clint (not Clinton), but still! I wonder if he goes by Clint?

You may notice that the send date of the message is March 13th of 2013, and I found it in June 2013. For a lot of people, this would make the message less powerful or meaningful, since it is so young and hasn’t been floating around for decades. For me, though, it makes no difference. In fact, the youth of this message gives me hope that I will be able to find Gwen and Clinton. Besides, surviving even a few months at sea is an impressive accomplishment for a plastic bottle, since they fall apart so quickly in the ocean environment. And that’s what I mean about underdogs: I wouldn’t hardly expect this bottle to last a week in the ocean, let alone several months! Good job, bottle!

All night, I can’t stop thinking about this message in a bottle, about Clinton and Gwen. Will I be able to find them? Will we get along? What are the chances of the sender and finder of a message having the same first name–and a fairly uncommon name at that?

My parents and I hang out with the bottle all night, wondering who these people are based on their note, imagining the story that lies ahead. It feels like having company over! Another family adventure, in the bag. Sounds like Gwen and Clinton had an adventure, too! Finally we head to bed, and when I close my eyes, I just see messages in bottles for miles on the shore…

The time between finding a message and meeting the senders is a nervous time for me. I don’t know what to expect when I reach out to them. But with this bottle, I have a good feeling about what’s to come.

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Dresden… Dresden… Dresden…

Dresden Dresden Dresden Heart

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May 21st 2011 was a great day. I got to do some beachcombing with my awesome mom, and I found this message in a bottle!

Sabine 4
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