The Beach Diaries 2016 — #2 in an Occasional Series

•May 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

carnivale

An old lady waves over the railing at the crew of a lifeboat idling along the river, who all return the gesture. I’m fascinated by the human instinct to wave at anybody who happens to be passing by on an open-topped vehicle; say, carnival princesses or Christmas mascots. Such a position obviously grants one a strange mixture of authority and approachability, while the leisurely, yet unwavering movement imbues the audience with a sense of urgency; of time’s limitless march — “Better wave now while I have the chance. Once they get past Lidl, it’ll be too late. Plus, we’ll all be dead one day.” Could this be weaponised somehow? Could we parachute badly-made carnival floats into warzones and see ISIS drop their guns to free up their hands for a bit of waving to employees of the local St Barnabas dressed as the Spice Girls; leaving their mortars empty to greet a mayor in an ill-fitting SpongeBob outfit?

Silly girl,” says a man, to a small, bemused Jack Russell, in that baby-voice people use to talk to dogs, but laced with genuine chiding. “Silly girl!” Then, he squats down to ask the question straight at her upturned muzzle, “Who’s a silly girl?” I can still hear him admonishing her as I get far into the distance.

What’s that quote? “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.”

Like most of it, a piece of graffiti on the back of the men’s toilet door invites anonymous sex, and leaves a contact number. But added at the bottom in parenthesis is “I HAVE VD

This reminds me of the entirely medically accurate wall-scrawl I saw at a service station recently:

CAN I SUCK YOUR COCK OR LICK YOUR WIFES CLIT AFTER YOU HAVE CUM IN IT?

Found a huge mat of dried seaweed the size of a living room rug, which makes me want to carpet the entire flat with it and march about like Neptune.

This time of year, and down at the quiet end, the beach is almost empty, except for a guy sat nearby, who’s etching into a pad with a stick of charcoal. He’s glanced across at me enough times to suggest I’m part of the artwork. It takes me back to being 11 or 12, when I was on the school council. No, I can’t really recall what that was, either. I just remember being voted as the house representative for my year, and that pupils had all the actual power of election voters (satire!), so I’m presuming it was nothing but vetoed suggestions of vending machines filled with Pepsi and mucky books, or cutting the school day to half an hour a week. Regardless, I’m sure it was a super cool and hunky way to spend one lunchtime a month. Anyway, literally the only remaining memory of it is being sat across from an older kid who was doodling on a sheet of A4 while looking intently in my direction, and half-laughing in a way that made it clear he was drawing a caricature of me.

As a short, fat, curly-haired 11-year-old, whose appearance saw him dubbed ‘Nigel Lawson’ after the grotesque then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, I made sure to exit the room as soon as the meeting was over, so’s not to catch sight of the etching, where my exaggerated features would further squash my feeble self-esteem.

As I write this paragraph, I’m utterly besieged by those little black flies, swarming about me and on me. I completely lose my cool, and to any witnesses, I’m basically just screaming “fuck off!” at imaginary assailants, while furiously slapping and scratching at my own flesh. They’re in my hair, they’re on my face; one of them gets snorted straight up my nose, causing me to let out a big bear-growl of distress and leap to my feet while retching. If the beach-side artist does somehow find the courage to warily approach, I’m sure his latest work “Portrait of a Raving Lunatic at Low Tide” will at least have a frenetic energy about it.

Nigel-Lawson-budge_466

Me and my lunchbox on the first day of school

I find the better part of an old tree washed up on the shingle. It’s gnarled and sea-worn, like a Victorian sea monster; buckled limbs and a tapered neck; a twisted tree worthy of in-his-prime Tim Burton. I feel I must have it, this tree corpse, but it’s taller than me, and very heavy.

I could drag it the miles back home, up the pebbles and onto the prom, that rasping sound of dead, black wood scraping against concrete. School parties watching, the deckchair man not looking up from his paper. People standing aside along the river, but nobody offering to help; feeling they don’t want to intrude on a private ritual. Some take photos, less sneakily than they think. Then, through the town, past the shops, busy on a hot day like today, where a stroll turns into a stop-start inspection of stranger’s backs, and now there’s a sweating man pulling an eight foot dead tree and it’s getting caught on benches and dog leads, scattering coffee shop pigeons, heaving across roads as backed up cars wait for it to slither across the kerb, spilling scabs of bark and dry splinters. Finally, force it through the front door, and up the steps. Clunking, ragged breathing, sweat patting against my jeans, where I wrench it into my bed, pull the duvet over us both, and snuggle up tight.

But I have to leave it, hoping the tide will deposit it closer next time I’m here. Hopefully when the floods come, it’ll find its way home.

Looking for a low-impact exercise that tells the world “Why yes, I do have diarrhoea!”? Then power-walking is the one for you!

Chalk” reads a piece of chalk graffiti on the prom. Very meta.

I probably shouldn’t have touched and licked the one in ‘crayon’ that said “Shit” on the toilet wall.

A red warning sign jutting out of the river orders the reader “Don’t forget your kill cord”. Who am I, the Hillside Strangler? Never leave home without it.

Another says “NO WASH”. I think I’ve got enough flies around me today already, thanks.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did three years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

In 2015: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

And this year: #1

The Beach Diaries 2016 — #1 in an Occasional Series

•May 9, 2016 • 1 Comment

tin woodman

The sun is out, and I’m beach body ready!*

*ready for my body to be found washed up on the beach

Within the first hot weekend, ant-like swarms of humanity once again fill the place that was so pleasingly empty and so pleasingly mine over the winter months. Literal fair-weather friends, they see every cliché immediately spring into life, like someone flicked the beach and all its automaton cast back on, after a winter’s slumber; creaking and dusty in their unlit warehouse.

A boy walking on the bench is told “One more warning, and we’re going home.” An angry sound comes from the pink face of a fat, shirtless man with a bald head, as a wind-blown child’s bubble pops against his forehead. I move from my first spot on the grass when I notice I’m sat right by a dog turd. Welcome home.

Will these even work now? The Beach Diaries always came from my place as a flesh-covered Tin Man; the eternal outsider; but since the last entry, there was an… incident. Unexpected feelings magicked abstract concepts into tangible realities, and turned the wooden creation that last clacked along the prom into a real boy. However fleeting a sojourn into Other Worlds, these are things that can’t be unseen. Everything looks different now; feels different. I want to go back, but I can’t. I’m trapped here now, with the rest of you.

Okay, that’s enough penis-talk,” admonishes a mum to a boy. Or maybe she was talking to me. If so, fair point.

If you thought the previous year’s diaries were too laden down in the existential crisis I’d felt in the wake of my exhausting last book, then I’ve got some bad news. Along with the ‘issues’ relating to two paragraphs up, I’m a few days gone from turning 37; a sour number, particularly to those who thought — 10 naïve, hopeful years ago — that they would forge a career in the arts. Each birthday adds another round of admired artists and celebrities to the self-destructive, Wikipedia-checking game of “by the time X was my age, they’d already X and Y.” Chris Morris was 29 when he did On the Hour. 35 when he made Brasseye. Werner Herzog shot Aguirre at the age of 30. It’s also now gotten to where I’ve slowly outgrown all the people I held up as examples of making it late. I’m good, I thought, I’ve got eight more years. Then three. Then, oops, now I’ve passed them too.

Is there someone out there who finds similar prodding in my having birthed out 7 books out by 35? If there is, it’s not me. January marked 10 years since the release of my first paperback, and at the time, I mentally gave myself a decade to make it work. Having since chased my dreams straight into the gutter, with a succession of titles that always felt like ‘the one’, but never were, when that clock ran out a few months ago, I made the choice to stop. I promptly abandoned the (series of) novel(s) set in a 1980’s American wrestling company, that I’d spent months and tens-of-thousands of words on, and which honestly felt like great work, but also like a fucking slog. Book by book, I’ve been losing my life in year-long chunks, and no matter how satisfying or exciting the actual writing part, I knew I’ve had the unavoidable promoting process ahead of me, if I wanted anyone to see it. That’s the part I loathe; the part I am terrible at; the part which turned writing into horrible, soul-destroying toil; the part which made me hate the one thing I love, and the one thing I can do.

I mentioned above I’d chased my dreams into the gutter, but that’s not really true. The dream was never really to write books. I just got sidelined. I always wanted to write and make movies, intending to use the books as a financial springboard to get my spec scripts out there, or shoot small things myself and work my way up. Instead, I ended up with neither the money, nor even the time to pursue that anyway. So now I’m 37, without so much as a self-shot short to my name. Random Youtubers X through 1,000,00X were probably 6 when they first stuck a ten-minute short online. It’s time to move on, to be relatively normal, to, I dunno, get a regular job and work on scripts in the toilets or as I’m falling asleep over my keyboard at night like the rest of the dreamers. But if I don’t make something, every atom in my body is going to explode.

Was it a gradual transformation that saw these things become about 10% beach/90% diary? Now I’m free of Kindle-based obligations, I’ll endeavour to seek out more of other people’s madnesses, than focussing on the tedious, self-obsessed shit that’s rattling around inside my skull.

Overheard conversation snippets:

…Neil Morrissey playing Indiana Jones…”

A line of chips lay in a row along the edge of the prom, leading into an open plastic bucket which lays on its side. I watch for a while, but nobody falls for such an obvious trap. What are they hoping to capture? A tiny little tourist? A sand-gnome? A seagull? If it’s the latter, I’d expect to soon see somebody staggering along the pebbles, bleeding from empty eye-sockets, and screaming “What Hell hath I wrought?”, because seagulls be crazy. That said, a baby seagull got trapped in my chimney last summer, and after rescuing him, he seemed friendly enough that I still have fantasies of emerging from the ocean with three now-grown gull-children at my back, like Daenerys Targaryen meets Kes, and taking back my beach from all the fair-weather invaders.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And in 2015: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

A Decade of (Artistic & Financial) Destruction

•January 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

blogheader

A couple of weeks ago — although it passed me by because I could have sworn it came out in April ’06 — was the tenth anniversary of my first paperback, Frantic Planet: Volume I‘s release into the wilds. As time goes on, I’m ever-more impressed by young-me’s blend of confidence and utter naivety in writing and releasing a book when I had no idea what I was doing; and at how fearlessly I assumed everybody would love it, and that I’d be living in a Hollywood mansion within six months.

I do not live in a Hollywood mansion, but I am still writing, and other than pre-FP fiddling around with blogs, websites, and Ian Beale erotica, Frantic Planet essentially marked zero day of my status as a self-described writer. In creating it, I found my voice, and my purpose, and everything that’s been written and read since, came as a result of its conception, construction, and the reaction to it.

So with that waffle out of the way, I thought I’d share-slash-collate a selection of the best posts on this blog (of which there are 271), some of which were well-read at the time, while others slipped through the cracks.

blog1

Most famously, there’s The Mad Lies of Hulk Hogan; a post which went viral and lead to me being blocked on Twitter by my own childhood hero. He eventually forgave me, but when this did the rounds again after the recent n-bomb business, Hulk Hogan took time out of his day to think about Millard, and what a bad seed he is. Re-Blocked, Brother.

Other wrestle-nerd things you might like are an early dissection of Bray Wyatt’s character, an obit of the Ultimate Warrior, and the anti-masturbation PSAs WWF Magazine definitely put out in the 80s. Plus Andre the Giant wearing ladies bras as sunglasses.

This post about the crazy, mostly anti-Semitic theories from David Icke’s followers about the life and death of Jimmy Savile, lead to almost two years of hilarious abuse from conspiracy mentalists, over hundreds of comments, emails and tweets. Although I did turn that abuse into publicity.

Funnily, the very first content on this blog, 7 years ago, was the Summer of Savile, where I picked apart Jim’ll’s autobiography as part of a running art project, back when he was still alive and yet to be outed as a deranged necro-nonce. The SoS ended up becoming a strange footnote in Savile history. After the first accusations came out, it became clear that his long-out-of-print autobiography was filled with ‘in plain sight’ anecdotes about schoolgirls and the like. As a result of the extracts I’d used, there was a mad rush to my blog, which had suddenly become the biggest online repository of the barely-veiled admissions of modern history’s worst ever sex-case. (Which would happen again with the publication of the Beach Diaries etc etc)

There’s also this piece, about the cultural oddity of Tommy Wiseau and his opus The Room.

And this series, about 3 songs that would make for awesome movies. Part I. Part II. Part III.

And this, culled from my most recent book, Buzzfeed style, featuring the 10 most sociopathic acts of Saved by the Bell‘s Zack Morris.

Then, possibly my favourite post on here ever, a look at the amazing, and artfully aggressive mind of Yoko Ono, via her Tweets.

blog2

There’s this piece about the medieval werewolf trials that went on in Europe.

And the uncles I discovered on Chatroulette, back when that was a thing.

Here’s some local councillors who are very serious about potholes.

Most of the fiction has been scrubbed from here for the book Dirt Baby, but here’s a tiny piece of flash fiction about love, of all things, called Harpo’s Bowl.

Though its original piece can now only be found in Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, here’s my exclusive interview with forgotten kung fu cultist, and the man no prison could hold, James Hydrick.

blog3

As time went on, I did what most people do with age, and began to look inward. Then I did what people do next, and turned that outward to witter on about myself right into people’s bored, horrified faces.

The Beach Diaries, which started out as purely voyeuristic observation, ended up revealing more about me than the humanity I was observing, and if I have a trademark I’m known for, then it’s these. There are so many, it’s hard to pick a ‘best’, but I really like this one, which, over the course of a single day, seems to encapsulate every facet of Englishness.

Charles Manson and the Twenty-Fourth Trimester deals with the devoting of years and years to a project which never sees the light of day, and the mental toll it takes, especially when most of those years were spent trying to method-write as the mind of Charles fucking Manson.

Lastly, a couple of me-me-me pieces, beginning with a post tackling my issues with anxiety and overcoming them.

And to finish off, another rare brush with feelings, with what happened recently when your favourite coal-hearted robot-man fell for someone super, super hard.

All seven of my books are available right now on the Kindle for nominal fees, so please do check them out if the stuff here has tickled your interest. In order of release:

Frantic Planet: Volume I

Frantic Planet: Volume II

Dirt Baby and Other Small Mercies

The Beach Diaries 2011

The Beach Diaries 2012

Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal: The Burning Pants of Popular Culture

So Excited, So Scared; the Saved by the Bell Retrospective

And if you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s free app for phones, tablets, and computers

Here’s Your Answer

•January 19, 2016 • 18 Comments

roddy_piper

Last summer, the me of 2015 wrote this, on the topic of romantic feelings and love and whatnot.

Having never had that, caught as I am in the midst of this weird existential crisis, I find myself wondering what it’s like; that thing of knowing someone you like likes you back. It’s a thing which drives so much art, with the entire world chasing that feeling of reciprocation; of a magnetic pull instead of push, even on the small, simple level where you’re aware that someone of whom you think “she’s nice” thinks “he’s nice” in return. I wonder if there’s a specific feeling tied to that; a unique emotion that can later be called upon with sense-memory whiffs of a familiar aftershave or the opening bar to a song you once listened to together in the dark?

Part of me is curious to feel that before I die, just once, as a vague emotional bucket listing, seeing as it’s clearly such a central and driving part of the human experience. But I think it’s better not to know. You never hear anybody say “Took a big puff of crack, but I decided it wasn’t for me.” They’re always toothless and sunset-eyed; a decade more haggard then their forgotten school chums, after years of the obsessive, elusive hunt to recapture the sensations of that first high. Who wants to spend the rest of their life weighed down by that?

You feel so strong, don’t you, summer 2015 Millard? So cocky and untouchable? You’ve spent your time on Earth alone, but it doesn’t matter, because feelings and reciprocation and peace and happiness and safety; these are just abstract concepts, no more tangible than other things you’ve only seen in movies, like time machines or Robocop. You don’t have to worry about them, because they don’t exist. They’re the monsters lurking beneath the empty bed.

So what happens if somebody suddenly makes them all real?

The moment you see her, you’ll know you’re fucked. It’s like being hit in the forehead with a hammer. Your whole adult life, you’ve lived by the Buddhist Tenet “All Suffering is Born of Desire,” and worked a strict system, where you stayed away from anybody you found attractive, or removed yourself from a person altogether if you felt the distant, oncoming stirring of a tiny feeling. “Nothing can grow unless you let it,” you always said, “It’s easy. Just don’t be around someone. It’s not school. We’re not trapped together anymore. We can do what we like. Run.” But this time, it’s like having trained all your life as a master swordsman only to step on a landmine. Your defences are gone.

It’s not like you become a couple, or anything remotely close, but you do find that connection people talk about; sing about; write poetry and compose symphonies about; after a lifetime of being dead and empty. That impossibly rare connection. It’s overwhelming, and it’s intense, and it’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever felt, and strangest of all, it’s actually happening. You weren’t laughed at or shouted at or told to go fuck yourself, or shown that expression that says “I’m embarrassed for the both of us,” like all past experience would suggest.

It’s happening, and after always being alone – though you didn’t truly appreciate that until now – being an alien who fell to Earth; the ghost at the feast; suddenly you feel connected. You feel part of something. You feel at home. You’ll never have felt such kinship or understanding, nor such a bond made so quickly; nor such overpowering desire. You’ll want to protect and devour in equal measure. To drink her in with your eyes. It’ll be like looking at the sun, knowing if you stare too long, you’ll go blind; you’ll turn to ash. But you can’t look away, so eventually, that’s what happens. Enjoy the rest of the summer, as soon you’ll be brittle ash, blowing apart in the breeze.

Even in the moment, you’re aware that it’s a billion times bigger to you than it is to her. You’re a 14-year-old boy in an adult’s body, with emotional arrested development rendering small things and little moments enormous, where words and glances and touches become sensory nukes. But even so, there’s a day where you learn, for the first time in your 36 years, what it is to be genuinely, honestly happy. This caused a permanent seismic shift in the way you saw the world. The scales fell from your eyes. Roddy Piper beat you up for half an hour, then put the sunglasses on your face.

Of course, you’ll let your mind run away with things. You’ll break another self-imposed rule; the rule against false hope, by imagining this might go somewhere, and what would that be like? What if it’s not just some momentary aberration? What if you got to explore this bond, and hold and make happy and even kiss this amazing, amazing, most beautiful girl? You know you shouldn’t think that way. Those things don’t happen, not to you, and if you picture them, when the truth comes, you land from a far greater height. But you can’t help yourself. It’s intoxicating. You’d slipped, and were falling so, so fast. But you weren’t afraid, because you felt safe with her. You felt at home. So you let it all go, all of it. All the fear, all the instincts to run because you did not belong in this world; the knowledge that this couldn’t happen, and it would break you. You let go.

But you don’t belong in that world. You were not made for that. Your fear when you wrote that quote at the top was that the only way you’d get to know was some cruel joke by the Universe, to show you once and whip it away, just long enough to appreciate the weight of what you’d have to carry with you for the rest of your days. And now it’s all free. Everything you’ve kept safely locked away behind infinity-feet-thick lead walls for the last fifteen years has been let loose. The bottle is broken, and the coloured and acrid smokes are lost to the winds.

So now, those fleeting days of your life which were your best; your happiest; will become a poison, eating you alive from the inside. Memories which briefly elated you and made you feel warm and full will flash into your mind like a sudden fist to the throat. The scent of somebody on your clothes will choke you. The empty space they left will drown you. What fractured sleep you can grab is done beneath the blaring television, in a weak attempt to shout down the echo of things that were said; to hide from the shapes that smother you in the silence. Her eyes will look at you from the dark spots of your brain, the way she looked at you, once, and never will again. Her flesh and her bones and her scent is elsewhere – not with you – but the ghost of her presence, of her eyes, her laugh, her warmth, will haunt you.

Keep that pain close, slightly-younger me, so that you never chase those things again. They are not for you.

At least you have your answer, me of 2015. It would be better not to know. Because it will leave you with an enormous black hole, sitting over your shoulder. A black hole of everything you now know exists, and will never have again. You can’t unsee. You can’t unfeel. Everything is different, and you can never go back.

But you knew that already. And you’ll still do all of this anyway. Everyone does.

So Excited, So Scared — Teen Line

•October 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The following is a sample from my Kindle book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, which is AVAILABLE TO BUY RIGHT NOW. There are chapters like this on each of the other 85 episodes, as well as detailed sections on the history of the show, what happened next, and a bonus chapter about the Lifetime TV movie. More ordering links can be found at the bottom of this post.

And for more samples from the book:

So Excited, So Scared — Screech’s Woman

So Excited, So Scared — Pinned to the Mat

The Ten Most Sociopathic Acts of Zack Morris

Teen Line

This young lady is handicapped…

header

The opening of this Universe-T episode sees Zack saunter down the staircase, steal a bite of a nerd’s breakfast, get distracted by a girl’s ass in tight jeans and follow her, giving her a well-received nod of “well done for the nice ass,” before sliding into Belding’s office, in one of those ‘get this cool guy’ introductions.

It’s time for the kids to decide on the annual seniors community service project, and while I’m sure Zack and Slater would prefer to dole out free door-to-door breast exams, Tori suggests a teen line and rap room. Much like the teen line in 1-900-Crushed, it would allow kids to talk to other kids anonymously about their problems, while a rap room — a phrase that thankfully results in no misunderstood rhyme-dropping — is a face-to-face version of the same concept.

With the teen line in place, Tori runs off a list of rules, barring its operators from asking for real names, home phone numbers, or to meet the callers. A blackboard visible at the back of the classroom lists eight different phone numbers for the various issues on which to call the untrained, unqualified highschool kids.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

CHILD ABUSE

DRUG ABUSE

RUNAWAYS

OVEREATERS

ALCOHOLICS

SEXUAL ABUSE

CHILDREN OF DIVORCE

unqualfied

Hands up who’s horrifically unqualified to talk to abuse victims

Yeah, that’s who you want to confide in when you’re necking a bottle of sleeping pills because your father molested you; Screech. Zack’s probably manning the sexual abuse line so he can jerk off over the deets. Proving that he should never be left in a position of authority, Zack’s first call, from a girl called Melissa struggling with her overprotective parents, sees him complimenting her on her sexy voice, and telling her to set back all the clocks in her parents’ house to sneakily extend her curfew, which is the same scam the Gremlins used to get fed after midnight. Then he finds out where she lives and talks her into a date at The Max.

Tori scalds him for breaking the rules, but ain’t nobody getting in the way of his excitable wang. Zack arrives to find Melissa already waiting for him, and sat at a table. He tells her how pretty she is and invites her over to the jukebox to pick out some music. When he turns around, in a moment used as the cliff-hanger break to commercial, it’s revealed that she’s in a wheelchair.

Whoa! You’re in a wheelchair!” gasps Zack, setting the tone for his open-mouthed, fumbling attitude to disabilities; an issue he approaches with the awkwardness of Ricky Gervais, a man whose unending fixation with tiptoeing around the supposed social minefield of interacting with minorities is meant to be observational humour, but just exposes his own weird hangups (“Isn’t it awkward when you meet a black person? We never know how to talk to them, do we, guys? Guys?”). Similarly Zack seems near to collapse, in a room-spinning daze, and having to lean against the jukebox just to keep himself from falling. Having used the teen line so that a guy could get to know the real her before he saw the chair, Melissa tells Zack she’ll understand if he wants to leave. While he does look desperate to make a bolt for it, it’s likely the only thing stopping him is the worry of rubbing a crippled girl’s nose in the sight of a pair of functioning legs as they speed towards the exit. So, they continue their date.

When the rest of the gang shows up, he introduces them to Melissa with the stern announcement that she’s handicapped but comfortable with it, so just get over it, okay? None of the others are remotely awkward in the least, and treat her just like a regular person, although you’d think someone would have to explain it to Screech considering he didn’t know what homeless meant. Incidentally, there are no ramps in The Max, which has two giant steps inside the entrance, and is really cramped, so I’ve no idea how she took her spot at the booth.

Actress Jennifer Blanc, not in a wheelchair in real life, racked up a prolific set of acting credits post-Bell, before moving into the producing of b-movie horror flicks. She’s also married to action legend Michael Biehn.

mlady

M’lady (r), M’hero (l)

Now part of the gang, Melissa’s invited to see the teen line headquarters, where Zack wheels her around, even though she can do it herself. Having stumped Zack and Slater — even though Slater dated lanky Jessie for almost three years — a girl who hates herself because she’s tall finds comfort in the wise advice of Melissa, impressing Zack no end.

Even though she’s handicapped, she gave Cathy perfect advice!

Zack, my mind’s not handicapped,” she replies.

You can say that again!” says Zack.

His sensitivity continues on a date at the movies, where he makes a big public scene because someone’s illegally parked in the handicapped space. Now a lectern-pounding crusader for the less fortunate, he rants and raves about the evils of a world that can’t find it in its heart to care about disabled people, by reminding them their legs don’t work every five seconds. He protests the lack of wheelchair access in the bathrooms, and the fact Melissa has to pay full price when she’s not even using one of the theatre’s seats, finally making a guy sat in front slump down because “my date’s in a wheelchair!” leaving Melissa with her brave little head in her brave little hands.

The next day, Zack takes offence when Slater asks how the date went — oh you mean because she’s handicapped? — before Mr. Belding comes in with some bad news. The school budget’s been cut, meaning the end of all non-essentials, like teen line.

Tori, reason for the earlier 'Universe-T' reference that will have confused you if you've not read the full book

Tori, reason for the earlier ‘Universe-T’ reference that will have confused you if you’ve not read the full book

Meanwhile, Screech’s sub-plot involves him brushing off a kid in the rap room, who came into moan about his annoying little brother, to witter on and on about his own lonely life as an only child, and using an inflatable doll as a pretend sibling. The kid returns to dump his younger brother — Tommy — onto Screech, who lugs him around for the rest of the episode as his new little bro. A nine-year-old should be in school during term time, making this merely the most recent instance of child abduction on Screech’s lengthy rap sheet. Of course, the little boy is a monster, abusing Screech in increasingly psychotic ways, working his way up from the classic hand-buzzer, to stealing his clothes and a scary biker’s motorcycle helmet, and tying him up like one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims. Though we’re now well into the final season, while waiting for his turn to speak, Dustin Diamond can be seen lip-syncing other character’s lines again.

When Tall Cathy drops by The Max to tell them she’s got a date this weekend, it only proves how valuable a freak-helping service teen line is, so they pledge to raise enough money themselves to keep it open. Melissa happens to play basketball in her driveway — Screech asks if she can dunk — so the gang decide on a charity wheelchair basketball game, followed by a dance, because Bayside’s restless students will burn this place to the ground if there isn’t at least one ball a week.

Mr. Belding, with a say no to drugs and alcohol poster visible over his shoulder, introduces the two basketball teams in the school gym. The competitors wheel themselves in; reds — Slater, Tori, and Lisa — vs. blues — Melissa, Zack (doing a wheelie) and Screech (in a Stephen Hawking electric wheelchair, which is cheating). Screech’s new little brother has outfitted his chair with a turbo booster, signposting physical comedy yuks coming to your screen real soon.

"Relax, ladies. The weiner still works!"

“Relax, ladies. The weiner still works!”

As we’ve seen before, sports scenes are hard to realistically choreograph at the best of times, but six non-wheelchair-using actors playing wheelchair basketball, on a tiny gym set there’s barely room to move around on; let’s just say the thumping soundtrack suggests more excitement than comes across onscreen. Zack spends the game repeatedly asking an exasperated Melissa if she’s holding up okay, in a query that would be better served in one of his asides to the audience. Honestly, Zack, no I’m not. When Screech finally gets the ball in this interminably long sequence, Tommy, who’s sat in the crowd, pushes the turbo button to send him careening backwards out of the gym, living out the fantasy of every SBTB viewer. Screech will later appear whooshing across the top of another scene.

Tori gives a post-game speech, proudly announcing that the $1,000 they raised is enough to keep teen line open (though it’ll never appear again), before Zack takes the mic and gives a little shout-out of his own.

I want another round of applause for the real star of today’s game, the only one who has to be in a wheelchair the whole time, Melissa Donahue; come on, guys!” Everyone applauds the smallest girl in the world, who gets the zoom-in reaction shot to underline her utter humiliation. No matter how many times he cites The Apartment, there’s no way the entire oeuvre of Gervais wasn’t hugely influenced by Teen Line. Zack’s whole speech is classic Brent/Millman/Everything He’s Ever Done.

Slow zoom in on the smallest girl in the world

Slow zoom in on the smallest girl in the world

Zack’s stunned when Melissa brushes straight past him after the game, demonstrating that even though her legs don’t work, her cold shoulders definitely do.

Do you have to keep reminding the world that I’m handicapped?” she says, which still doesn’t get through Zack’s confused, blond head, until Tori throws in her two cents.

Maybe she’d rather be your friend than your cause.”

Screech is still in possession of nine-year-old Tommy at the dance, which is some days, or even weeks, after he first gets palmed off on him. Has he been living with Screech? He certainly hasn’t been going to school, and when his brother finally comes to collect him, it’s because he “misses chasing him around at home,” suggesting he’s not been back there the whole time. Presuming his parents aren’t laying in a crack stupor, Screech has been harbouring a missing child while his distraught family assumes he’s been fucked to death and left in a ditch. Considering where he’s really been, it might have been better if he had.

Tall Cathy brushes off her date for Slater, pulling him into a light embrace he sells like she’s Godzilla, rather than barely an inch above Jessie. When Melissa shows, Zack’s moping by the cheese and pineapple. Zack says he’s sorry, and she explains that she just wants to be a normal teenager.

I’m just an ordinary girl. Maybe I’ll never win a rollerblade race, but I’m still capable of doing most things. Don’t treat me like I’m broken.” All Melissa wants is for Zack to act the same way in person that he did on the phone; like a cocky prick. So he does, and they dance. Like Ricky Gervais did that time.

blog2

So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.co.uk

So Excited, So Scared on Amazon.com

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers.

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #6 in an Occasional Series

•August 17, 2015 • 3 Comments

bob

I caught my full-length reflection in the maps they’ve installed along the riverbank, and realised I look completely different from this time last year. Different physique, different attire; clean shaven for the first summer since I was 18. It made me think about what other changes had shuffled past, one step at a time, with me not giving it any thought until I spotted them off in the distance — “Hey! How did you get all the way over there?!

I’ve spoken about my Lost Years before — the decade I spent as my grandfather’s carer — but I won’t link to it, because my writing was clunky back then, although I’m sure you can find it on here if you really want. During that period, despite it being my favourite place, and the sanctuary I’d take myself to during rough patches, ironically, I’d only gotten to go to the beach once, in a snatched half-hour there-and-back in someone’s car. Unless it was a place I could get to and back from within ten minutes, I couldn’t go anywhere. I had no freedom. And then, I did.

Oh, bloody hell,” you’re thinking; your cursor swerving towards the X in the top right, “what does this have to do with the beach? Where are the cottaging stake-outs, and bits about seeing an old man fart on his wife?” Hold your horses, because I’m going somewhere with this, I swear.

When my granddad got into a really great care home, relieving me of my duties, suddenly, I was dropped back into the world. ‘Dropped’ is quite apt, because I felt more like I’d been hurled out of a plane rather than marching confidently to take back all the years I’d lost, by really living. Suddenly given the time and freedom to be places and do things, black-hole finances withstanding, the first thing I decided was that I’d go to the beach. Tomorrow, I said, I’m going to the beach! It’s insane to think back to what a big deal that was, even though I told myself it was all perfectly normal, and so was I. I still remember how anxious I felt, and how oddly exhilarated, like I’d announced, spur-of-the-moment to a room full of people, that I was going to sell all my possessions and backpack around the world.

Over those carer years, I’d acquired a pretty bad set of anxiety issues, and the countdown to rare family gatherings like birthdays would lead to a week of sleeplessness and leg-jiggling panic. Any kind of social event, even on a tiny level, was a straight-up nightmare, and I just endured those occasions, never enjoyed, because I was trapped in a cage of bubbling panic, and trying to survive to the end. So then, even taking that decision myself, a simple walk to the beach took on immense proportions, warped through the fun-house mirror of nervousness and total inexperience. That night was a typically broken sleep. I made sandwiches before I went to bed, wrapping them in foil and putting them in the fridge, ready for the morning, like a little boy going on a school trip. Maybe I’d done it so that I’d be less inclined to back out when tomorrow became today. “You did make sandwiches…

When the morning came, I took forever to get ready, and by the time I finally made it outside, it was clear that the years trapped indoors, mixing with only a handful of members of my immediate family, had pushed me into borderline agoraphobia. It’s something I never would have admitted, because I didn’t even realise. You get locked into an idea of normal, and that’s just how things were for me then. I was barely out of the front gate before I was soaked with anxiety-sweats, with my mind racing with non-specific fears I couldn’t have put my finger on if you’d asked. I don’t even know what you’re afraid of in those situations? Panic that you will panic, in some self-perpetuating hamster wheel of irrational fear? That you’ll have a panic attack, or something will happen, and people will see, and it will be humiliating; the kind of humiliation that haunts you if you live to be a thousand?

"This Very Special episode of the Beach Diaries was taped in front of a live studio audience"

This Very Special Episode of the Beach Diaries was taped in front of a live studio audience

On a practical level, which route would I even take? It had been years since I’d had the time to stroll through town by myself. I took the most back-street, people-avoiding path, like I’d continue to do for a couple of years, feeling the hot flush of dread whenever I passed another human being, or crossing the street so’s I wouldn’t have to. About five minutes out from my home, I very nearly got run over by a massive lorry. There’s a half-remembered bit from a film or TV show that comes to mind, where some gonk-eyed, country-ingénue takes their first, innocent step into the big city and gets blown off their feet by the wind of a honking truck, zooming past half an inch from the end of their nose. It was kinda like that. My mind was too busy and too jittery, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention, and had forgotten the basics of Dave Prowse’s road safety video. I was flustered and embarrassed as I jogged back to the kerb I’d just stepped off, to avoid being flattened. It felt like a sign to turn back; to trust in my physiological reactions and just go home, where nobody could see me. “Five minutes and you almost got killed. You’re not fit to be outside.”

But I kept going, with the skin-burn of fresh embarrassment — Did anyone see? The driver must have thought I was a complete idiot! — keeping me toasty and sickly-feeling for the next hour. The whole excursion was similarly testing, feeling like Bill Murray in What About Bob? when he’s riding the bus for the first time, but instead of a security blanket goldfish hanging round my neck in a jam jar, I had a notebook and biro in my pocket. If the worst came, I could hide myself inside it. I couldn’t have been gone more than ninety minutes, but it was like ninety hours, feeling the casual, passing gaze of people’s eyes like the red-dot of an unseen sniper; my legs heavy and strange; my feet like two drunken friends walking back from the pub, wayward and aching, and clumsily bumping together.

The relief of arriving back home only hit me when I got in, virtually dropping to kiss the carpet like the Pope. Recently, I went to a 4th birthday party and didn’t realise, until I wandered into an empty room and suddenly felt as though I’d gone deaf, how loud it all was. That’s what it was like, for a long, long time. The relief of closing that door behind you; shutting the rest of the world back out. The anxiety leaving your body like it had been sucked out of an airlock. I couldn’t humiliate myself if I was alone. I couldn’t panic. I was safe.

Eventually, without realising, it slowly got better. That summer, I literally forced myself to go out, day after day; to go further than the day before, far enough from home that I couldn’t get back quickly even if I felt I had to, baby-stepping my way halfway to a sort of normality or humanity.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Panic was a constant presence, threateningly prowling nearby, often just lurking, but on occasion, pouncing to suffocate me, before eventually, receding out of sight altogether. The writer of the 2011 Beach Diaries, though better than he had been, often still ended the day’s note-taking with that intense feeling of relief and safety once he’d gotten through the front door, and still wasn’t great around people. At that point, if a 24-hours-older version of myself had crashed through the living room in a DeLorean to tell me that a stranger was going to ask me for the time, I’d have thrown my sandwiches in the bin and taken my shoes off.

Now, though the changes almost completely passed me by, I’m pretty much fine — fine as most incredibly awkward weirdo loners are — in a way that’s unthinkable when I look back on that first walk to the beach, all sweaty and crazed. Admittedly, I’m still kind of a human mess when compared to your average person. I’ve got a lot of holes in my game, socially, having spent my twenties, a crucial point of social development, isolated from my peer group, but I’m way better. Social events aren’t an issue now; I’m able to relax, rather than endure; to enjoy rather than survive. I don’t make excuses to get out of things because of anxiety, I socialise out of choice and not purely through unavoidable obligation, and I’ve no qualms meeting strangers or being around people. I might not be great at it, but I can truly say that I’ve been worse. Way worse.

Today, I feel weirdly… normal about it all, at least compared to how I was, which I’d kinda forgotten until I thought about it. Looking back, the me of then and the me of now are night and day. Hopefully, if I looked forwards, I’d see someone who’s even more bomb-ass, who thinks the me of 2015 is a broken little freak, with a lot more growth ahead.

I’ve totally lost the casual readers by this point, huh? I feel bad, so, today at the beach, on a sunny day in the middle of August, I saw someone wearing a Christmas jumper. Happy now? Alright, almost done…

None of this stuff has been particularly fun to talk about publicly, as everyone wants to present an image of themselves to the world that’s basically a cross between the Fonz and Iron Man, and a story about me being all fraidy to go on a walk hardly paints me as Daddy Cool, but that whole period is a big part of who I am. Besides, maybe someone reading this is going through the same thing, turning this post into one of those “it gets better” deals. Sure, that’s how I’ll paint this. It’s not self-obsessive, me-me-me blogging, it’s helpful.

I think we have a tendency, as humans, to lose sight of incremental changes, like how weight-loss is hard to see over extended periods of time, when you’re gripping at your gut in front of the bathroom mirror. That short-sightedness stops us from seeing how far we’ve come. And in turn, how far we can go.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #5 in an Occasional Series

•August 15, 2015 • 3 Comments

p43-milan-confession

The tide’s out, leaving a vast expanse of muddy sand scarred with footprints, pawprints, half-dug holes and moats. I love how it all reboots when the sea rolls back in, washing everything clean and new, like the dawn of a baby planet; day 3 of Genesis. Everyone here could etch their secrets in the sand with their fingers, safe in the knowledge Mother Nature would scatter them into the void, and nobody could stop her. I look at the dog-walkers and joggers, the tourists and the locals, and wonder what each of them would write, given the chance.

I only pretend that I’m happy.

I’m a Brony.”

I’m racist, but only about the Chinese.”

I killed a cat when I was 12, to see what would happen.”

I do this all day, on all the faces I see.

Some overheard gossip between two middle aged women would make anybody’s ears prick up, let alone a voyeuristic weirdo with a biro and a finely attuned ear for passing scandal. There’s a love triangle, involving two brothers, and someone who was killed in a helicopter crash. It’s only when she mentions The Woolpack that I realise they’re talking about Emmerdale. I should ask if Matt ever sorted out that problem in t’top field.

I was happier before I had kids.”

There’s a backbone of sleepy, summer basslines from the huge speakers lugged on and off of coaches by London daytrippers. A pair of teenagers amuse each other with writhing, over-sexualised dances as they pass through the wall of sound. “Lookit dem lickle girls,” says a tourist with a thick, melodious African accent, and tutting with a crashing impact the girls’ mothers would have heard from ten miles away.

A group of men use their wayward, wandering dog as an ‘in’ to snarl flirtatious patter at a pair of young women, as it pats its way onto their blankets. Less than ten minutes later, a dad making long football passes to a little boy seems to deliberately fluff a couple of weedy kicks, letting the ball roll between the two women, who have to field more man-chat as they toss it back.

I love somebody I shouldn’t.

A white-haired old man high-fives his grandchildren, each in turn. His wife leaves him hanging.

How old will I be when I’m 18?” asks a small boy to an exasperated dad.

Another dad playfully threatens a mischievous little boy with “…a pint of blood for your lunch.” — “Eurgh!

I came down here every day last week, but early, before the arrival of people or the mid-day sun, because I was dog-sitting. Every morning, when I picked him up, he was apoplectic with excitement, rolling at my feet like a drowning fish and leaping into my arms, where his sharp little teeth clumsily scratched the end of my nose. What would it take for a human to be that happy to see me? I’ve never gotten past the half-nod of recognition and the grunted “Alright?” Not that it wouldn’t be super weird to have a person sit waiting on the floor of the hallway outside the toilet door, scratching furiously at it with their nails, but I feel like maybe other people have felt their presence was truly wanted besides just the times they’ve been visiting a dog.

Sometimes I sleep in the airing cupboard. It makes me feel safe.”

I walk a long way; so far around the coast, I half expect to look out and see the Orkney Islands sat in the water. It’s the kind of walk people do when they’re trying to get away from something — the thoughts and worries that keep them awake, and turn quiet rooms and moments of solitude into a violent mental beat-down. In truth, those walks are like some You’ve Been Framed clip of a screaming child trying to run from a plastic spider that’s stuck to their back. Even if you marched off the edge of the Earth, you’d still be stuck with yourself as you were falling.

They don’t know that money was from me.”

There’s a face-painting kiosk by the pier. Maybe I should ask for an Ultimate Warrior, and start hurling people over the safety rails (which always seemed ring-like to me and my young chums back in the day). “I’m the winner of the Royal Rumble!” I’ll cry, as the lifeguards trap my thrashing body inside a lifebuoy; demanding my title shot as heavier passers-by are corralled into sitting on the backs of my legs until the police arrive. Probably won’t bother though.

I married the wrong brother.”

A sky full of grey, foreboding clouds, as far as you care to look. Intermittently, a shard of sunlight breaks through, bright and warm, and injecting hope of better things into the gloom. In the distance, you can see the beams lighting up darkened sections of faraway beach, slowly making their way towards you like a rescue searchlight from the heavens. You know it’s coming, bringing its brief and infrequent warmth — but it doesn’t stop the shivering; doesn’t clear the suffocating sky overhead. Off in the distance, everything’s black.

I’ve planned the date of my suicide.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2, #3, #4

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers

%d bloggers like this: