The Beach Diaries 2012 – #3
* After a fifteen year hiatus, the ferry is back on the river. For a nominal fee, a person can bypass the thirty minute walk to and over the swing-bridge, and hop straight across to the West Beach on the opposite bank. When I was a kid, the West Beach, a popular destination for nudists, had a reputation of being the go-to location for non-stop bumming. As such, to the regretfully homophobic minds of young schoolboys, the West Beach was considered some kind of hedonistic paradise for those unsporty lads deemed to be limp of wrist and unpopular with girls, where there were men kissing other men’s bottoms as far as the eye could see; or more plainly, “where your dad goes on holiday.” I look back on that and wince, partially at the unenlightened, pre-“It Gets Better” giggles at sexuality, but also at the idea of some sand blowing up right up Goatse.cx caverns.
I still remember a front page Littlehampton Gazette story from the nineties, quoting a small boy who’d seen two naked men “giving each other piggyback rides” on the dunes. Although it has a different rep these days, the wildly different aesthetics and clientèle of the West and East (my usual haunt) beaches will give these pieces a bit of a different vibe as I occasionally flit between the two. And I tell you this, if I need to physically prove that I’ve grown from my schooldays into a liberal, open-minded adult, I will. Especially if Ryan Reynolds is down there.
* A man of 80 sits alone on a bench, warm smile on his face, head bobbing in time to the music on his iPod.
* The prom is a criss-cross roadmap of school trips, snaking up and down in long, chattering lines. They’re all so tightly controlled these days; the kids wearing luminous safety jackets, in hand-holding lines of two, and with a child/teacher ratio of about 3:1. My Thatcher’s Britain, 1980’s school outings were slightly less safety conscious, with one adult per twenty kids, no coloured jackets or wristbands, and the strict instruction that if any of us got separated and lost, we were to find and tell the nearest pedo.
* An uproariously drunk – at noon – woman, aged far beyond her years, with skin covered in truly dreadful homemade tattoos, stops dead in the middle of the prom.
“No, no, no!” she yells, loud enough for everyone to turn and look. She screams directly into the face of her similarly haggered, similarly staggering boyfriend, with the slurry, hoarse voice of someone who starts each day with a cigar the size of the Channel Tunnel. “You said no more bringing up the past! We both done bad things, you can’t give me a bollocking!” She storms on bandy legs up towards the pier, and he follows behind, some ten paces; both swigging from 12pm cans of lager.
* I eat my lunch down on the shingle, by the high tide. With the typical suddenness of uncontrolled nature, the waves rise up and thrash into the peddles at my feet. The resulting mad leap to safety sees me crush a banana between my fingers like a massaged leper’s happy ending.
* A grandma sings Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star to a baby in a pram. She forgets the second part – Like a diamond in the sky – and da-da-da’s it.
* I take a long walk right along the breezy shoreline. The effect on my hair gives me the appearance of a slightly grotesque Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. A beautiful redhead on a bike, of whom I thought “She’s really nice” on her first pass, smiles at me as she cycles by. Instinctively, I’m on the lookout for wildings hiding behind the beach huts, ready to pounce. Nice try, lady.
* As I’m leaving the beach to go and visit my uncle in the hospice, I get a phone call telling me to get there straight away. I arrive to find that my uncle, the closest thing I ever had to a father, has gone.
The complete collection (plus appendices) of 2011’s Beach Diaries are available to buy for the Amazon Kindle for £1.99/$2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon have a free Kindle app for PC/Mac/phones/tablets, available right here.