The Beach Diaries 2012 – #23
* Overheard conversation snippets. Old lady, mid-seventies, to her friend.
“I don’t like the word ‘No’. I don’t have ‘No’. I said to him, “You ask my Bill about ‘No’ and see what he says.””
* As I’m walking to the end of the pier, a man of about sixty, tanned chest garnished with a fuzz of white hair and clad only in shorts, performs an exceedingly low impact exercise routine. The aerobics are so weedy, initially I think he’s waving at someone on the opposite river bank, and he follows that with inch-deep push-ups against the rail, and arm curls in sets of ten, with a straw hat substituting for a dumbbell. I burned more calories moving the biro across the paper to describe it. All done, he puts the hat on his head and struts off, his chest puffed out in that post-gym, I-feel-fitter-already-and-the-ladies-can-all-see-it pride.
* It seems the most tedious aspect of parenthood is the constant need to feign excitement.
“A shell? Wowie!” “Goodness, that is a very furry cat!” “Yes, I do loathe how my life has been reduced to faking exuberance over activities befitting a five-year-old, thanks for noticing!”
* When I’m trying to read, as all about me make a complete fucking racket — hooting like giant urchins, or shouting themselves raw at their kids — the voice of my internal narrator starts yelling, in a frighteningly unhinged way, just to be heard over the noise. Pick up the nearest book and read out a paragraph while doing an impression of John Sweeney losing his nut at Scientology, and you get the idea.
* A man who’s far too old to be doing this kinda thing, rides his BMX up onto the long bench. In the heat, his pink t-shirt is freed from his chest and worn over the shoulders and upper arm, like someone delivering lunch to a bubble boy. He bumps down from the bench, and begins cycling wildly along the prom, making a game of chasing a pair of six-year-old girls on small, pink bicycles with training-wheels and silver ribbons fluttering from the handlebars. He swerves into them, causing shrieks that are equal parts delight and fear. The screech of tires — and children — draws eyes from everywhere.
“Oh, it’s okay, he’s doing it on purpose,” says a watching woman in a wheelchair, with some relief. Then, he rides one down hard, bringing to mind the whooping Satanists in 70’s exploitation flick Chase the Devil, as his legs pedal madly, and he steers her across the path in a looping arc. The little girl swerves violently, crashing down head-first onto the concrete.
“What you doin’?” he says, picking her up with an idiot’s kind of tenderness. Up close, he’s haggered, and missing all four front teeth, which adds a slavering, hillbilly impediment to his speech. “You schh-illy schh-ausage!”
* Overheard conversation snippets. A woman to two shirtless men.
“What happened is basically a billion people came to look at my fanny.”
* As I’m standing by the breakwater, I hear the sound of footsteps clacking towards me from across the shingle.
“Excuse me,” says a man of about my age. He slides his white rimmed wayfarer sunglasses onto his forehead, meeting me eye to squinting eye, as I nod out a small what? “Have you got a lighter?” he asks.
Before I know what’s happening, my fist is in his stomach, folding him over. And then, I’ve got two handfuls of hair, and I’m smashing his face into the wooden post, over and over and over again. The breakwater’s been softened by age and tide, but five, six times it meets his jaw, and the sand below begins to spot with flecks of blood. The scream of a child makes me aware of a nearby family, and the parents gather them up and hustle them away. In the distraction, the man makes a break for it too, gurgling teeth fragments down his front in a thin red sick and making for the safety of the prom. But he’s a tourist. He’s not used to the shifting stones beneath his feet. Me, the local boy; I’m right on his heels with long, fast strides, as he scrabbles bleeding onto the promenade, and I snare the back of his shirt, wheeling him around and caving in what’s left of his mouth. There’s a strangled noise I take to be a cry of distress, but it’s a cracked kind of laughter that’s falling out of my own throat. He’s stopped moving by now, but I’m gripping the back of his head and smearing his face against the concrete like I’m trying to start a fire with it. The smooth, repetitive motion leaves a semi-circle of skin, an-
“Have you got one or not?” he says, snapping me back to reality.
“No,” I reply.
I watch him stroll away over the pebbles with unsteady, stumbly steps. I watch until he’s all the way 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.