The Beach Diaries 2013 – #2 in an Occasional Series
** Almost as soon as I leave the house, I’m “Excuse me mate”-d from a car window. The shirtless man at the wheel asks me for directions, a thing which, traditionally I’m very bad at. It’s the real-life equivalent of the final round in a TV quiz show. There’s a ticking clock, the spotlight of attention (and no conferring), and the pressure to deliver information, succinctly and correctly. The right way to deal with this situation, is to summon the spirit of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton — “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge…” followed by clear and concise instructions that doodle a simple coloured line from points A to B. Instead though, as always, here’s what actually happens. I dramatically point a finger yonder, ram-rod straight as if to suggest absolute confidence; my arm an infallible, living compass.
“Yeah, up there. Straight up there. Just keep going straight, and you can’t miss it.”
“Thanks, mate,” says the man, thinking that he’s lucked out by a) already being on the right path, and b) bumping in to such a gushing fountain of local wisdom. He can’t miss it! Even if he tries. This scorching, ninety-degree summer day shall no more be wasted crawling through the back-roads of Sussex in a boiling metal box, peering at street-signs that have been childishly defaced, as this kindly stranger has guaranteed a safe, fast journey to destination’s end.
Of course, what this guy and his passenger don’t know, is the only place I’m sending them isn’t even on a map, as it’s the metaphorical town of “The Fuck Away From Me.” This flawless system of instant, confident sounding, directionless directions has never steered me wrong (unlike those suckers behind the wheel!), and it’s the perfect crime. You could be luring them to the other end of town, or to the slippery banks of the county urine lake, and it doesn’t matter a jot, because you’re never going to see these lost and confused out-of-towners again. Never. There’s no recriminations from bad directions. Ever.
** As I approach the river, a mad, rhythmic jingling sound fills the air. Have a lifetime of bad directions come back to haunt me in the Karmic form of a 50ft Santa who’ll descend from the sky to drown me in an enormous glass of milk? JING JING JING JING JING. Just then, 25 Morris Dancers emerge around the corner, like a flamboyantly violent street gang from The Warriors; their legs wrapped in bells, with swirling handkerchiefs clasped between their fingertips. Mixed in with the mostly-old men are some younger chaps; sons and grandsons, praying they won’t bump into any girls from school as they JING JING JING along the riverbank.
** A vintage spitfire draws upturned heads as it loops, swoops and barrel-rolls in the cloudless blue sky above the seafront. I make it ten times more exciting by telling myself it’s flown straight from a WW2 dogfight through a mysterious time-hole. His daredevil twirls are merely the result of a madness brought about by the sudden appearance of a modern, alien landscape, jutting out of the countryside; the guttural engine noise, the primal roar of a broken mind.
** I pass a man with sun lotion covering only his tattoos, in blotchy white patches. Is this a thing now? Or maybe it’s Tipp-Ex, and in going publicly topless for a tan, he found sudden shame at old choices and tried to fix them like you would a last-minute typo on a CV.
Further down the prom, an elderly Jamaican man returns from the fish stall with an enormous bag of fresh oysters; dozens of the things. He’s downcast at the negative reaction of his wife, who scalds him for buying so many, so early in the day. They’re down from London on a coach, and not going home for another six hours.
“Are they alive?!” she asks. “They’re boiling in there already! They be off by the time we get home! You’ll stink the place out and end up in hospital!” One of their friends jokingly suggests opening a seafood market on the prom to get rid of them, but as the old Jamaican man looks down at his weight of oysters, and back again at the sour face of his wife, he thinks to himself that they don’t seem much of an aphrodisiac after all.
The treating of the beach like it’s the fucking moon, or some weird Westworld playground they can use and abuse before clearing off is a common trait in the many daytripping tourists. Fifty yards from Oyster Man, a family of four Londoners stand amid the essential equipment they’ve brought for a half-day at the seaside. A fully-sized BBQ you could grill a dead elephant on, complete with gas bottle; two enormous speakers that look like they belong on the main stage at Glastonbury; a DJ turntable and mixing desk; and complete with about six miles of extension cord, a diesel generator.
** The pier, usually featuring such graffiti as the octopus with big boobs — which has survived through the winter to its second year — or like today, “BEN SUCKED MY BIG COCK,” is covered from end to end, inside and out, with large, passionate lettering (if lettering can be inferred to be passionate, but the strokes are bold and clean, like slashes of a knife), that reads:
FREE SYRIAN ARMY
It must have taken them forever, and I try to picture the spirited young activist diligently etching at every exposed inch of salt-worn timber with a rock of chalk, with the ocean lapping at their knees, surrounded by tattooed waders and shirtless lads with ¾ mast erections splashing at their YOLOing prey.
** “Leaping lizards!” exclaims a dad.
** I make a mental note (and a physical one, in my actual notebook) to find out if “Blonde women in aviator sunglasses” is a porn genre that actually exists. It’s not. But it should be.
** A woman passes with a shoulder bag emblazoned with the logo of KMart Singapore; at once exotic, yet achingly not.
** Two boys of about thirteen join the back of the ice-cream queue.
“Your mum’s a proper milf,” says the first.
“I know,” replies his mate, with a sad resignation. A few moments later, a woman in her late thirties, holding a purse and wearing the fuck out of a purple swimsuit, joins them. The first boy looks at her and grins, half-cheeky, half-embarrassed. The second casts his gaze down at the ground.
** Overheard conversation snippets. A wife to her husband:
“They used to be known as the Snobs of Bray Road. First to get a colour telly!”
** Later, as I’m reading a book on the common, some shirtless men step over the wall and pass behind me, and I hear one of them shouting to another man.
“Hey, pal! Hey, pal! OI!”
As someone who’s half-retired from Beach Diarying, I pay it no mind and keep hunched over the novel I’m reading.
“He’s got earphones in,” say the man’s friend.
“Oh, has he?” he replies, with an edge of anger now plain in his voice, as they start making their way down the slope towards their car. “Cos I asked him for directions earlier, that’s why I was so late round yours. Cunt got me lost for half hour…”
The four of them screech aggressively out of the carpark, drawing looks; top down and shirts off.
For the record, I didn’t have earphones in, but my lustrous Jon-Snow-from-Game-of-Thrones hair was all about my face and ears, so maybe it looked like I did? A few years ago, an old man sitting on a wall yelled at me to get my hair cut, like it was the sixties. Luckily, I never took his advice, because I likely just unwittingly haired my way out of a situation that surely would have escalated into a four-man beach-kicking. Also, I was a good couple of miles from where I’d spoken to that random stranger, hours before, on a beach surrounded by hundreds of people. I’ve always suspected it, but this probably confirms that I have ‘a look’, that is, I’d be easy to draw a cartoon of, and quick to be picked out of a line-up. I’m going to assume that I’m just too goddamned Hollywood glam for this town, rather than being a ill-dressed local oddball.