The Beach Diaries 2013 – #3 in an Occasional Series
** Just when it seemed like the map-makers would have to rebrand the United Kingdom as ‘The Land of Always Winter’, suddenly we’re all living in Mad Max II. This time last year, the grass on the common could only be navigated in wellies, but now, it’s a scorched-Earth yellow, with balding little deathbed tufts. Anyone nodding off and awakening quickly is liable to become confused and start gnawing on the fuel line of the first car they see, like a rabid raccoon, fighting off bystanders with lethal force as they fill their inflatable dolphin with precious, precious petrol.
Heat like this distorts everything; the sexy and beautiful are even more sexy and beautiful, while those who’d usually cover themselves with baggy clothes or a sunken posture swan around with catwalk confidence. Protruding bellies wobble proudly, as though they’re home to a shredded set of Tyler Durden abs, and drooping arses swagger like they’re still where they were twenty years ago. Look in any direction, and you’ll find a turning head. Husbands and dads who can’t help themselves; single folks happy to enjoy the bounty of flesh; groups of friends sharing a fine set of pecs or a wazzo pair of jugs with nudges; shirtless lads, who consider their blatant stares flirtation in and of themselves, so they have them be hard, full and lingering, hoping for a response. Thermometers need another reading once the red climbs above thirty degrees. 20 – Fine. 25 – Hot. 30 – Human Meat Market.
** A posh family, consisting of parents and their three teenage sons, set up on the sand nearby, erecting a tent in which to change into their swimwear, and eating fruit out of expensive-looking containers. The mother, with a finger in one ear like she’s part of a vocal harmony group, makes a phonecall, and tries to help a friend locate them, amongst all the hundreds of other tourists on a beach that’s virtually creaking at the seams.
“Opposite the train. A row of green and blue beach huts; we’re between those….” A pause, and then — “…there’s a big family of blacks nearby. Right beside us. Yep, just look for them. Okay, see you in a bit!”
** My wandering eye is snared by the sight of an old lady, unsteady on her feet and looking like she’s about to topple onto the sizzling concrete and fry like a broken egg. Then I realise she’s painstakingly balance-walking all the way along the painted white line that runs along the centre of the prom, as though standing atop a tightrope. Her arms are outstretched, while her tongue pokes in childlike concentration, perhaps with imaginary crocodiles snapping at her toes, or boiling lava waiting below should she fall. I overtake her, but check behind me a couple of minutes later. She’s still there, working her way down. One foot in front of the other, in front of the other, yet to fall.
** A little boy challenges his mate to a bunch of running races from the prom to the sea. Each time, the second boy refuses with a weary shake of the head, choosing to stay on the bench instead — even on the “Ready. Set. Go!” that sees his friend sprint madly towards the waves — and each time, the first boy returns puffing and victorious, arms raised like an Olympic champion.
“I win by forfeit! I’ve beaten you six in a row now. Let’s go again!”
** An exhausted child, dragging her heels behind her parents, cries out in anguish –
“Why do they call it Littlehampton? It’s soooooo big!”
** A dad stands in a hole so deep, he’s only visible from the neck up, wearing a floppy sunhat so comically oversized, one can’t help but suspect it was ordered by the wife because “You know how burnt you got last time.” He tosses spadefuls of sand over his shoulder in a frantic way that suggests he’s trying to escape his family and start a better life.
“Got everything, dad? Sandwiches, bucket and spade, suntan lotion, passport… passport?”
** A gang seems to have formed out of the disparate outcast beach loners you see endlessly traipsing up and down by themselves, like those lonely schoolchildren who fill their lunchtimes with solo laps around the playground, eating as they pace, and ducking errant footballs and familiar catcalls. These men are my scrying mirror into a likely future, with each having traits that mark them out as somebody who’ll be going back to an empty home, and they all have at least twenty years on me. Maybe there’s something comforting about their recent alliance, as I pass them all sat in a row on the long bench, the aging Littlehampton loner supergroup; the suggestion that I might have the option of some companionship in the final stretch of middle-age, should I feel myself wanting. That probably beats having to get up and move in the middle of a chapter when a large group of cackling teenage girls, whose speech would be one long, uninterrupted beeeeep pre-watershed, start exchanging faux-casual stories about their virginity-loss, after pitching up three fucking feet away.
** Most days, but especially on those like today, in this summertime meat market, I feel like a ghost. I’m merely haunting the living world, drifting on the peripheral. Occasionally, someone might hear a footstep, brushing it off as a trick of the wind, or catch the rustle of a notepaper in passing, but in truth, I’m not really here.