The Beach Diaries 2013 – #5 in an Occasional Series
* Outside of Iceland, a woman so blonde, so tall, and so inhumanly attractive gives me the urge to climb inside the freezer cabinets like Captain Oates and wait for death to take me. Roll on winter, when everybody’s wrapped beneath shapeless layers of sack-cloth for another 9 months.
* Another summer Saturday, another hundred-strong London church marching the length of the promenade like an army, clapping out a song in praise of Jesus.
* A daytripping mother explains to her daughter how manners don’t cost anything, and that Hello’s are always free.
“Hello,” she says, to people sat on the benches as they pass; “Hello. Hello. See?” she says to the little girl, with one last “Hello” at an elderly gentleman whose uncomfortable response suggests this is the first black person he’s talked to since the fifties, when he bellowed at one to get away from his car.
* The Christians pass again, loud and massed together, with the passion and fervour of a political rally that’ll end in a fog of tear-gas and kettling.
“Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes yes!” they chant, beating chests and stamping feet, moving in a rhythmic way that’s somewhere between walking and dance. A man at the front blows on a red vuvuzela that parps into my ear as I’m forced to step around onto the shingle lest I be trampled underfoot by the stampede of God’s love.
“You’re the only one I need,” they sing, at their imaginary sky-buddy, raising up their hands as though so moved in that moment, they need to be physically closer to Jesus, even if it’s just by eighteen inches. Once they’re passed, a smaller group squawk into a crackly megaphone about “King Jesus,” all glory unto him.
I know I’m being the sneering, patronising atheist here, but such wide-eyed, ecstatic passion, when shorn of the context of church halls or revival meetings, and released into the walking world, only amplifies the outright weirdness of it all, sharply veering everything from child-like to childish. To those viewing from the outside, it’s like listening to a teenager in the first heady throes of young love reciting a poem about their classroom crush; the kind of thing that’s unearthed in a shoebox as you sit cross-legged in a parent’s attic, aged thirty, reading back the clunky similes and biroed hearts, and thinking you should burn it before anybody sees. It’s a curious thing, passion that’s fully real to one person, but completely delusional to others. As they joy-jig back and forth, I can make zero separation between the quasi-orgasmic exhalation for Jesus and footage of squealing girls fainting beneath One Direction’s hotel balcony.
* Up and down, go the Jesus Army, back and forth like the tide, hoping to save the souls of this wretched place, with all its sins as catalogued here by me these past few years. If they’d been able to read my thoughts outside of Iceland, I’d be party to another beach-side exorcism (See 2011’s Diaries), to draw out the slavering demons of Lust and Self-Loathing. Each pass features a different song, with the same rictus grins; lyrics of being born again, and a happiness that’s starting to seem manic, when surrounded by sunken, sweaty holidaymakers, struggling with tired children and flip-flop blisters.
Anyone who came down here for a quiet read or relaxing stroll is having to stomach the roving concert, or leave. This kind of behaviour is absolutely fine, of course, and I should rightly be beaten to death for the loud-mouthed, smug arrogance of owning a Darwin Fish fridge magnet and not keeping my views to myself. Some irony-based humour, there. I do hope you enjoyed it.
* One of them stops to ‘mission’ at some old ladies on a bench. There’s some confusion when they’re asked if they know about the Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and they give that classic British Old Person response my grandad would always give in hospital when filling out the religious beliefs section on a form.
“I’m C of E.” But they muddle through, by politely nodding an “Oh… yes” when asked if they’re born again, and she bangs on about how Jesus just wants you to accept him as the only way. “It’s so simple!” she says, as though she’s pitching them cheaper car insurance. As she says her goodbyes, I wonder if I’m next for the cold-calling sermon, but she strolls past, possibly sensing my blackened soul is beyond redemption.
* The church group are a multi-generational bunch, and as the youngsters tout for business, wizened, sleepy grandparents watch from deckchairs beneath enormous hats. There’s an overwhelming sense of bubbled isolation, and of none of the revellers ever having had a chance to know anything else, cocooned in a community where it’s all Jesus, all the time, and Heaven help you (literally) if you dare not believe, when your entire world is comprised of the type of people who can’t even take a daytrip to the seaside without spending every moment accosting random strangers with the Good News.
* Overheard conversation snippets. A woman to her friend:
“My kids’ dads all got one thing in common. They’re all fucking ‘orrible, and they’re all fucking ugly.”
* After a long couple of hours of top-of-the-lungs singing, vuvuzela and drums tramping over the peace of summer’s precious final act, each further time the Christians stomp past me, I can no longer pick out the lyrics. Their words seem to say only one thing —
“If you don’t like Jesus, fuck you.”
The air fills with roars and rapturous cheers that would be cause for alarm if the J-word was taken out of the equation, and a plinky-plonky keyboard gets plugged into a huge PA system wired to a generator. It’s time to go home. At this stage, the missionary leafleting has begun, and anyone daring to queue for ice cream, or indeed, be outside on this sunny weekend, finds themselves Excuse Me’d into an uninvited conversation about whether they’ve heard about Lord Jesus. If nothing else, that one-track-mind lifestyle must be mentally exhausting.
* The journey home seems marked by chalk graffiti, left on various points along the way like clues. Through the town centre and past the other side, a number of lamp posts and walls are chalked with the legend WONDER GIRLS RULE. Has gang-culture finally hit the south coast? Wonder Girls sound like something from The Warriors, where they flirtily invite you back to their place to swig whiskey and make out, and everything’s going great, but then someone bolts the door, and the next thing you know, the shiny blade of a switch-knife has been shoved into your urethra.
Some twenty yards past the last Wonder Girls tag, a green message etched onto a trio of paving slabs reads STOP BAD LUCK. I quite agree. Down with it! I walk through the local park, where a freshly-married bride and groom pose for wedding pictures beneath the cooling shade of a tree. I quickly duck past the scene and round into the alleyway, where a jizzing chalk penis greets me from a fence post. Then, as I reach the final corner, one last masterpiece awaits me on the pavement. As I ponder whether the prickly-bollocked cock is poised to enter the curvy bottom, or is withdrawing from said back-pipe, post-coitus, the air is silent of vuvuzelas, and God is nowhere to be seen.