The Beach Diaries 2014 – #1 in an Occasional Series
“What are the Beach Diaries?” If this is you, you oaf, and it’s your first time here, scroll to the bottom for enlightenment.
* The sea defense redevelopment by the riverbank pushes me on a different route to my usual, taking me through streets more notable for revenge stabbings and sunrise drug raids than for slow-moving snakes of lobster-backed tourists. As has revealed itself over these past four years, the summer makes perverts of us all, with parades of sweaty flesh inciting the reflexive lust response of animal instinct, and the self-loathing that follows. Today brings the first lech-shame of the summer. Like an unwelcome old friend, my id, my inner voice, suddenly tosses aside its mask of pretension, its love of Herzog and Fort, and using big words where a small one would do, and transforms into a leering builder, leaning over a scaffold with a copy of the Sun clutched in his fist, semi-lob propping up a scuffed-up pair of plastering trousers, with an “Oi oi, darlin’!” that echoes over the clack-clack-clack of heels speeding across pavement below.
Standing on the corner ahead of me is a woman in a Dancin’ Stevie Richards crop shirt, with a tight yoga body, and well-fitting jogging bottoms that accentuate the sleek curve from lower back to bum and back in again. She paces a little, in a meandering circle, as if uncertain of where she’s going. The builder in my skull nudges my ribs with the hard bone of his elbow.
“Cor, look at that. You would, wouldn’t you? Until you damaged yourself? Eh? Eh?”
“Fine,” I reply, “Yes. I would. Shut up before someone hears you.” By now, the objectifying cis bastard is pretending his rolled-up newspaper is a cock, and frenetically thrusts it into his encircled fingers.
As I reach the woman, she stops me with an “Excuse me….”
“You wouldn’t happen to have 60p for the phone box, would you?” The half-arsed intonation of ‘phone box’ seems to acknowledge it for the anachronism it is, and that we both know there’s probably not one within a ten mile radius. I tell her, truthfully, that I’m not carrying any money, “sorry.” Even though she’s most probably trying to fund a bottle of cider, the sexy beggar on the corner is so friendly, signing off with a warm “Okay. Thanks, darling,” that I kind of enjoy the interaction, and feel brightened by it as I cross the road onto the beach.
* A well-dressed, posh-looking elderly couple sit beneath the shade of the wonky shelter. The man’s in a mobility scooter, with a tweed jacket and boater, and resembles nothing but an upper class Larry David. He and his wife both smile broadly, with their attention on the newly purchased book that he’s examining with great pleasure. He’s positively beaming as he holds it up in front of his face to read the back cover, at which point, I get a look at the title on the front, in jaunty yellow text — ‘FARTING’
(I couldn’t make out the smaller lettering, which presumably read ‘The Bumper Book of…‘ or ‘Dr. Trumpington’s Guide To Botties and…‘)
* On a packed pier, an awkward, sunken-looking, thirty-something man sits, arms folded, at one end of a bench. On the opposite end, pressed up against the arm rest and facing away from the man, is a woman so stunning, she looks like the star of a badly dubbed foreign commercial for toothpaste set at an Italian outdoor café. The three-foot gap between the pair of strangers is an insurmountable length of miles; an endless vista of desolate social desert.
As I glance at the two bookends, the man catches my eye and throws me an immense look of annoyance. It’s not an annoyance at me, but at the way it all works; it’s a look that that tells the universe, yes, he’s fully aware of the tragic visual metaphor, but there’s nothing any of us can do about it. Though I’m sure he tries not to, should he peer down at the opposite end of the seat, his benchmate is no more than a mirage, tauntingly within reach but impossibly far away all at once. No matter how many days he spent trekking across the wooden slats, he could never get close enough for their worlds, or bodies, to embrace. It’d be like that viral video of the rat trying to run up the wrong escalator.
* Later in the week, I’m sitting my auntie’s dog for the day. Of course, I take him to the beach. But on the way back, I inadvertently end up walking the exact same route I used to take to school. I’m hit with an almost overwhelming wave of — not nostalgia — more a tumbling out of a wormhole with a bad landing. It feels like I could go back right now and slot perfectly into the yesterday of 1996, and I picture desk-side conversations between me and my now-adult classmates.
“What have you been up to since we left, Millard? Done some travelling? Carved out a career? Started a family? Been making the memories to see you through the sensible, settled years of middle-age? Built a life for yourself?”
“Abso. Lutely. Nothing,” I reply.
Maybe I could counter their tales of Thai beaches, or nights spent sowing oats or chatting and laughing until dawn, with my own anecdotes — the summer I spent emptying my grandfather’s catheter a half-dozen times a day. I’m a man out of time, like when Desmond in Lost started Quantum Leaping in his own body, and found himself looking at a reflection 15 years older than it was an hour ago. As me and the dog trot along the path I took daily for years, back when my head was filled with the vague yet exciting sense of a future, an overwhelming weight of irrevocable loss mingles with the smell of the warm shit I’ve been carrying for the last two miles.
The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.