The Beach Diaries 2014 – #2 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.
** After a hugely positive review on the Wrestling Observer/Figure Four Weekly website, I wake to the news that I’m currently the author of the #2 best selling pro wrestling book in the world — although the #1 is a Jiu Jitsu book, which doesn’t count — a statement to end with “sup, ladies?” if ever there was one. I’m up early because I’m dog sitting for the day, which sees me at the beach at an unusual hour, way before the usual lunchtime crowd-rush that usually provides me with so much material.
** There’s nobody else around but other dog walkers and joggers of various fitness levels; some sinewy and well-geared, taking numerous passes from pier to café and back; others with a lead-footed slog along the prom, in a gamely way that suggests they’ve committed to making a change, for the first, or twentieth time. Dog-walkers and joggers. That level of specific population is an odd feeling, like being in a videogame where half the AI characters have blipped out of existence, leaving a world inhabited by just the two sets of background colour.
** Regular readers will know I’ve never been the belle of the ball down here in Beachtown, having inspired no admiring glances or coquettish smiles from those who catch my eye, and no wolf whistles that weren’t sarcastic and followed by the cackling of a girl-gang. I was once ignored by a man slavishly drumming up signatures for a petition to save the hospital, who skipped over me like I was invisible, presumably for giving off the aura of someone who hates healthcare. My resting facial expression is ‘murderous’, I resemble Charles Manson cameoing in Point Break, and I’m only ever approached by men aged 18-35 who want a light, or think I can sell them some weed. On occasion, I have been asked by groups to take their photo for them, but only when I’ve been reading a book, which possibly paints over the edges of the “serial killer, thug, or sex offender?” vibe with an airy coat of education. Today, like walking into a nightclub as part of a famous friend’s entourage — “What’s Millard doing with Dean Gaffney? He suddenly seems handsome and cool!” — I live vicariously through a 12lb social wing-man. Snowy, the half-Bichon, half-Shih Tzu bundle of energy trotting from the end of my arm, whom everybody wants to see or touch as he passes them, shifts my position on the map of the global village out of the cave and onto a wholly different plane.
Little kids gasp “Doggy!”, grown adults point him out to each other, and the elderly — who often pass me fearfully in case of an imminent mugging, even though I try really, really hard not to give that impression, with my best efforts at genial body language — all want to stop and rub his little ears. As is a theme in these diaries, I don’t have friends. I mean, I’ll exchange jokes and opinions over social media and whatnot, but I never, ever ‘hang out’ with anyone. My philosophy on life is to go all Barry Windham circa 1993 and Lone Wolf it. Everywhere I go and everything I do in life, I do by myself. But having a dog is some weird invitation for people, especially other dog owners, to stop and talk to you, like they’ve put on the ray bans from They Live, and suddenly see a person, where once was nothing but a 6′ tall space of transparent atoms. I didn’t mind; it was fine to play dress-up for a day, although I’m not sure how I’ll feel if I ever manage that seemingly-easy yet heartbreakingly elusive life-goal of making enough money to get a dog of my own.
So, unlike the other Beach Diaries where I’m merely lurking on the outskirts, I’m suddenly right in the mix. I talk to old ladies. I exchange laughter with a group of walkers as Snowy chases a similar looking dog in mad circles and has to be dragged away. I even stop and chat to the man who keeps the topless dummy in the attic, who’s known for carrying a pet chicken around town under his arm. In a green dressing gown and work-boots held together with sellotaped toes, he introduces himself to me and the dog, who’s so wary of him, he puts the brakes on and refuses a stroke. “It must be my odour,” he says. We shake hands as we part, and I wish him a good day, and realise that arming myself with a dog makes me pretty good at the whole ‘being a human being’ thing. In the right circumstances, I could probably make a passable member of society. That said, I was still stopped by an actual urchin who wanted “two tens in exchange for a twenty.”
** We return to the beach for another long walk, later that evening. Though it’s getting late, it’s still so hot that the sea’s filled with swimmers and waders; older people, dog owners, teenage couples using the bob of the waves as a thin pretext to grope each other. Despite my love of the beach, water makes me nervous, and I’m not keen on actually being in it. I’ll walk beside it though, and like tonight, I often do, for miles and hours.
Over on the next break, a blonde woman doing the same carries a dog in her arms like a baby. I almost hesitate to put all this down, as it seems too much of a stereotype, right down to the bug-eye Kardashian sunglasses. Her dog’s legs are too stubby to walk across the stones; its billowing coat of white fluff too delicately coiffed to get plastered in wet sand. From his owner’s arms, the dog looks across at Snowy, who’s running free and wild, with the gaze of Richie Rich peering out a darkened limousine window, slowly being driven past some laughing children who’re running barefoot around a spraying fire hydrant, with a mixture of sneering “look at those simple bastards” and a deep sadness that he’ll never be able to get out and join them.
** Earlier in the week, I took the dog out for the afternoon. As we walked through the empty town centre, a football man staggered out of a pub. The blare of a TV playing the World Cup puked out of the open door, and he started shouting to himself in a slur about how he was going to get some more money out of the cashpoint. Every other syllable was “fuck,” and he moved down the pavement like they did on Star Trek when the ship got hit by a Klingon ray gun. Amid all the jovial swearing, he realised there was someone walking behind him, in earshot of his dirty mouth, and he turned —
“Sorry, mate,” he said, with genuine remorse, looking the dog square in the eye.
** But back to today, and before we go home, we sit on the long bench. I squeeze the dog a drink into his portable bowl, and feed him half of a bone-shaped biscuit. As we rest beneath the shadow of the wonky shelter, I bend down to unravel the lead that’s gotten snared around my ankle, and spot a shiny pound coin right underneath where I’m sitting. Though it’s not enough to fund the move to somewhere I could house and feed a husky of my very own, after the book review, the sales, and a day spent milling around my favourite place with my favourite species, it’s still enough to make me say, out loud, “Everything’s coming up Millard.”
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.
And 2014: #1