The Beach Diaries 2014 – #3 in an Occasional Series
(Beach Diaries? At the end of December? Yeah, I know. I’ve had this sat in my notepad since the summer, where I got so focussed on the Saved by the Bell book that I didn’t have time to go to the beach again. Plus I knew this one was a bit too personal, so I left it to fester in my backpack. But what are blogs for if not for over-sharing and making everyone feel uncomfortable? Enjoy?)
New to the Beach Diaries? Scroll to the bottom for enlightenment.
** I watch a strongman contest round the back of the amusements. The ground shakes as the weights clank down out of their fists. Two men standing next to me discuss a mutual friend who put a child into a coma while drink driving. Big men sweetly interact with watching children, like friendly ogres. A little girl says of a hulking man who’s dusting his hands in chalk “That’s my teacher!” A boy comes out of the nearby arcade, and excitedly shows his father a rubber ball.
“Daddy, want to see how this bounces?”
“No,” says the dad.
** An alternative goth type, dressed all in black, with hair like a Japanese cartoon and a white cloth trailing from his back pocket, paddles barefoot along the tide; skinny jeans rolled up as high as they’ll go; a pair of black winkle-pickers in his hand. Later, I see him stopped by and pleasantly chatting with an older couple. Friends of his parents, I guess, who use him as an example of not judging by appearances.
** As his owner tries to leave, a dog refuses to go home, placing his tennis ball by the sea and sitting down with a resolute look on its face. It’s the same dog who drops his ball out of his mouth over the wall on the prom, resting his chin on the wall and nodding towards it with his eyes, so that passers by will throw it for him. He’s got it all figured out. That ball is the grossest thing I have ever touched.
** It’s one of those days where impossibly beautiful people are everywhere, like an infestation of flying ants. Laying in the sands; tottering past with uneasy bare feet on hot concrete; like something from an unrealistically cast TV show. It just makes you want to smash your awful face against the breakwater until all the bones are sticking out like toothpicks in a Christingle orange, and then politely ask them if they’ve got the time, dripping burst eyeball-fluid all over their chicken wraps until they all run away screaming and leave you alone on the beach, like the Quasimodo freak in the tower summer makes of you when it shines a light on the world and all its corners.
Part of the reason I cut down on the number of entries was that this theme becomes both unavoidable, and repetitive. Yeah, there are hot people everywhere and it’s depressing and makes me feel half-ghost, half-monster, but what can you do? Should I magically become comfortable in my own skin? Or suddenly, somehow deal with my feeling like a diabetic on Willy Wonka’s factory tour?
Many would probably kill for the freedom of the beach bum. No ties, and nobody who cares where I am and what time I’ll be back; no steady career; just the complete freedom to wander of my own accord, where and whenever I please. People in a BO-stinking office, with a pay-check and a mortgage and a wife, might gaze out of the window, at the thin, blue slab of sky visible between the buildings across the street, and have momentary daydreams of sacking it all off for a life of artsy meandering. “I’ll write a novel,” they think, “paint a picture. Tell my boss to go suck his own bollock.” But days like today, if I’m honest; horribly, violently honest; I can’t shake the feeling that I’m raising my flag in a rather hollow victory.
A group of 40/50-something men hoot and lech over a pair of women who’re peeling off their shirts, revealing bikini tops underneath.
“Get ’em out, then,” cry the men — which is a direct quote — like literal Benny Hill characters. They look tremendously pleased with themselves, and very comfortable in their booze-worn skins, as they leer their way down the prom. They’re also among the most grotesque caricatures I’ve ever seen, on the cartoonish level of a red-faced butcher chasing after a dog who’s got a string of sausages in its mouth.
** I’m stopped by a Bieber-looking sixth former with a clipboard, and agree to help him with a survey about memories. He asks me to recall my earliest happy, and then earliest sad memory. Both times I stand like I’m Dr. Sam Beckett, leapt into the body of a stranger, gazing into the middle-distance, and trying to rouse something — anything — from my brain, which becomes fugue-state-blank of any memory further back than twenty minutes ago, as we drown in the weird silence I’ve made. In the end, I go with the generic happy memory of “feeling safe, I suppose,” and try to explain with waffle about childhood innocence and having no concept of adult worries like money or crushing ennui as a toddler. But I can see he’s not taking nearly enough notes to cover what I’m saying, and though I try to put him at ease, he seems nervous, and eager to get away. For my earliest sad memory, I give the almost-sitcom answer of a dead goldfish, and he thanks me and runs off in such an abrupt manner, I suspect he cut the survey short.
As soon as he’s gone, a sudden, vivid memory hits me with the strength and clarity of being shot in the temple by a pier-side sniper, of my being babysat by my granddad when I was 3 or 4. Together, we built a Lego tower that seemed 100 feet high. I can see my arms reaching out and being unable to touch the top, and his big grin; though I see it toothless like it was in later years, and not how it was back then. I always remember it as being really late; dark outside and feeling like it was just the two of us left awake in the entire world; as though we’d illicitly stayed up to the middle of the night in a way that broke all of the rules my mum would have set, to construct this monstrous building together; but I’m sure it was barely past sunset. Even now, in my mind, the spire of that tower is virtually wreathed in clouds, and it’s the purest, most distilled recollection of joy to make its home in my brain. Immediately, I’m gripped by an almost overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Why didn’t I think of it at the time? Instead, I stood there like some fucking Dickensian orphan who’d never even seen Lego, let alone had a granddad who’d built the Biggest Tower in the World with him, thirty-something years ago. I feel so awful, I have to neck a big drink of water to stop myself sobbing like a wretch.
From where I’m sat, with the raw, rotten feeling in my guts, I can see the building where my granddad spent four happy years at the end of his life; the building where he died, eighteen months ago. Part of me wants to chase the boy down and stand over him as he writes the whole thing onto his clipboard, brick by coloured brick, but I’ve put him through enough already.
** One of a group of three lads unfurls a 12ft long yellow snake from around his shoulders and lays it beside them on the grass so it can sunbathe. They take casual selfies, quickly drawing a crowd. A husband drags his wife down for a look. The owner wraps it around the husband’s neck and they pose for a picture, shoulder to shoulder, draped in writhing furs. A man with learning difficulties, enamoured, but standing at safe distance, makes hissing noises — “ssssssss…” He waves with child-like glee at the passing boat-train. An elderly couple wave back.
** Overheard conversation snippets. Little girl to her mother:
“Did you really eat dog biscuits?”
“It was only once…”
** From where I’m reading, I can see the car park. Among the day-trip coaches, there’s a quirky little retro car, like something Roger Moore would have tooled around a windy Swiss mountain road in, sending rockets blasting out of the bumper with the push of a large, red button. A green bag sits tied to the roof, suggesting this is merely one of a series of spur-of-the-moment, carefree stops around Europe.
The next time I glance up, the off-white of its chassis is darkened by the shadow of a traffic warden, writing a ticket to slide under its wiper.
** Mother to barefoot child:
“Go and put your shoes on. No, you’re going to the toilet, you need your shoes. There’ll be wee all over the floor; do you want to stand in all the wee?”
** A car flying a UKIP flag like it’s cheering them on in the World Cup. A seagull with an entire burger in its mouth. Once I’m in Beach Diaries mode, it’s hard not to mentally narrate every passing sight like a film noir PI. While I didn’t witness this personally, someone told me about a thing they saw last week; skip this bit if you’re eating your tea. One of the town ‘characters’ was vomiting in the high street, onto the pavement, and all over his own straggly hair. Seagulls were picking at the beery trail of puke left in his wake, and as he staggered off down the street, still being sick, more seagulls dropped out of the sky to follow him, like they do when tourists scatter uneaten chips down the riverbank. I could make a metaphor where I’m the heaving man, you’re the seagulls, and these Diaries are what you peck your little beaks at, but this chapter is already pretty bleak, so let’s keep things cordial.
** On the way home, I’m passing through an alley when I spot a bloke standing at the other end, talking on the phone, with Iceland shopping bags sprawled across the floor. With my mind rotted by scaremongering representations of youth and my own broken mistrust of people, I interpret the warning signs of a possible mugging. I’m not slipping my keys between my knuckles or anything, but merely being aware; being ready.
“Picked up a DVD,” he says into the phone as I pass, “Saving Mr. Banks.”
** A kid sits on a wall of a front garden, next to a bird cage. As I get closer, I see the cage is empty, and its door wide open. The boy on the wall makes whistling and clicking noises out into the street. A few hours out in that mocking summer world and I figure the bird will be yearning for the bars again.
A week later, there are hand-drawn posters stuck to all the nearby lamp posts for a missing budgie. Who’s a pretty boy?
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.