The Beach Diaries 2015 — #1 in an Occasional Series
I come to this summer’s entries in a strange state of flux. Recently, while between projects for the first time in about 12 years, I came to realise that I barely exist. At least, not outside of the self-identifying label of writer. I’ll get to the beach stuff in a bit, but stay with me, as this is relevant. I never made a secret of the fact that my work is where I feel most at home, and that it’s a nice, safe hiding place for me, from the world I never really got along with. In My Dinner with Andre, they argue about a quote attributed to Ingmar Bergman that goes “I could always live in my art, but not in my life.” That’s me.
Back in March, I finished the Saved by the Bell book, completely burnt out, having hopped from one (or two or three) overlapping project(s) to the next for over a decade, and suddenly finding myself with no idea what to do next. With no other world to lose myself in, there was nothing to distract me from my place in this one. Consequently, I’ve felt increasingly vague and ghostlike and lost, and quite honestly, fucking crazy. I’m a non-corporeal entity that merely haunts the places I pass through. I’ve been lost inside my own head for years, only half-there, with my mind on whatever I’m working on now or next or never.
I don’t know if this is a genuine crisis, or just feels like one in the moment, like many feelings that hit you when you’re in a down period before the dark clouds pass and sweep them along with them. But right now, I’m trapped in this strange and unfamiliar land where the needle of my internal compass refuses to settle on Next, and it suddenly all feels very real and raw. I put everything into my work or thinking about my work (“a bunch of pretension and dick jokes?” you say, “a life well spent…”). There are roughly half a million words of mine available to buy on Amazon, plus a bunch of screenplays, articles, unpublished and abandoned books, and various writings sat around on hard drives or notepads. It’s all I do. Literally all I do. And I do it alone. But if I can’t define myself by those words, then what am I? I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no idea, except that I’m pretty sure that, creative ventures aside, it’s not what I ever aspired to be at this stage of my life.
Why haven’t there been any Beach Diaries until now, the end of June? Because I haven’t felt like going out (or able to go out). I’ve been way too busy drowning in the sort of suffocating depression that keeps the curtains closed during the day, and the nights sleepless and filled with anxiety and paranoia and recurring bad dreams; that pushes away the people you care about, and marks the passing of the long days minute by minute. Just get through it; it’ll pass. It won’t. Not this time. The usual solution would be to point myself at an empty page and type or scribble until it all faded into the background, but…
Last weekend I scrawled some lengthy piece which seemed really insightful and full of meaning as it was coming out of me, but on transcription revealed itself to be meandering half-gibberish; repetitive melancholia that’s either Classic Millard or a cry for help. I didn’t post it.
I hesitate to use the phrase ‘find myself’, but I stopped the more regular Beach Diaries because of similar fears of retreading the same ground and becoming a cliche, and just went on to write in different genres and mediums instead. I could do that now. I’ve got dozens of half-finished projects and hundreds of unstarted ones. But if I do, I’ll probably never come back out.
So, for now I’m returning to these, back to The Beach, to see what happens, with all of the above consciously at the front of my mind, and wondering if I’ll find a solution, or part of a solution; a step or a doorway; somewhere out there. I’m not going to apologise for opening on some rambling, self-serving psychoanalysis, when you were likely hoping for whizz-bang observations about shirtless lads pretending to hump an inflatable dolphin, or a cute elderly gent groaning in arthritic-pain as he cheerily bends to pick up a dog-dirt for his aged wife, because these pieces have always been about exposing my own demons and flaws through the medium of people-watching.
I don’t know what form these entries will take, or if there will be any beyond this one. Or if this will even leave the notepad and make itself public. But I do know that they, or I, can’t stay unevolving. And if I keep hiding inside my writing like a heroin addict, that’s what will happen.
So, to the beach…
Today I’m back watching the strongman event, which runs concurrently with Armed Forces Day. This is the third year I’ve written about it, and I’m thrilled to see the undersized underdog from 2012 make his return; still half the size of everyone else; still looking as though he’s accidentally blundered past the guardrail on the way back from the garden centre, quietly sat at the back as they ready themselves for competition. Googling his name reveals he’s been at it for years, and is yet to ever leave last place, while cutting an enigmatic figure on the scene by dead-lifting the back end of his Volvo for training.
As the competitors take their turns, small sections of the crowd spark into life, revealing strongmen as sons and uncles and husbands and friends. Underdog Guy has no cheering section. I shall be his cheering section; his traveling band of support. You’re my boy!
On the other side of the windmill (that’s right; I’m watching a strongman contest next to a windmill beside the beach; I’m a sea-hick), Armed Forces Day is in full, po-faced swing. I’ve written of my disdain for the festival of combat-fetishism before, but it’s effectively a public holiday for the sort of people who masturbated over that video doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday, where a Queen’s Guard points a rifle towards the open mouth of a tourist for not respecting his position as a uniformed, walking God. I might head over later and check out the stalls aimed at recruiting children of barely-veiled racist parents into the circus of death and PTSD. Give teenagers swanning about in little berets footballer’s wages!
Later, I do pass through. Small boys excitedly handle a table of service weaponry; maybe with confirmed kills having previously puked out of their barrels. How exciting! A thrilled nine-year-old lays on the grass with his eye to the scope of a sniper rifle, presumably picturing himself blowing the beard right off the skull of someone called Mustafa, or whatever crazy names Bad Guys have.
My boy’s doing better this time round. Three years ago, he bottomed out on every single event, often without managing a single rep. This time, he’s gotten a pair of penultimate-place finishes, ahead of a stocky, and very short strongman whose stubby limbs prove a hindrance.
One of the strongmen follows me on Twitter, but barely tweets himself, and I’m sure has no idea who I am. I resist the urge to yell “Oi! Remember that tweeted joke about Jamie Oliver’s urinal cakes? That was me!” as he hauls a 500lb tractor tire over his head.
I’m once again fascinated by the noises the big men make, in moments of exertion so extreme, human beings are reduced to animals. One hisses through his teeth like a vampire rearing back from a crucifix. Another silently and rapidly opens and closes his mouth like a goldfish. “Boh. Boh. Boh.” The Underdog gives nothing away; eyes hidden beneath Lennon shades; face in the shadow of a bucket hat; silently grinding out another inspiring last place. Later, as he comes out for his turn, an elderly lady says to her husband “It’s the little one!” and I of course give her the thrashing of her life. (I don’t)
I keep reminding myself to be here, in the moment, and not slip back into detached 3rd party notepad observations.
I see someone I think I know, before realising I don’t know him; he just really looks like Bill Oddie.
My boy sits out the next event with a bad shoulder, but resumes for the following one, where the men heave a giant, concrete Malteser onto their shoulders. He fails to get a single lift, but I pound my palms violently nonetheless. At the close of the show, he finishes 12th out of 12, like he probably knew he would. But showing up and giving every event all that he has, under the scrutiny of a live crowd, knowing he’ll be followed by men who’ll out-lift and out-pull, and that he’ll never draw the wild cheers of the leaders, as they one-up each other’s impossible feats, takes a heart the size of that massive stone. I hope he’s back next year.
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.