The Beach Diaries 2016 — #2 in an Occasional Series
An old lady waves over the railing at the crew of a lifeboat idling along the river, who all return the gesture. I’m fascinated by the human instinct to wave at anybody who happens to be passing by on an open-topped vehicle; say, carnival princesses or Christmas mascots. Such a position obviously grants one a strange mixture of authority and approachability, while the leisurely, yet unwavering movement imbues the audience with a sense of urgency; of time’s limitless march — “Better wave now while I have the chance. Once they get past Lidl, it’ll be too late. Plus, we’ll all be dead one day.” Could this be weaponised somehow? Could we parachute badly-made carnival floats into warzones and see ISIS drop their guns to free up their hands for a bit of waving to employees of the local St Barnabas dressed as the Spice Girls; leaving their mortars empty to greet a mayor in an ill-fitting SpongeBob outfit?
“Silly girl,” says a man, to a small, bemused Jack Russell, in that baby-voice people use to talk to dogs, but laced with genuine chiding. “Silly girl!” Then, he squats down to ask the question straight at her upturned muzzle, “Who’s a silly girl?” I can still hear him admonishing her as I get far into the distance.
What’s that quote? “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.”
Like most of it, a piece of graffiti on the back of the men’s toilet door invites anonymous sex, and leaves a contact number. But added at the bottom in parenthesis is “I HAVE VD”
This reminds me of the entirely medically accurate wall-scrawl I saw at a service station recently:
“CAN I SUCK YOUR COCK OR LICK YOUR WIFES CLIT AFTER YOU HAVE CUM IN IT?“
Found a huge mat of dried seaweed the size of a living room rug, which makes me want to carpet the entire flat with it and march about like Neptune.
This time of year, and down at the quiet end, the beach is almost empty, except for a guy sat nearby, who’s etching into a pad with a stick of charcoal. He’s glanced across at me enough times to suggest I’m part of the artwork. It takes me back to being 11 or 12, when I was on the school council. No, I can’t really recall what that was, either. I just remember being voted as the house representative for my year, and that pupils had all the actual power of election voters (satire!), so I’m presuming it was nothing but vetoed suggestions of vending machines filled with Pepsi and mucky books, or cutting the school day to half an hour a week. Regardless, I’m sure it was a super cool and hunky way to spend one lunchtime a month. Anyway, literally the only remaining memory of it is being sat across from an older kid who was doodling on a sheet of A4 while looking intently in my direction, and half-laughing in a way that made it clear he was drawing a caricature of me.
As a short, fat, curly-haired 11-year-old, whose appearance saw him dubbed ‘Nigel Lawson’ after the grotesque then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, I made sure to exit the room as soon as the meeting was over, so’s not to catch sight of the etching, where my exaggerated features would further squash my feeble self-esteem.
As I write this paragraph, I’m utterly besieged by those little black flies, swarming about me and on me. I completely lose my cool, and to any witnesses, I’m basically just screaming “fuck off!” at imaginary assailants, while furiously slapping and scratching at my own flesh. They’re in my hair, they’re on my face; one of them gets snorted straight up my nose, causing me to let out a big bear-growl of distress and leap to my feet while retching. If the beach-side artist does somehow find the courage to warily approach, I’m sure his latest work “Portrait of a Raving Lunatic at Low Tide” will at least have a frenetic energy about it.
I find the better part of an old tree washed up on the shingle. It’s gnarled and sea-worn, like a Victorian sea monster; buckled limbs and a tapered neck; a twisted tree worthy of in-his-prime Tim Burton. I feel I must have it, this tree corpse, but it’s taller than me, and very heavy.
I could drag it the miles back home, up the pebbles and onto the prom, that rasping sound of dead, black wood scraping against concrete. School parties watching, the deckchair man not looking up from his paper. People standing aside along the river, but nobody offering to help; feeling they don’t want to intrude on a private ritual. Some take photos, less sneakily than they think. Then, through the town, past the shops, busy on a hot day like today, where a stroll turns into a stop-start inspection of stranger’s backs, and now there’s a sweating man pulling an eight foot dead tree and it’s getting caught on benches and dog leads, scattering coffee shop pigeons, heaving across roads as backed up cars wait for it to slither across the kerb, spilling scabs of bark and dry splinters. Finally, force it through the front door, and up the steps. Clunking, ragged breathing, sweat patting against my jeans, where I wrench it into my bed, pull the duvet over us both, and snuggle up tight.
But I have to leave it, hoping the tide will deposit it closer next time I’m here. Hopefully when the floods come, it’ll find its way home.
Looking for a low-impact exercise that tells the world “Why yes, I do have diarrhoea!”? Then power-walking is the one for you!
“Chalk” reads a piece of chalk graffiti on the prom. Very meta.
I probably shouldn’t have touched and licked the one in ‘crayon’ that said “Shit” on the toilet wall.
A red warning sign jutting out of the river orders the reader “Don’t forget your kill cord”. Who am I, the Hillside Strangler? Never leave home without it.
Another says “NO WASH”. I think I’ve got enough flies around me today already, thanks.
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 this year: #1