So Excited, So Scared — Teen Line

•October 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The following is a sample from my Kindle book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, which is AVAILABLE TO BUY RIGHT NOW. There are chapters like this on each of the other 85 episodes, as well as detailed sections on the history of the show, what happened next, and a bonus chapter about the Lifetime TV movie. More ordering links can be found at the bottom of this post.

And for more samples from the book:

So Excited, So Scared — Screech’s Woman

So Excited, So Scared — Pinned to the Mat

The Ten Most Sociopathic Acts of Zack Morris

Teen Line

This young lady is handicapped…


The opening of this Universe-T episode sees Zack saunter down the staircase, steal a bite of a nerd’s breakfast, get distracted by a girl’s ass in tight jeans and follow her, giving her a well-received nod of “well done for the nice ass,” before sliding into Belding’s office, in one of those ‘get this cool guy’ introductions.

It’s time for the kids to decide on the annual seniors community service project, and while I’m sure Zack and Slater would prefer to dole out free door-to-door breast exams, Tori suggests a teen line and rap room. Much like the teen line in 1-900-Crushed, it would allow kids to talk to other kids anonymously about their problems, while a rap room — a phrase that thankfully results in no misunderstood rhyme-dropping — is a face-to-face version of the same concept.

With the teen line in place, Tori runs off a list of rules, barring its operators from asking for real names, home phone numbers, or to meet the callers. A blackboard visible at the back of the classroom lists eight different phone numbers for the various issues on which to call the untrained, unqualified highschool kids.










Hands up who’s horrifically unqualified to talk to abuse victims

Yeah, that’s who you want to confide in when you’re necking a bottle of sleeping pills because your father molested you; Screech. Zack’s probably manning the sexual abuse line so he can jerk off over the deets. Proving that he should never be left in a position of authority, Zack’s first call, from a girl called Melissa struggling with her overprotective parents, sees him complimenting her on her sexy voice, and telling her to set back all the clocks in her parents’ house to sneakily extend her curfew, which is the same scam the Gremlins used to get fed after midnight. Then he finds out where she lives and talks her into a date at The Max.

Tori scalds him for breaking the rules, but ain’t nobody getting in the way of his excitable wang. Zack arrives to find Melissa already waiting for him, and sat at a table. He tells her how pretty she is and invites her over to the jukebox to pick out some music. When he turns around, in a moment used as the cliff-hanger break to commercial, it’s revealed that she’s in a wheelchair.

Whoa! You’re in a wheelchair!” gasps Zack, setting the tone for his open-mouthed, fumbling attitude to disabilities; an issue he approaches with the awkwardness of Ricky Gervais, a man whose unending fixation with tiptoeing around the supposed social minefield of interacting with minorities is meant to be observational humour, but just exposes his own weird hangups (“Isn’t it awkward when you meet a black person? We never know how to talk to them, do we, guys? Guys?”). Similarly Zack seems near to collapse, in a room-spinning daze, and having to lean against the jukebox just to keep himself from falling. Having used the teen line so that a guy could get to know the real her before he saw the chair, Melissa tells Zack she’ll understand if he wants to leave. While he does look desperate to make a bolt for it, it’s likely the only thing stopping him is the worry of rubbing a crippled girl’s nose in the sight of a pair of functioning legs as they speed towards the exit. So, they continue their date.

When the rest of the gang shows up, he introduces them to Melissa with the stern announcement that she’s handicapped but comfortable with it, so just get over it, okay? None of the others are remotely awkward in the least, and treat her just like a regular person, although you’d think someone would have to explain it to Screech considering he didn’t know what homeless meant. Incidentally, there are no ramps in The Max, which has two giant steps inside the entrance, and is really cramped, so I’ve no idea how she took her spot at the booth.

Actress Jennifer Blanc, not in a wheelchair in real life, racked up a prolific set of acting credits post-Bell, before moving into the producing of b-movie horror flicks. She’s also married to action legend Michael Biehn.


M’lady (r), M’hero (l)

Now part of the gang, Melissa’s invited to see the teen line headquarters, where Zack wheels her around, even though she can do it herself. Having stumped Zack and Slater — even though Slater dated lanky Jessie for almost three years — a girl who hates herself because she’s tall finds comfort in the wise advice of Melissa, impressing Zack no end.

Even though she’s handicapped, she gave Cathy perfect advice!

Zack, my mind’s not handicapped,” she replies.

You can say that again!” says Zack.

His sensitivity continues on a date at the movies, where he makes a big public scene because someone’s illegally parked in the handicapped space. Now a lectern-pounding crusader for the less fortunate, he rants and raves about the evils of a world that can’t find it in its heart to care about disabled people, by reminding them their legs don’t work every five seconds. He protests the lack of wheelchair access in the bathrooms, and the fact Melissa has to pay full price when she’s not even using one of the theatre’s seats, finally making a guy sat in front slump down because “my date’s in a wheelchair!” leaving Melissa with her brave little head in her brave little hands.

The next day, Zack takes offence when Slater asks how the date went — oh you mean because she’s handicapped? — before Mr. Belding comes in with some bad news. The school budget’s been cut, meaning the end of all non-essentials, like teen line.

Tori, reason for the earlier 'Universe-T' reference that will have confused you if you've not read the full book

Tori, reason for the earlier ‘Universe-T’ reference that will have confused you if you’ve not read the full book

Meanwhile, Screech’s sub-plot involves him brushing off a kid in the rap room, who came into moan about his annoying little brother, to witter on and on about his own lonely life as an only child, and using an inflatable doll as a pretend sibling. The kid returns to dump his younger brother — Tommy — onto Screech, who lugs him around for the rest of the episode as his new little bro. A nine-year-old should be in school during term time, making this merely the most recent instance of child abduction on Screech’s lengthy rap sheet. Of course, the little boy is a monster, abusing Screech in increasingly psychotic ways, working his way up from the classic hand-buzzer, to stealing his clothes and a scary biker’s motorcycle helmet, and tying him up like one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims. Though we’re now well into the final season, while waiting for his turn to speak, Dustin Diamond can be seen lip-syncing other character’s lines again.

When Tall Cathy drops by The Max to tell them she’s got a date this weekend, it only proves how valuable a freak-helping service teen line is, so they pledge to raise enough money themselves to keep it open. Melissa happens to play basketball in her driveway — Screech asks if she can dunk — so the gang decide on a charity wheelchair basketball game, followed by a dance, because Bayside’s restless students will burn this place to the ground if there isn’t at least one ball a week.

Mr. Belding, with a say no to drugs and alcohol poster visible over his shoulder, introduces the two basketball teams in the school gym. The competitors wheel themselves in; reds — Slater, Tori, and Lisa — vs. blues — Melissa, Zack (doing a wheelie) and Screech (in a Stephen Hawking electric wheelchair, which is cheating). Screech’s new little brother has outfitted his chair with a turbo booster, signposting physical comedy yuks coming to your screen real soon.

"Relax, ladies. The weiner still works!"

“Relax, ladies. The weiner still works!”

As we’ve seen before, sports scenes are hard to realistically choreograph at the best of times, but six non-wheelchair-using actors playing wheelchair basketball, on a tiny gym set there’s barely room to move around on; let’s just say the thumping soundtrack suggests more excitement than comes across onscreen. Zack spends the game repeatedly asking an exasperated Melissa if she’s holding up okay, in a query that would be better served in one of his asides to the audience. Honestly, Zack, no I’m not. When Screech finally gets the ball in this interminably long sequence, Tommy, who’s sat in the crowd, pushes the turbo button to send him careening backwards out of the gym, living out the fantasy of every SBTB viewer. Screech will later appear whooshing across the top of another scene.

Tori gives a post-game speech, proudly announcing that the $1,000 they raised is enough to keep teen line open (though it’ll never appear again), before Zack takes the mic and gives a little shout-out of his own.

I want another round of applause for the real star of today’s game, the only one who has to be in a wheelchair the whole time, Melissa Donahue; come on, guys!” Everyone applauds the smallest girl in the world, who gets the zoom-in reaction shot to underline her utter humiliation. No matter how many times he cites The Apartment, there’s no way the entire oeuvre of Gervais wasn’t hugely influenced by Teen Line. Zack’s whole speech is classic Brent/Millman/Everything He’s Ever Done.

Slow zoom in on the smallest girl in the world

Slow zoom in on the smallest girl in the world

Zack’s stunned when Melissa brushes straight past him after the game, demonstrating that even though her legs don’t work, her cold shoulders definitely do.

Do you have to keep reminding the world that I’m handicapped?” she says, which still doesn’t get through Zack’s confused, blond head, until Tori throws in her two cents.

Maybe she’d rather be your friend than your cause.”

Screech is still in possession of nine-year-old Tommy at the dance, which is some days, or even weeks, after he first gets palmed off on him. Has he been living with Screech? He certainly hasn’t been going to school, and when his brother finally comes to collect him, it’s because he “misses chasing him around at home,” suggesting he’s not been back there the whole time. Presuming his parents aren’t laying in a crack stupor, Screech has been harbouring a missing child while his distraught family assumes he’s been fucked to death and left in a ditch. Considering where he’s really been, it might have been better if he had.

Tall Cathy brushes off her date for Slater, pulling him into a light embrace he sells like she’s Godzilla, rather than barely an inch above Jessie. When Melissa shows, Zack’s moping by the cheese and pineapple. Zack says he’s sorry, and she explains that she just wants to be a normal teenager.

I’m just an ordinary girl. Maybe I’ll never win a rollerblade race, but I’m still capable of doing most things. Don’t treat me like I’m broken.” All Melissa wants is for Zack to act the same way in person that he did on the phone; like a cocky prick. So he does, and they dance. Like Ricky Gervais did that time.


So Excited, So Scared on

So Excited, So Scared on

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers.

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #6 in an Occasional Series

•August 17, 2015 • 4 Comments


I caught my full-length reflection in the maps they’ve installed along the riverbank, and realised I look completely different from this time last year. Different physique, different attire; clean shaven for the first summer since I was 18. It made me think about what other changes had shuffled past, one step at a time, with me not giving it any thought until I spotted them off in the distance — “Hey! How did you get all the way over there?!

I’ve spoken about my Lost Years before — the decade I spent as my grandfather’s carer — but I won’t link to it, because my writing was clunky back then, although I’m sure you can find it on here if you really want. During that period, despite it being my favourite place, and the sanctuary I’d take myself to during rough patches, ironically, I’d only gotten to go to the beach once, in a snatched half-hour there-and-back in someone’s car. Unless it was a place I could get to and back from within ten minutes, I couldn’t go anywhere. I had no freedom. And then, I did.

Oh, bloody hell,” you’re thinking; your cursor swerving towards the X in the top right, “what does this have to do with the beach? Where are the cottaging stake-outs, and bits about seeing an old man fart on his wife?” Hold your horses, because I’m going somewhere with this, I swear.

When my granddad got into a really great care home, relieving me of my duties, suddenly, I was dropped back into the world. ‘Dropped’ is quite apt, because I felt more like I’d been hurled out of a plane rather than marching confidently to take back all the years I’d lost, by really living. Suddenly given the time and freedom to be places and do things, black-hole finances withstanding, the first thing I decided was that I’d go to the beach. Tomorrow, I said, I’m going to the beach! It’s insane to think back to what a big deal that was, even though I told myself it was all perfectly normal, and so was I. I still remember how anxious I felt, and how oddly exhilarated, like I’d announced, spur-of-the-moment to a room full of people, that I was going to sell all my possessions and backpack around the world.

Over those carer years, I’d acquired a pretty bad set of anxiety issues, and the countdown to rare family gatherings like birthdays would lead to a week of sleeplessness and leg-jiggling panic. Any kind of social event, even on a tiny level, was a straight-up nightmare, and I just endured those occasions, never enjoyed, because I was trapped in a cage of bubbling panic, and trying to survive to the end. So then, even taking that decision myself, a simple walk to the beach took on immense proportions, warped through the fun-house mirror of nervousness and total inexperience. That night was a typically broken sleep. I made sandwiches before I went to bed, wrapping them in foil and putting them in the fridge, ready for the morning, like a little boy going on a school trip. Maybe I’d done it so that I’d be less inclined to back out when tomorrow became today. “You did make sandwiches…

When the morning came, I took forever to get ready, and by the time I finally made it outside, it was clear that the years trapped indoors, mixing with only a handful of members of my immediate family, had pushed me into borderline agoraphobia. It’s something I never would have admitted, because I didn’t even realise. You get locked into an idea of normal, and that’s just how things were for me then. I was barely out of the front gate before I was soaked with anxiety-sweats, with my mind racing with non-specific fears I couldn’t have put my finger on if you’d asked. I don’t even know what you’re afraid of in those situations? Panic that you will panic, in some self-perpetuating hamster wheel of irrational fear? That you’ll have a panic attack, or something will happen, and people will see, and it will be humiliating; the kind of humiliation that haunts you if you live to be a thousand?

"This Very Special episode of the Beach Diaries was taped in front of a live studio audience"

This Very Special Episode of the Beach Diaries was taped in front of a live studio audience

On a practical level, which route would I even take? It had been years since I’d had the time to stroll through town by myself. I took the most back-street, people-avoiding path, like I’d continue to do for a couple of years, feeling the hot flush of dread whenever I passed another human being, or crossing the street so’s I wouldn’t have to. About five minutes out from my home, I very nearly got run over by a massive lorry. There’s a half-remembered bit from a film or TV show that comes to mind, where some gonk-eyed, country-ingénue takes their first, innocent step into the big city and gets blown off their feet by the wind of a honking truck, zooming past half an inch from the end of their nose. It was kinda like that. My mind was too busy and too jittery, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention, and had forgotten the basics of Dave Prowse’s road safety video. I was flustered and embarrassed as I jogged back to the kerb I’d just stepped off, to avoid being flattened. It felt like a sign to turn back; to trust in my physiological reactions and just go home, where nobody could see me. “Five minutes and you almost got killed. You’re not fit to be outside.”

But I kept going, with the skin-burn of fresh embarrassment — Did anyone see? The driver must have thought I was a complete idiot! — keeping me toasty and sickly-feeling for the next hour. The whole excursion was similarly testing, feeling like Bill Murray in What About Bob? when he’s riding the bus for the first time, but instead of a security blanket goldfish hanging round my neck in a jam jar, I had a notebook and biro in my pocket. If the worst came, I could hide myself inside it. I couldn’t have been gone more than ninety minutes, but it was like ninety hours, feeling the casual, passing gaze of people’s eyes like the red-dot of an unseen sniper; my legs heavy and strange; my feet like two drunken friends walking back from the pub, wayward and aching, and clumsily bumping together.

The relief of arriving back home only hit me when I got in, virtually dropping to kiss the carpet like the Pope. Recently, I went to a 4th birthday party and didn’t realise, until I wandered into an empty room and suddenly felt as though I’d gone deaf, how loud it all was. That’s what it was like, for a long, long time. The relief of closing that door behind you; shutting the rest of the world back out. The anxiety leaving your body like it had been sucked out of an airlock. I couldn’t humiliate myself if I was alone. I couldn’t panic. I was safe.

Eventually, without realising, it slowly got better. That summer, I literally forced myself to go out, day after day; to go further than the day before, far enough from home that I couldn’t get back quickly even if I felt I had to, baby-stepping my way halfway to a sort of normality or humanity.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Panic was a constant presence, threateningly prowling nearby, often just lurking, but on occasion, pouncing to suffocate me, before eventually, receding out of sight altogether. The writer of the 2011 Beach Diaries, though better than he had been, often still ended the day’s note-taking with that intense feeling of relief and safety once he’d gotten through the front door, and still wasn’t great around people. At that point, if a 24-hours-older version of myself had crashed through the living room in a DeLorean to tell me that a stranger was going to ask me for the time, I’d have thrown my sandwiches in the bin and taken my shoes off.

Now, though the changes almost completely passed me by, I’m pretty much fine — fine as most incredibly awkward weirdo loners are — in a way that’s unthinkable when I look back on that first walk to the beach, all sweaty and crazed. Admittedly, I’m still kind of a human mess when compared to your average person. I’ve got a lot of holes in my game, socially, having spent my twenties, a crucial point of social development, isolated from my peer group, but I’m way better. Social events aren’t an issue now; I’m able to relax, rather than endure; to enjoy rather than survive. I don’t make excuses to get out of things because of anxiety, I socialise out of choice and not purely through unavoidable obligation, and I’ve no qualms meeting strangers or being around people. I might not be great at it, but I can truly say that I’ve been worse. Way worse.

Today, I feel weirdly… normal about it all, at least compared to how I was, which I’d kinda forgotten until I thought about it. Looking back, the me of then and the me of now are night and day. Hopefully, if I looked forwards, I’d see someone who’s even more bomb-ass, who thinks the me of 2015 is a broken little freak, with a lot more growth ahead.

I’ve totally lost the casual readers by this point, huh? I feel bad, so, today at the beach, on a sunny day in the middle of August, I saw someone wearing a Christmas jumper. Happy now? Alright, almost done…

None of this stuff has been particularly fun to talk about publicly, as everyone wants to present an image of themselves to the world that’s basically a cross between the Fonz and Iron Man, and a story about me being all fraidy to go on a walk hardly paints me as Daddy Cool, but that whole period is a big part of who I am. Besides, maybe someone reading this is going through the same thing, turning this post into one of those “it gets better” deals. Sure, that’s how I’ll paint this. It’s not self-obsessive, me-me-me blogging, it’s helpful.

I think we have a tendency, as humans, to lose sight of incremental changes, like how weight-loss is hard to see over extended periods of time, when you’re gripping at your gut in front of the bathroom mirror. That short-sightedness stops us from seeing how far we’ve come. And in turn, how far we can go.


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.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on$2.99 on

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on$3.99 on

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #5 in an Occasional Series

•August 15, 2015 • 4 Comments


The tide’s out, leaving a vast expanse of muddy sand scarred with footprints, pawprints, half-dug holes and moats. I love how it all reboots when the sea rolls back in, washing everything clean and new, like the dawn of a baby planet; day 3 of Genesis. Everyone here could etch their secrets in the sand with their fingers, safe in the knowledge Mother Nature would scatter them into the void, and nobody could stop her. I look at the dog-walkers and joggers, the tourists and the locals, and wonder what each of them would write, given the chance.

I only pretend that I’m happy.

I’m a Brony.”

I’m racist, but only about the Chinese.”

I killed a cat when I was 12, to see what would happen.”

I do this all day, on all the faces I see.

Some overheard gossip between two middle aged women would make anybody’s ears prick up, let alone a voyeuristic weirdo with a biro and a finely attuned ear for passing scandal. There’s a love triangle, involving two brothers, and someone who was killed in a helicopter crash. It’s only when she mentions The Woolpack that I realise they’re talking about Emmerdale. I should ask if Matt ever sorted out that problem in t’top field.

I was happier before I had kids.”

There’s a backbone of sleepy, summer basslines from the huge speakers lugged on and off of coaches by London daytrippers. A pair of teenagers amuse each other with writhing, over-sexualised dances as they pass through the wall of sound. “Lookit dem lickle girls,” says a tourist with a thick, melodious African accent, and tutting with a crashing impact the girls’ mothers would have heard from ten miles away.

A group of men use their wayward, wandering dog as an ‘in’ to snarl flirtatious patter at a pair of young women, as it pats its way onto their blankets. Less than ten minutes later, a dad making long football passes to a little boy seems to deliberately fluff a couple of weedy kicks, letting the ball roll between the two women, who have to field more man-chat as they toss it back.

I love somebody I shouldn’t.

A white-haired old man high-fives his grandchildren, each in turn. His wife leaves him hanging.

How old will I be when I’m 18?” asks a small boy to an exasperated dad.

Another dad playfully threatens a mischievous little boy with “…a pint of blood for your lunch.” — “Eurgh!

I came down here every day last week, but early, before the arrival of people or the mid-day sun, because I was dog-sitting. Every morning, when I picked him up, he was apoplectic with excitement, rolling at my feet like a drowning fish and leaping into my arms, where his sharp little teeth clumsily scratched the end of my nose. What would it take for a human to be that happy to see me? I’ve never gotten past the half-nod of recognition and the grunted “Alright?” Not that it wouldn’t be super weird to have a person sit waiting on the floor of the hallway outside the toilet door, scratching furiously at it with their nails, but I feel like maybe other people have felt their presence was truly wanted besides just the times they’ve been visiting a dog.

Sometimes I sleep in the airing cupboard. It makes me feel safe.”

I walk a long way; so far around the coast, I half expect to look out and see the Orkney Islands sat in the water. It’s the kind of walk people do when they’re trying to get away from something — the thoughts and worries that keep them awake, and turn quiet rooms and moments of solitude into a violent mental beat-down. In truth, those walks are like some You’ve Been Framed clip of a screaming child trying to run from a plastic spider that’s stuck to their back. Even if you marched off the edge of the Earth, you’d still be stuck with yourself as you were falling.

They don’t know that money was from me.”

There’s a face-painting kiosk by the pier. Maybe I should ask for an Ultimate Warrior, and start hurling people over the safety rails (which always seemed ring-like to me and my young chums back in the day). “I’m the winner of the Royal Rumble!” I’ll cry, as the lifeguards trap my thrashing body inside a lifebuoy; demanding my title shot as heavier passers-by are corralled into sitting on the backs of my legs until the police arrive. Probably won’t bother though.

I married the wrong brother.”

A sky full of grey, foreboding clouds, as far as you care to look. Intermittently, a shard of sunlight breaks through, bright and warm, and injecting hope of better things into the gloom. In the distance, you can see the beams lighting up darkened sections of faraway beach, slowly making their way towards you like a rescue searchlight from the heavens. You know it’s coming, bringing its brief and infrequent warmth — but it doesn’t stop the shivering; doesn’t clear the suffocating sky overhead. Off in the distance, everything’s black.

I’ve planned the date of my suicide.


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.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on$2.99 on

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on$3.99 on

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2, #3, #4

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #4 in an Occasional Series

•July 20, 2015 • 6 Comments


The bigwigs of the local art scene have put on a festival in the field by the beach; the LOVE Littlehampton Festival. There’s a kind of seashells-glued-to-a-vase-in-a-gift-shop-window Burning Man vibe, all dreadlocks and body-paint, and men in rainbow tutus flinging diablos into the sky.

Alan proves his celebrity status from a previous entry, parking his car by the side of the stage, and with his arrival announced over the mic like he’s Hulk Hogan being talked to the ring to defend his sweaty belt against the Iron Sheik. Along with the grand entrance, he’s slightly playing up his status as a celebrity eccentric, barefoot in jogging bottoms and shirtless beneath his dressing gown, like how John McCririck amped the priapic sexism to 11 when he realised it had become a marketable character.

While laid back on the grass, waiting for my friend to show, a calypso band lull me to a sleep beneath the oppressive midday sun, leading to another summer where my sunglasses-tan morphs me into the negative of a panda. When I jerk awake, mildly disorientated, Alan’s at the front of the stage, grasping the stuffed dog usually tied to his roof, and making it dance to the music.

Overheard conversation snippets. Mother with a small child, to her friend.

In my day, the seventies and eighties, the Pakistanis came over here and they slept with their own families. That’s why all the kids were born funny.

Unusually for these pieces, I spend the day with people I know rather than by myself. This leads to my being corralled into showing off my juggling at the circus skills tent. I don’t have many discernible talents; certainly few that can be called on at random moments. Nobody ever asks you to write a novel on the spot so they can see if you really do have as good a sense of structure and pacing as you’ve bragged. But my juggling, which was a teenage obsession, has been played up over time. Any mention of circusy things sees me quick to throw in with a “Yeah, I’m brilliant at that. Give me a broom and I’ll balance it on my chin. Wanted to join the circus when I was 15. Got a unicycle for my 16th birthday…” However, to say that I’m rusty would be an understatement. While I can’t be trusted to pass a bowl of fruit without flinging them under my legs and putting them back bruised, I haven’t really done it for a good twenty years; certainly not with clubs or more than three balls.

Fliss has heard me talking it up for a long time, and in the shadow of a mini-big-top, is gifted the chance to finally call me on it in public. When the wiry little Circus-man with the missing tooth and ratty ponytail produces a stack of balls, I sense I’m seconds from the familiar sight of a pair of big, blue eyes dismissively peering over the top of some imaginary glasses. I’m hot and unprepared, and juggling muscle-memory takes a few minutes to kick into life, beyond the perfunctory basics, so I pick up three balls and clumsily run through a half-arsed routine of the tricks I can remember.

You finally saw me juggling,” I say to Fliss.

I saw you dropping things,” she says, strolling off to try the poi, and not sticking around to watch me pick up a set of clubs.

Later, as the circus skill people take down the tent, it’s announced over the PA that they’re headed off for a “fire show” in London. On this, a pair of small boys who’ve been practising hula hoops sprint over to ask the juggler if they can go with them. Some childhood fantasies are timeless. Although judging from my own pitiful display, I doubt they’d want me for anything beyond sweeping the turds out of the elephant enclosure with my bare, uncoordinated hands.

The name of the festival gets me thinking back to a conversation I overheard earlier in the week, between a group of teenagers who took a brief stop on the bench as I was reading on the other side of the wall. I could only pick out snippets of their mewing, but it was clear that one of their number was virtually radioactive with the first exciting flushes of reciprocated love. I’m sure these days that plays out in group snapchats, or lyric-quoting tweets they think are really vague but aren’t, rather than tippexed initials on a pencil case, but the grand emotions will never change. Presumably.

Having never had that, caught as I am in the midst of this weird existential crisis, I find myself wondering what it’s like; that thing of knowing someone you like likes you back. It’s a thing which drives so much art, with the entire world chasing that feeling of reciprocation; of a magnetic pull instead of push, even on the small, simple level where you’re aware that someone of whom you think “she’s nice” thinks “he’s nice” in return. I wonder if there’s a specific feeling tied to that; a unique emotion that can later be called upon with sense-memory whiffs of a familiar aftershave or the opening bar to a song you once listened to together in the dark?

Part of me is curious to feel that before I die, just once, as a vague emotional bucket listing, seeing as it’s clearly such a central and driving part of the human experience. But I think it’s better not to know. You never hear anybody say “Took a big puff of crack, but I decided it wasn’t for me.” They’re always toothless and sunset-eyed; a decade more haggard then their forgotten school chums, after years of the obsessive, elusive hunt to recapture the sensations of that first high. Who wants to spend the rest of their life weighed down by that?

At the point a local band announce their entire oeuvre of noodling, twelve-minute dirges of feedback and psychedelica are inspired by the original series of Star Trek, it’s time to go home.


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.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on$2.99 on

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on$3.99 on

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2, #3

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #3 in an Occasional Series

•July 4, 2015 • 8 Comments


A woman berates her husband in angry Polish, as they watch a family-sized bag of Doritos blow away down the beach.

Days like today are packed with families, like that’s the totally normal way to live, and not to slink down here on your own just to find something to blog about. I remember when it started to be a thing where I’d see guys my own age who had kids, and thinking how crazy that seemed and how I could never imagine myself like that; especially not so young. But now, a lot of dads are a full decade younger than me, and it still seems unthinkable. Maybe as part of this whole mad crisis I’ve been having lately, a vague wondering crosses my mind, about how I’d have gotten on as a family person. What kind of father would I have been? What kind of boyfriend? I think that’s rather the same as asking how good of a Chinese farmer I’d have been, or how I’d have fared in medieval times. It seems an utterly ludicrous suggestion. I just can’t picture it.

Despite the fact I effectively imagine things for a living, I don’t have a mental image to draw on, because I’ve never thought about it. Mainly, because it never appealed to me; because the future life I did imagine always involved pumping out a body of work — books, films, etc — that people would enjoy, with no thought to any life outside. From more realistic imaginings of where I’d be a couple of years down the road, to more wild, child-like daydreams, where I could see myself on film sets, or in old-age as a prolific raconteur with a revered back-catalogue, the one thing I never pictured was that anyone else was there with me. Not once.

But also, if I’m being truthful, I didn’t think about it because I might have wanted it. If that happens, then what? If I start looking at these dad-men and think “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind a slice of that”? There’s really no need to add to the long list of things I want but can’t have. Maybe that’s why these pieces are so riddled with over-thought nonsense about pointless minutia and crisp packets caught in the wind. Mental flash-grenades that give me time to dive through the nearest window and make my escape.

There’s a group of cosplayers along the prom dressed as Batman villains, for no discernible reason beyond the fun of it. People stop to get selfies, with the characters all craning into frame behind, in classic villain poses. The Joker is there, and Catwoman, plus a little boy in a top hat, as Burgess Meredith-era Penguin. Perhaps more notably, in the insane, thirst-stirring heat, is Poison Ivy, who requires two or three or a dozen extra glances to figure out if she’s wearing a skin-coloured bodysuit, or literally just strolling about naked under some nettles (I still couldn’t call it), and an insanely hot Harley Quinn.

Great as it is, it’s a little disarming to see such classically gothic characters out and about on a sunny beach, transposed from their usual rain-soaked, lightning-lit streets; like if Santa had been down here. A really sexy Santa, with his bubble-butt ting barely covered by a tinsel thong.

Goddamn summer. It turns every man into a dirty old vicar from a Carry On film. Or maybe just me.

Cosplay's alright, I s'pose.

Cosplay’s alright, I s’pose.

Hardly anyone actually sits on the long bench. The unspoken agreement seems to be that it’s solely for little kids to walk along, even though there are metal juts and bins every few yards that they have to climb around, or beg with outstretched arms for a parent to lift them over and deposit them back down the other side. This climb-up-climb-down-climb-up routine often seems tiresome to mums and dads who just want to get home at the end of a long day, or find somewhere to lay their heavy bags of picnic food and beach toys at the beginning of one.

The latest child to carefully scamper along the slats like a circus performer gets short shrift from a mother laden down with bags, slung and slipping awkwardly over a shoulder, and held under an arm. She tells the little girl to get down. “It’s too hot for this,” she says, obvious irritation burning hotter than the overhead sun.

From behind, the child’s father hops onto the bench behind her with an “Eyy!” He gives slow chase. “Come on, then!” he says, to giggles from the child, and exasperated head-shaking from his partner, who walks on up ahead. A small victory for him, perhaps? Does he cast himself as Fun Dad against the rigid authority of Mean Mummy? Maybe she has to do all the punishing, while he’s always sneaking their daughter sweets and letting her get away with everything.

Then Fun Dad gets to a jut, his foot slips, and he tumbles; right off the bench to the concrete of the prom. He catches himself with his hands, but his pride is fatally shattered. The child starts to cry. Without casting a backward glance at the fallen form in her peripheral vision, Mum reaches out a hand, which the girl runs towards and clasps.

To the man, the woman says nothing. She keeps on walking. Dusting himself down, he follows behind; behind the silence of her back.

Overheard conversation snippets. A small boy to his mum:

They shot all the people on the beach in that other country. Shot all the people. I hope we don’t get shot!” he says excitedly.

Don’t be silly, darling.”

The t-shirt on a nearby picnicking dad is making my brain twitch. Along with a little stickman Gandalf, it bears the following text.





Hnnng. I looked it up on Amazon, expecting a slew of 1 star ratings raging about the misquote, but there’s a single 3 star review, which reads “The only qualm I have is the packaging made the shirt carry a strange odour which took a wash or two to get rid of.” Dads, eh? Running around in their incorrectly-referencing, smelly t-shirts. Slipping off benches. Who wants to be one of them? Pssh.

[Drops flash grenade; dives through closed window]


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.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on$2.99 on

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on$3.99 on

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #2 in an Occasional Series

•June 30, 2015 • 7 Comments


A man kisses the forehead of his dog as it rests its front paws on the arm of his wheelchair.

The sky is so insanely, flawlessly blue, with the sea beneath a clear turquoise you feel you could drink and be healed of all your demons, that it almost seems fake. It’s a child’s crayoned summer day, pinned to the fridge, where the sun is a big, yellow ball with outstretched beams and a smile on its face. If I throw a pebble at the sky, maybe it’ll crack.

My current reading material down here is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I only really know Capote through Oscar-season snippets of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance a few years back, which was notable for his depiction of Capote’s pinched, muppet-like voice. Unfortunately, I don’t recall it that well, so my internal narrator switches between other weird, nasely voices I’ve got saved up there. One paragraph, it’s Pee Wee Herman; the next, Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor. The bit where we first meet the killers is recited into my mind by Joe Swash — each somewhat undercutting the dramatic tension. I’ll Youtube Capote when I get in and settle it in my brain.

I keep seeing Alan’s car around. Everyone does.

To explain, Alan is famously the ‘town eccentric’; sorry to disappoint those who assumed that role was mine. He could often be seen with his beloved pet chicken, until it sadly got savaged in the high street by a loose dog last year, in a scene I’m glad I didn’t witness in person. Alan owns and lives in the house by the river that I first wrote about here in 2012; the house with the year-round Santa, stuffed dalmatian tied to the roof, and topless mannequin jauntily showcasing her plastic a-cups through the attic window. Sometimes, he takes her out for a drive, with her elegant hand waving greetings through the open passenger window like a member of the royal family.


A few months ago, the district council incited outrage by sending Alan threatening letters, serving notice that he needed to alter his house to fit in line with the new, £20-something-million development on the riverbank directly opposite. Give it a lick of paint, they said. Take down the dog, clothe the mannequin. Untie the black ladies bra that hangs from the bumper of your car. In fact, to quote directly:

I would ask that you provide an explanation for the unusual items on display i.e. the toy Dalmatian dog hanging out of a first floor window and the mannequin in the top floor window.”

Because the world is owed an explanation, right? Why do you dress like that? Why are you smiling? Just what are you hiding? What they saw as a warning against anti-social behaviour was quickly posted online in a Facebook group usually devoted to local gossip, with Alan holding aloft the now-torn-up letter like a mayor pointing at a pothole. All it stirred was support for one man’s right to live his life freely and harmlessly, while spreading a little bemusion and joy. Months have passed since then, and any tourist happening to glance across from the fancy new flood defences and elevated riverside walkway will still meet the gaze of a naked mannequin wearing a tea towel as a hat, or shield their eyes from the sun while pausing to figure out if that’s a real dog climbing up the side of the house.

Alan himself can be seen now more than ever — a full-time attraction, elevated from curio to small-town A-lister, with the frequent social media pap-shots giving him the air of a Littlehampton Kardashian — driving round both here and neighbouring locales as a one-man protest-cum-celebration of Being Yourself. He didn’t remove the bra from the bumper, but he did tie a full-sized, fibreglass cow onto the roof, with a stuffed dog riding on its back; tassels and other jaunty paraphernalia fluttering in their wake. Any councillors shaking their heads at his bringing shame upon the town’s precious image as he tootles past may catch sight of the large tiger that appears to be asleep in the open boot, while thinking to themselves that, in hindsight, some sleeping tigers are best not woken.

A large party of schoolchildren on an outing stand in an excited gaggle on the prom, with most of the boys chasing and attacking each other with foam swords bought from the vendors. An elderly couple walk through the mass of kids, and one of the boys playfully swats the old man on the arse with his sword. The old man laughs. Teacher didn’t see.

There are definitely less beards on display down here than there were last summer. Even mine got whipped off just before Easter. Every fad seems like it’s going to last forever, but never does. It’s like we forget. The mullet. Emo. Baggy combat pants. And now, that two-year period where every man looked like the Yorkshire Ripper.

Right,” says a man of about 40 to his mate, “I’m going for a cheeky piss.” I wonder what’ll be so cheeky about it? Will he have one leg bent up behind him like girls being kissed in old films, while coquettishly lifting a finger to his pursed lips, as a jet of wee rhythmically tinkles out the opening bars to Hello Dolly?

Imagine my surprise, when I follow him into the toilets and kick in the door while he’s mid-flow to discover that’s exactly what he’s doing.

On the way home, walking down by the river, I have to step around a couple who stop in their tracks to shoot a confused look across the street. “I thought that was a real dog” says the lady, laughing.


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.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on$2.99 on

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on$3.99 on

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

And in 2014: #1, #2, #3

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #1 in an Occasional Series

•June 27, 2015 • 7 Comments


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.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on$2.99 on

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on$3.99 on

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

And in 2014: #1, #2, #3

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