March 23 2018 (Tynemouth)
11am. With a free day I head to Tynemouth to join the so-called Breakfast Clubbers – John E, Phil M, Stephanie P and Vicky G at Porters on the metro platform. I have a pot of tea and two rounds of toast and marmalade. The BC have been here since 9am and have already eaten two breakfasts each! When their bill arrives I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But no one bats an eye. I am clearly in the wrong business.
March 23 2020 (Kings Cross – Whitley Bay)
03:00. Home by skin of teeth from London. Kings Cross was busy with many police and many homeless and many last minute travellers. All trains are cancelled except for the slow train to Edinburgh. “All tickets are being accepted.” A police officer attempts to wake a man on the concourse. She shakes him like a kindly and long suffering wife in disposable gloves. “Come on, come on, come on.” But all she can rouse is a drunken, “Gerroff!”
A beautiful homeless woman, like a statuesque, catwalk model. Her face is sooty and she is dressed in two dirty old man macs, fishnets and unlaced DMs – heroin chic to the nth. She asks me for some spare change. Her voice is like I Can’t Stand The Rain; she almost sings her request. Her eyes are seaside blue. I give her all my coins. She says thank you and disappears. But some minutes later she returns and thanks me again.
I take the train north finding a space on the floor by the toilets with a crowd of loud students drinking blue alcohol. Their chat is punctuated by hysterical cackles and the shout of, for some reason, “Keith Lemon!” every time the bottle is passed. It doesn’t help very much at all that said celebrity is a dick. I think about the glamorous homeless woman and wish I was homeless every time I hear the name “Keith Lemon!”
10:00am. Out of habit I open the shop. M, the ex merchant navy bantam weight boxing champion of 1974, comes in for a haircut. He is without the stick he usually has. He is cheerful. He leans into my voice, cocking a cauliflower. As M. leaves I see that the whispering Asian is outside smoking as if his life depended on it. He chuffs back enthusiastic mouthfuls of smoke and, finally at the filter, looking disappointed and surprised, flicks the butt into the street and comes in for a haircut. When he speaks it is in a whisper. The only word I have ever extracted from him is, “Three.” This he says as he points at his hair. Or is it his head? Perhaps it’s his name?
Walk to CC Coffee shop to find out what ‘lockdown’ entails or means. CC Coffeeshop are only dispensing takeaway coffees and teas and their inedible, skin removing, toasted sandwiches from a hatch! There is some kind of cryptic instruction chalked on the pavement – rather like a game of hopscotch, but with lots of arrows. J and Little M and D prepare my coffee between the three of them! J is at the hatch. She is as friendly as always except that she visibly recoils as she accepts my money! Little M is serious. He wears disposable gloves. D is his usual self – aloof, yet clownish – phew.
1pm. All at once I decide that I will close up shop and go home. There is an unsettling atmosphere in the town. Day one of lockdown.
March 23 2021 (Penn Beacon)
Last night I made a point of leaving all electronica in the living room when I went to bed at 3am. I wake up at 8am, fresh! Tea and toast. Read some A. Munro. Back to sleep until 11am. Work on Nick B letter.
1pm. Shower, dress and scrambled eggs. Write some words until 3pm and then walk into town for some air and some bread. I am craving a crusty loaf – hope I’m not pregnant.
Outside the Park View Shopping Centre I recognise Sheila from next door. She faces the glass, but I know that Bet Lynch get-up anywhere. I say hello, Sheila. Sheila is funny. She is, however, tricky to get away from.
Her mask has seen better days. Sheila asks me if I think the shops will open again. She gestures the Park View Shopping Centre, the shops on Whitley Rd. I tell her that I hope so. “Really?” says Sheila. “I hope they don’t! They’re all tat except Morrison’s.” She is funny. She’s pretty much right though.
“I like their organic eggs,” I say. She finds this wonderful.
“Not many people care about eggs these days,” says Sheila.
We to and fro like this for a while.
“I have a new lodger in the back room. Keeps himself to himself. He works hard, but he drinks 8 cans every night. Why would I mind? It’s not my liver. It’s his trade.”
She refers to his drinking as his trade. “He sounds professional,” I say.
“Exactly. Long hours though.”
“Yes, but he’s his own boss.”
After a while we say goodbye and I walk to the Playhouse and to the Dome and to the beach. The tide is going out. I bump into Stylish Alan. “Is that my barber?” he says. We chat about there being so many house bricks on a particular stretch of beach.
Still without bread, I walk to Cullercoats. John E and Kate X and Kind Janet are paddle boarding up and down between the harbour piers. They are playing some kind of very slow, rudimentary water polo. I watch for a while from the promenade.
Buy a crusty loaf from the Co-op.