May 9th 2016 (South Shields)
Arriving back from the city on a late night Metro I decide to treat Jayne L and myself to a nice drop of wine. I pop into Safeways, where, at the end of the quiet aisle I am accosted by a member of staff as I carry a bottle of De Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé toward the till. She appears out of nowhere and rams her palm into my chest, sending me reeling.
“Where do you think you’re going with that?!”
“Er, to the till?”
“Ee, sorry,” she says. She doesn’t seem so sorry though and accompanies me to the check-out.
It is not until I am home and recounting the event that I recover enough to be vaguely annoyed at the unwarranted assault and, more so, for the assumption that I was a shoplifter. Jayne L only laughs and says that they’re probably not used to anything other than light-fingered, late-night Diamond White connoisseurs!
This reminds me of when I lived in Bath at the end of the last century and, as a student, earned myself £1000 for modelling for a Diamond White promotion campaign for some friend who ran the Kerve design company. By the end of that year I had almost forgotten that I had done it and was surprised one evening to find the bar of The Hat & Feathers adorned with cardboard mobiles of myself! “Ah, it’s the Diamond White geezer,” said the barmaid. I signed no autographs and my air of mystery was, I assume, enhanced further by ordering only Blackthorn Cider.
But the epithet stuck until the following year when I embarked on my MA – though whether it was the kudos of the higher degree that allowed for the nickname to be (thankfully) erased, or that the cheap cider product lost favourability during that period, I don’t know. I hope the former, but suspect the latter.
May 9th 2018 (Cullercoats)
Two Herring gulls are having afternoon sex on the ridge of the roof of number 24 on the opposite side of the road. He, astride her, throat to the sky, cackling like some insane jockey at the final furlong. She, a somewhat youthful-looking bird, seems rather non-plussed by the whole event. It is a brief affair, coming to an almost sticky end with the couple sliding down the tiles. As they reach the guttering they clumsily part ways and fly off along Edwards Rd. He, quietly toward the town and she, elegantly toward the sea. Some will remember them as a great couple, but, in reality, she was clearly too young for him and in some months she will be perched on a clutch of eggs in a poky nest on the cliff and he, or a very similar looking gull, will be bothering the morning drinkers outside the ‘spoons on Whitley Road.
Later, at The Surf Cafe [nb. pre-accent acute], sat at the window bench facing the boating pond, the crowded bar at our back, Jahn E tells me, over a pint, that he and Ella X have split up. She is off to Australia for some unknown reason. He is deep in his cups and the news is common knowledge, but I lend an ear and pretend to be the last to know. It is the kind of telling that allows the mind to wander in and out without too much effort, beyond the occasional question, nod and raised brow. The beer is cold though and the Surf Cafe is warming up. I wonder when model boats were last launched on the pond.
Jahn E plays a thoughtful and skilful set of songs, each one made forlorn by strumming them very slowly and accenting the verses with minor chords (Heart of Glass, Let’s Dance & even, though god knows why, that ridiculous thing by The Prodigy. During the latter I giggle into my beer, though I am alone in this reaction it seems, as our wooly troubadour reminds us that he is not only a fire-starter, but a twisted one). The melancholic death-march set reaches, eventually, the graveside and garners much applause. Young women wail in the queue for the toilet and grown men weep opening at the bar. And all is as it should be.
May 9th 2021 (Penn Beacon)
The re-opening gold rush is over. Four solid weeks of haircutting finally come to an end. Yesterday was the quietest Saturday in three years. It would seem that I have cut everyone in this northern town. And so, mid-morning, after a cut and catch up with the excellent Mark S (whom, I see now, was one of the early runners during the first week back in the saddle), I decide to shut up shop and head over to Tynemouth to see what’s happening among the bearded and overweight hip circles at the weekend market.
While tidying up, a young boy on a bicycle appears in the mirror on Station Rd. He leans into Eleanor St., but he takes the corner too wide, too fast, and ends up, briefly, on the bonnet of a dark car parked outside the shop. I go out to see if he is OK. There is no blood and there are no tears. He says that he’s fine, but he is clearly in shock, more than a little embarrassed and keen to be away. But he is very confused – his bent bike and spectacles making no sense to him. I tell him to come and sit inside for a few minutes and offer to phone his mum. He accepts the first offer, but deems the second unnecessary.
The boy sits quietly in the barber chair while I twist the handlebars back into shape and try to keep him chatting and the mood light. He prods his mouth. “Have you hurt your mouth?” He looks up and now his eyes are brimmed with tears. “Let me have a look for you.” One of his incisors has been sheared in half. A triangle of tooth remains. He fingers the structure with horror, but after some minutes he seems to suddenly recover, tells me he lives just up the road, thanks me for fixing his bike (though the front wheel is buckled) and wobbles slowly off home. I stand on the corner and watch. He disappears into a house about halfway up the street. I cut my hair.
As I’m locking the shop, a woman and a young girl appear. “Did you see my son have an accident?” I run through the incident and she thanks me for helping, but is surprised at the mention of the car bonnet. It seems he has neglected to tell her this part or, more likely I think, forgotten it in his trauma. We three stand at the car and she smoothes her hand over the metal. “There is a bit of a dint here,” she says. And, yeah, there is a chin sized, shallow depression there. We all study it and she insists on leaving an apology note for the owner. So, I go back in the shop and search out a pen and scrap of paper. When I return, the young girl is saying, “Is that G______’s tooth?” And, unbelievably, there is the remaining triangle – tiny and perfect – on the bonnet, nestled just in front of the windscreen. The mother pockets the tooth ruin, thanks me again, and off they go, the girl skipping triumphantly ahead of her mum.