Notes From a Fragile Island…27

July 4 2003

Carshalton.

Green puddles of hard plastic are welded to the pavement. A number of wheelie bins have been torched outside the flats. One of them appears to have melted completely. A toxic stench permeates the scruffy forecourt, but the birds still sing and a crow hops up and down among scraps of escaped rubbish, carefree. The caretaker is on his knees prying the melted plastic from the concrete. He says that an accelerator was used. He means an accelerant. I tread in some dog shit. How difficult can it be to bag your hound’s shite and toss the bag into the hedge? The playground has also suffered an arson attack. Six chains hang from a frame, three pools of red plastic splashed beneath them. It looks like a gibbet. The wooden playhouse is a charred ruin loosely corralled with Police Incident tape.

July 4 2017

Cullercoats.

There are lots of people running along the seafront. Several mums run pushing babies in buggies before them. The mums have earnest looks on their faces. The babies are blurs. Two women in their fifties kiss passionately outside The Queen’s Head. One is on crutches and both are dressed as scaffolders do – in thick trousers with too many pockets and padded knees, salmon coloured polo shirts. Between them they sport three ugly work boots. How I detest polo shirts. A decrepit, orange Spaniel, waiting for them, pads about on stiff legs around the couple, sniffing, and pisses a thin puddle of dark urine onto the rubber foot of one of the crutches.

Several pink people emerge from the sea.

I cannot decide if Tynemouth Priory, from a distance, is a blot on the landscape or a wonderful, dreamlike structure. Up close, it is mostly the latter. But the moat is spoilt with discarded consumer rubbish. In the shadow of the gatehouse a loud gaggle of frenetic teens preen themselves

At Tynemouth market I buy a wooden-framed mirror from a man with two fingers missing on his left hand (£7).

July 4 2022

Penn Beacon.

Geoff laughs like a young girl. Geoff wears his silver hair in a vast quiff, like David Lynch. He sits askew in the barber chair due to his gangly frame. When he speaks, which he does with a constant stutter, he closes his eyes. He laughs in all the wrong places and I try to discern just what part of the story is amusing: sometimes he tucks his excited laugh within the opening words of a sentence and sometimes it is used as punctuation. Sometimes he’ll laugh when nothing at all is said. I ask him of his memories of the world when it was black and white. He laughs and says that he once recommended the film Only Angels Have Wings to his young niece as an example of a great film. She was, he says, dumbfounded to learn that it was filmed in black and white. “Is it an arthouse film,” she asked him, seriously. He, no doubt, laughed at this. Cary Grant plays the part of an ace pilot tasked with flying an experimental plane over the Andes, and I see now that his character is called Geoff, too.

I sketch him a memory of my monochrome world (circa 1968, Torridon Primary – the only coloured aspects of the world being the twirled spirals in the marbles that Noel Scotford and I flicked over the black drain cover in the dark playground). “Of course,” I say. “by the time they came back from the moon the world had been converted to colour. Which must’ve been quite a surprise to them.” Geoff doesn’t laugh, but asks seriously what year that was. I tell him and he says, “Oh yes. Apollo 13. Unlucky for some.”

“Eleven,” I say. But the word is lost in his girlish laughter. I let it slide and ask him instead of his thoughts on Eraserhead!

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