Notes From a Fragile Island…28

August 10 2015

Croydon

The shopping centre reeks of men’s hair product. The haircut remains the traditional short-back and sides, but edges toward something quite Hitlerite of late. There are too many men sporting baseball caps. Too many men in tight or ill-fitting sportswear. Too many oversized tee shirts proclaiming Old Guys Rule, Pink Floyd (pre-faded), #1 Daddy, etc. Too many skinny, one button, blue suits; the trousers of which are further made worse by pockets stuffed with phones, wallets, cigarettes, great knuckles of keys. The blue suited clop about like Chaplin, sans cane, in ridiculously pointed footwear – not unlike pantomime genies or those fireside iron knights. They are horrendous and often multi-coloured shoes, once only seen on Ghanaian businessmen or Serbian gangsters. If not the obligatory two-piece, then garish baggy shorts hemmed below the knee (multi pocketed – all pockets utilised) are the depeche mode. The worst of these are fluorescent. Beards, though not face-crime per se, are overly pruned; reminiscent of suburban-dream privet hedges. Legs are bereft of hair. Also arms. There are noticeably more men with shaped brows. This cannot augur well. And all of these details produce in me a vague, creeping malaise.

The egg salad served at The Continental Cafe (no acute accent?) is spot-on.

August 10 2017

Tynemouth

It is Heritage Open Day. I walk from Whitley Bay to Tynemouth pier. I am, I suppose, hopeful that the lighthouse will be open for general viewing. The stone pier is busy. The lighthouse resembles an elegant chess pawn.

I came here early one morning last autumn, taking the first ferry across the river. The pier that morning was deserted and I wanted to take some photos. But I was surprised to find a throng of people hidden beyond the lighthouse, peering into the north sea. A pod of dolphins were slowly stitching the surface of the millpond water. Awe inspiring.

This morning another small crowd lingers at the lighthouse. A sign on the door reads ‘Not open to the public’. No dolphins either. I walk back along the pier and up the bank to the Spanish Battery in the shadow of Collingwood’s monument. The Voluntary Life Brigade museum is open and I spend an hour studying black and white photos of shipwrecks and people long-dead; pulleys and blocks and knotted or coiled ropes. Excellent.

Walked home.

August 10 2022

Amble

It is an idyllic seaside summer’s day. “One cod and small chips, please. If we’re still hungry after that, we’ll come back for another.” The fish and chip lady is cheerfully toothless. “What a pretty high street,” I say. And, at this (not the paltry order), her smile fades a little and she raises her shoulders, drops her head to one side and says, “Meh.”

As she wraps, she asks, “Are yous on holiday?”

“Visiting from Whitley.”

This makes her eyes shine and she repeats that town’s name softly as if recalling a dream or mythical land. “I lived in Seaton Sluice once. Happy days. But my parents moved us here. So here I am.” She is, perhaps, sixty.

*

True love is timeless. IW and I sit on a bench in the shade of the war memorial and share a cod and small chips. There are, of course, too many chips. It’s a miracle this country can afford so much weaponry, the amount wasted on chips.

The memorial is impressive; tall, four-sided, with great brass sheets of names. It has a clock on every face. An elderly woman studies the inscriptions with her hand on her hip. She wears slim denim jeans and a turtleneck. She looks like a poet. She would wince at the description poetess. A chough appears from the sky and lands on the lawn. It appears old; the black feathers are matt, the grey feathers shiny and brittle looking.

IW wonders if it’s disrespectful to feed corvids chips in a war memorial garden. But the bird hops this way and that, watching us askance, so she throws one and the chough nods, comes closer and, taking the chip, flies off to a nearby tombstone of white granite and looks into the distance. “Oh,” says IW. “Look, the clock is exactly one hour behind.” She shows me her wrist. 2:45

We bin the remaining chips and wander across to the marina, where we have spotted some colourful new-build apartments that we fancy, with a photo, we could pretend to be Reykjavik. The marina is smart and, beyond the Icelandic apartments, the feel is more reminiscent of a Douglas Coupland novel: a small, quayside market space of neat cabins sell kitsch souvenirs – humorous aphorisms, vintage print on neat whitewash boards – Laundry room. Drop your knickers here please: polished drift wood wind chimes, shell ashtrays, little wooden boats for the bath, hyper-real photo art of evening seascapes, the obligatory multi-coloured ‘longhorn’ of late (framed).

In the coffee shop-cum-bar, we speak about Brit-Pop in a disparaging manner, agreeing Oasis dreadful. Blur, also, but to a lesser extent. We finger trace the family tree from Riot Girl to Girl Power. We recall the fad of Auto-tuned vocals. And, as if by some dark magic, Cher comes on. The sea sparkles in the windows. We leave.

Crossing back to the car park, IW notices that the time on the memorial clocks still reads 1:45. We hold hands and breathe in the sweet magic of love and serendipity.

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