Brighton Doesn’t Rock!
Paul gazed along the deserted promenade on Brighton seafront. There were a few sun worshippers pebbled along the beach praying metres apart to their god of choice, who repaid his loyal congregation’s faith with a show of pure brilliance. The sky was a cornflower blue and the light breeze barely perceptible. Paul had rarely visited England’s south coast under such perfect weather conditions.
In normal times the place would have been crowded with day trippers and those just tripping. Awash with paddle boarders or those simply paddling. Beach lovers decked out in bikinis on the striped deckchairs concerned only with their tanlines. Toddlers excitedly jumping the waves assisted by mummy and daddy as they experienced the ocean for the first time. Waves of joy and the screeching of the seagulls. The acrid smell of vinegar wafting from plates of cockles and fish and ships from those who chose to go to sea. The tinny din from the amusement arcade on the pier, and the wailing from the ‘Ghost Train’ towards it’s end. In normal times.
Yet these were not normal times. They were themselves spectral.
The times were strange.
And since Paul and Andrew’s safe return from their unintended isolation in The Philippines their days had only become stranger. Perhaps when a person is in a foreign place, Paul considered, t’is easier to accept the exceptional. Life doesn’t seem so odd as almost every experience one encounters is unusual. But when on familiar ground, the unfamiliar can be more unnerving. It can make it shake beneath one’s feet. One knows how normality should feel. So abnormality can make one quake in their heels.
And so it was for Paul and Andrew. Although not in heels, neither of them felt as steady as they usually did when hitting Blighty’s shores. Though they were thrilled to be back on home turf, it was not the green, green grass they recognised.
The damned virus had made sure of that.
The carousel was still, her painted horses stabled beneath a Covid proof cover. It seemed as if spring had been sprung. The Bank Holiday on which so many banked had cashed out and made a run for it. But it seems no-one had remembered to inform the magnificent sun, who beat down cruelly, reminding everyone of what should have been.
A grand holiday for the living and not an unholy day for the dead.
There was a sadness that caught Paul off guard. He wiped away a tear, and blamed the constant ‘Hayfever’, from which he’d been suffering since his return, when Andrew asked him what the matter was. How could he answer his partner? He had no idea himself.
Later in the week, Paul and his mother had hit the shops for supplies. At one hideous juncture Paul found himself cornered in ‘The Bargain Shop’ on London Road. His mother had decided that a paint stripper was an ‘essential supply’ she was in need of, so Paul had volunteered for the job. Although when cowering inside the jumble sale of the retail store he’d entered, he was highly concerned he might purchase more than he’d bargained for.
It was a frightful establishment!
An overweight woman in her thirties, sporting almost pink hair and an aggressive demeanour, stomped towards him. Right down the middle of the aisle she came, seemingly entirely unaware of his presence, as she swore loudly at a ragbag of equally rotund children trailing behind.
‘Nan – can I ‘ave this?’ shouted one of the kids. The one in the ‘Percy Pig’ velour track suit.
‘No you fucking can’t. What ‘ave I told you? Put it dan!’ screamed the woman with the candy floss barnet.
‘Epiphany!’ she screeched, even louder this time, ‘get ‘ere.’
A cute little girl with some type of blue confectionary covering most of her face quickly dropped whatever she was breaking and made her way to nanny.
‘Nan?!’ Paul thought. She couldn’t have been a day over thirty five.
Or she’d had some great work.
Paul doubted it, as he was fairly sure work was not her thing.
He flattened himself against the ‘Quavers’, quivering as the disaffected caravan rumbled past. He heard one of it’s younger members demanding a packet of ‘Jaffa Cakes’ to which Granny acquiesced.
She obviously had a penchant for something seedless at times.
Paul only hoped none of the workhouse wanted a packet of ‘Quavers’. Thankfully not. The motley crew plumped instead for the ‘MonsterMunch’, a good Yeti’s foot from Paul. He was most relieved.
He looked to his mother who was watching through the window with amusement. She was gesticulating furiously in an attempt to reveal the location of the DIY section. She knew the store well – there was nothing Paul’s mother liked better than a good bargain.
He made his way timidly around the end of the aisle and proceeded towards a set of hammers which were displayed just up ahead. He knew he was getting warmer. He just hoped it wasn’t the beginning of a fever.
A tiny skinhead attached to a head mic and holding a mobile phone outstretched was also navigating the tool section. She was using the camera on her phone to show the person on the other end of the line the display of screwdrivers. He could plainly hear the instructions being given to the diminutive shopper, who sported more piercings than a colander. Paul didn’t want to imagine what her and her friend intended to do with the Phillips screwdriver they were after. It didn’t bear thinking about!
‘Nah,nah,’ squawked the voice through the speakerphone, ‘it needs to be bigger than that. I fuckin’ told ya that!’
‘Piss off’, the colander shouted back into her head mic, ‘that’s all they’ve got knobhead!’
Paul knew he wan’t in Waitrose anymore.
Things were rather different this side of the rainbow.
He was almost certain he wouldn’t be visiting ‘ The Bargain Shop’ anytime soon. He just hoped it was only the language which was toxic. He grabbed at the nearest thing that looked like it could strip paint and made for the check-out. Unfortunately the sieve on the mic was weaving in and out of the queue, showing her absent mate the selection of bargain bargains which were assembled next to the tils.
‘Need anyfing ‘ere?’ she was yelling.
She was obviously inebriated.
Paul made no judgement. He’d already had a small Bloody Mary, to steady his nerves before visiting the particular part of London Road on which he found himself. Yet he would never say ‘anyfing’.
A fellow shopper, who looked equally as shocked, whispered to Paul that there was another cashier just opening at the other end of the shop, and he was next in line.
Paul smiled, beneath his mask, and thanked the lady for her politeness. It seemed not every customer in ‘The Bargain Shop’ came from the bottom of the bucket. He paid the gentleman behind the counter and made his escape to join his mother outside.
‘Why did you send me in there?’ he asked her. ‘I’ve just risked my bloody life for a paint stripper!’
‘It’s usually alright. They’ve got some good stuff in there,’ his mother assured him.
‘It’s not the stuff, it’s the buggery clientele’, Paul responded.
‘Don’t be so awful’, Linda said suppressing a giggle. She went towards Paul to inspect the paint stripper he’d purchased.
‘Don’t come near me’, Paul commanded, ‘Social distance please! Wait until I’ve scrubbed down.’
He was joking.
But only partially.
There had been little common sense on display in the establishment from which he’d just escaped – just a lot of common. He really didn’t mind mixing with the Plebeian, only not during a pandemic. He knew he was being a touch snobby, but he wanted to remain a touch alive too. He felt for little ‘Epiphany’, she’d seemed so sweet. What chance did she have? She’d no doubt survive the virus with just a teenage pregnancy and a box of ‘Jaffa Cakes’ to look forward to. He hoped she’d break the viral cycle, but as he and his mum were making off in the opposite direction he heard another shout from the fushia-haired granny,
‘Fuckin’ ‘urry up you lot!’
He only hoped Epiphany would have one of her own one day.
Although he thought perhaps the cider glass was half empty on that score. He certainly wasn’t full of optimism.
Shameless he knew!
On another day Paul walked with his mum through a near deserted park. It felt good to be exercising his right to exercise, especially as outdoors it was much easier to keep a distance socially. There were no little Keanus or Kanyes with parents to avoid like the virus!
He and his mother ended up in a small, pretty churchyard – it was silent as the grave. Not a soul in sight. At least not any that were breathing. Paul took a moment to reflect.
He rested – thankfully not in peace.
He wondered when he and Andrew would be able to travel to Spain to be re-united with their little Pomeranian.
He felt sorry for himself for a second but then came across a gravestone showing a family who had coincidentally lost both of their children at the ripe old age of 32. He wondered what were the odds of that happening. Another tombstone showed that ‘Thomas John, Son Of Henry John’ was taken away at the age of just 3. Another bemoaned the loss of Katherine Royston at just seven years old. All this prior to Covid 19. Paul’s perspective was suddenly resurrected. People had gone through so much in the past and had always recovered.
Well – most of them!
He was confident their current world would do the same. A little bruised maybe. A touch poorer perhaps.
But re-emerge they would from the viral madness that had so recently enveloped the planet.
And hopefully most of them a tad wiser.
After all – they only had one!
They ought to look take care of it.
Paul stared across the grass and noticed the children running free. Unfettered by concern for the future. Timelessly having a ball whilst kicking or throwing one.
He saw no Epiphany.
But he still had hope.