I'm in the back of my parents Citroen Picasso near buried in quilts, watching the motorway flick past my feet which are pressed against the window. I like travelling, in every sense of the word, not only in ‘exploring the world’ sense, also the more literal sense. the physical act of moving one place to another contents me in a way that I can only describe using references to Renton from Trainspotting or tom from Tom and Jerry* after he gets a kiss from a female coded cat and shoots up in the air. You know, the bit where he floats gently down swishing side to side like a leaf? Yeah? That's me on the Megabus.
I don’t know why; i suppose there's just no pressure , that nagging feeling that I should be doing something else just disappears. Feeling that I'm actually in the world living a life. Perhaps it's just the easiest way of achieving something impressive sounding without actual work, and I’m just a lazy vain man. It sounds hardcore when you say ‘I’ve been travelling seven hours now’ even though six and a quarter of those hours have been sitting blissfully looking out of a window. Intercut with the odd nap.
In a Gibson novel, Pattern Recognition, one of the characters kicks around the theory that when you travel your body is going faster than your soul and jet lag is how you feel until your soul catches up with you. Travelling, for me is my body moving quicker than my guilt, pressures, and worries. Drifting quicker than the black cloud.
I’m in my parent’s car on my way to Pontins with said parents, crashing a half-term holiday with my sister and a selection of her brood. As I’ve got older, I've started to cherish the time spent with mom and dad, and if I have to suffer Pontins in North Wales, then by god I will. Besides, last time our family was here my brother got into a bit of bother and we were thrown off site by a very sheepish official.** I bring this up with my mom in the car. She says that we were not thrown off site but we left the next day anyway.
We arrive about one but are told we can't check in till four. And of course when I say ‘we’ here, I mean my mom and sister who are handling the admin side. Me and my dad wisely choosing to stay out of the way and stick to our strengths.***
Luckily the beach at Prestatyn is 200 yards away so us, and all the other families hit the sand too. I unfold myself from the womb-like backseat for a second time and am immediately approached by a lad about 15 years old with what looks like quite profound autism, he shakes my hand, not facing me but watching me in the peripheral. I say ‘hello’ and sign it in case he understands Makaton. He keeps my hand, his other hand gently stroking my wrist tattoo. Since working with kids with autism I’m approached a lot like this, even when not in work. Its like they know, but, upon reflection it's more likely that I no longer recoil or avoid their gaze. All normal reactions when faced with something your not sure of or are uncomfortable around. It's just I'm not that anymore.
Working in any job gives you superpowers, bar work - a supernatural tolerance to shots and alcohol in general, and the ability to remember people's rounds that supersedes any short term memory problems you already had. Security work - scarily good at guessing crowd numbers and the ability to just sit in your own thoughts for hours on end. My current job, due to constant scratches and pinches has blessed me with an incredible tolerance to sharp annoying and surprising pain on my arms and legs. Which is why I am able to settle into the pointy shrubs that grows from the white dunes. The fronds have the benefit of being dry, comfy, and niece and nephew free - their pain thresholds not yet tempered by a constant pinching and pulling from upset learners.
It's hot with a dangerously fresh breeze, a breeze that whispers ‘don't bother with suncream’. The beach is is dotted with families, like the concrete stairs that delineate the beach are dotted with smashed crab bodies, meat picked clean. They’re exclusively white, and very working class (the families, not the crabs). Only about half of them are ready for the beach. The sky is not quite blue, the sea and sand are not quite the same exact shade of brown. I’m sure that for the little ones running around their memory will do the same number ours did on us and paint the sky bright blue, the sand yellow and sea a clear azure. Time painting our recollection with how it felt to be in the heat and happy and content. Our memories slowly merging with our shared cultural Platonic ideal of the English seaside. Enough for us to bring our own kids there years later. To the left I hear a dad step on a crab shell and swear in scouse at his sliced foot.
Back in the car, radio tuned to the channels that only dads seem to find. Mom has gone to check in, I’m reading, and dad, well dad is sitting silently, just waiting I guess. Lost in thought, or just powered down and awaiting further instructions. I know he was a security guard for a while so maybe that's where he picked it up. But it's not uncomfortable sitting in a hot box with a cool breeze at my feet listening to classic rock with my dad sphinx-like and inscrutable. The track Only Women Bleed comes on and we both unconsciously murmur along, except when it comes to the third refrain of the chorus, where we both try and hit the high note, I watch my dad in the rear view and he's smiling broadly. The next song is Big love by Fleetwood Mac and we both know what to do. Dad cranks the volume and we both are practically shouting the chorus at passers-by.
I go find mom in the main ballroom where the checking-in happens. It’s turned into a refuge hall of queues and cross faces, full of sports tops, Primark dresses, and sticky faced children running backwards and forth from the arcade brimming with greed and boredom.
The TV monitors are showing Captain Croc - the mascot of Pontins - and some monkey upstart add-on doing a slapstick schtick around the apartments♱, unfortunately the apartments have not been updated since they were built and the black and white filter with grain just draws attention to how old the place looks.
Mom comes scowling out of the queue, we head to the site shop and its recent Poundland section addition. I ask her what took so long and she tells me that they had no record of her paying for an upgrade.
“What do you get when you upgrade?” I ask, genuinely interested.
“We get a guaranteed downstairs chalet♱♱, free electricity♱♱♱, and a shower over the bath” she tells me.
“Is the shower or the bath or the combination of both that’s the upgrade?” Mom doesn't answer, she just gives me a mom look and spots something on the shelf.
“A pound for two pregnancy tests, that's pretty good”.
Later we arrive for the entertainment, the main hall is now a colosseum of dads on their best behaviour and moms being used as coin and squash dispensers, the bar is empty but everybody seems to have drinks, mostly appearing badly poured from under the table. It’s good to know things never change.
The ballroom is at capacity and throbbing with the wrath of 500 people that have been slowly crisping themselves in the sun and children hopped up on slush puppies throwing themselves around to circa nineties eurodance. There's a can-can analogue and I watch in part-horror part-joy as a larger lady, trying to keep up with the Bluecoats, boots a young girl into the row two rows ahead. They speed up the music and as people rush to check if the girl is okay some teenager cops her sister a screamer to the chin. I involuntary get to my feet, not sure when I’m up there if I intended to help or appuland. The nearest Bluecoat goes to help. It's good to see that not being good looking is no longer a barrier to being a Bluecoat anymore. Although, judging from the staff photo wall later, any other skin colour other than white might be.
Soon the Poundland glow sticks are breaking and everyone is now running with their nice trousers covered in toxic unicorn bukkake and most of the tables look like the Tesco version of the motorcycle race scene in the underrated classic Batman and Robin. The entertainment is an, apparently ex x-factor, female vocal group called TNT, who my niece called “like a Little Mix but a cheap version”. They wink at the audience at the end of each sentence and self consciously pull at their tops to stop them riding up between songs. They’re okay, the dads in the room have gone from boredom to ‘maybe we can stick around for a bit love’.
Back at the chalet/apartment I’m too keyed up and drunk to go straight to sleep but because all the rooms contain sleeping children there's literally nothing else to do.
“I think I’m going to go to the beach and catch the end of sunset” I tell my parents. Mom, who is used to my flair for the dramatic, says
“Okay darling” my dad perks up
“Okay I’ll come too” with casualness of a man that has no idea that that wasn't an invitation. We leave and walk the 200 yards down to the beach, along the way dad is talking. I’m inwardly cursing because I secretly wanted to listen to some Bon Iver and pretend I’m the lead character in my own movie for a while. But my dad has a hidden super power, it's almost impossible not to like him. And soon I’m answering his weird questions and playful pointing out how loud his voice is.
When we get to the beach, we aim for the same spot as earlier and sit. I stop answering him for a while and he gets the hint and we sit watching red light of the last of the daylight smear itself over the sky. The lights from the wind turbines gives the impression of a far away mythical cyberpunk city just a little nearer than the horizon. There's a phrase from Wittgenstein that settled in my head in my teens “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence” and I loved that time on the beach watching the tide creep up the concrete stairs.
On the way home Dad told me the same story about his trip to Barmouth or Bournemouth or something. But that’s okay, hopefully Id said everything I needed to in that ten minutes of near silence, under a smeared red sky. The only sound, the waves, washing on the steps and pulling the fragments of crabs back into the sea.
*writing this in growing horror that I may be the last generation to watch Tom and Jerry cartoons
** to be completely fair to my brother, he wasn't the only one in the wrong that night, the police were very nice and after I’d talked to them let him keep the door to the cell open and take my moms cell phone with him.
*** Dad’s being driving and carring shit, mine mainly being handling the police (see above footnote)
♱not chalets, thats butlins
♱♱everyone calls them chalets anyway
♱♱♱a five pound electricity card