Nearly two months after my goodbye party and due to lawyers, mortgages, and other headaches I'm still here. Birmingham, it seems, is sticky. A web of glass and concrete that the more you struggle with the harder it is to escape. I'm still here, trapped in a limbo of having said my goodbyes but not actually having gone. A living ghost who nobody can make plans with or see because everybody presumes I'm somewhere else. It’s not so bad, Birmingham in the summer is not a bad place to be, the goths in Pigeon Park, the office workers grabbing some vitamin D and a EAT hummus and avocado sandwich, the floor of cannon hill park sticky with a hundred dropped ice creams.
Me? I'm wrestling my own pack of black dogs, sometimes winning, sometimes not. Momentum is the key but it seems this year has been determined to poke sticks into my psychic spokes every chance it can get. My tarot threw up Death the other day so as Sam Cooke sang “ A Change Is Going To Come” let's just hope it’s not in some shitty motel wearing nothing but a jacket waving my dick at the manager.
It’s probably this vulnerable state of mind that lead to me agree to go to Pontins for the weekend with my Mom and Dad. I wasn't a big fan of Pontins as a kid, the family freak, awkward in a million ways. But they would have missed me there, a odd shaped hole where I should have been shuffling, so I always went. Say what you want about freaks but we always come through in the end. I actually agreed this time because I would get to see my nephew and, more importantly, niece, who, and I know you’re not supposed to play favourites, is definitely my favourite of the brood that my sister fired out. And something else, something about being so rootless at the moment must have made the idea of regressing into my youth attractive enough to say yes.
My parents have a big car so even packed for the weekend the back seat was clear for me to fill with quilts and duvets. My plan was to create a womb-like hyperspace pod and be insulated all the way to Brean Sands Pontins. My parents listen to Radio 2, which actually isn't so bad, except they have the radio set to switch to every traffic report, local or national. I turn it into a game, I try and guess how big the station is by how specific the reports are.
“Traffic backing up on the M5 between junction 6 and 12.” safe bet that's national, “ A475 is slow due an upturned lorry” probably covering a smaller region “the lights are still red by that Aldi, and a man just walked past wearing a hat” is as probably being broadcast from some mad dads shed.
Radio 2 goes all request around 5 and Sheena Is A Punkrocker by The Ramones is followed by Fly Me To The Moon by Frank Sinatra, which goes to show the listenership of Radio 2 has a more refined taste that its programmers, but the Rick Astley comes on shooting that theory down in flames. Sixpence None The Richer come on, the presenter doesn't say which song, he doesn't need to, rightly assuming people only know them by their one hit, like The Wannadies, or The Mock Turtles. I briefly wonder what it's like to be an artist whose aesthetic briefly aligns with the zeitgeist and then forgotten. Then I think about the book I published and how little progress I've made on the next one and I don't want to think about that any more.
Arguments crack through the car like sudden summer storms and disappear just as quick. One second they’re howling at each other about whether you’re allowed to drive in a bus lane, the next we’re all singing along with Haircut 100.
Just before we get there we swing into the supermarket, the chalets are self catering. My mum turns to me
“Do you like cous cous?” I quickly respond
“Nah I’m not that fussed fussed”
Which is the greatest joke I’ve ever came up with on the spot in my entire life. And frankly should have gotten more off my Mom. I wait for Dad to catch up.
Shortly, my mom asks my dad how he likes his eggs, which reminds me of the Dean Martin and Helen O'Connell song. A song my dad taught me changing the lyrics, and I like to sing because I can do a pretty decent Dean Martin.
“How do you like your eggs in the morning? I like mine on my diiiiiiick” I sing “Boiled or fried?
I'm satisfied as long as there on my dick” mom looks at me “How do you like your toast in the morning?” I persevere “I like mine on my cock…” at which point my my launches into a loud shouty dressing down that, in my opinion, causes much more of a “scene” than I was by singing a little song.
The Pontins in Brean Sands lies on a road that runs parallel to the coast, this road is full of caravan sites, with the odd arcade and chippy dotted in between, it's a little sad to note that all the caravan sites that surround Pontins look a lot newer and boast a lot better facilities. My dad points out a once famous villa player sitting in a beer garden that seems dangerously over capacity with men in caps and women smoking.
The entrance to the camp is buzzing with life, like someone stuck a trowel in a bucket of working class cliché and flicked it at the entrance of the building. Bootlegged sportswear, dads wrestling with kids, bad dye jobs, smoking, and sticky children roaming free. Holidays that have started while mom waits in the queue to check in.
My sister is playing with her two kids in a sand pit. I go over and say hello.
“Excuse me” pipes up a mom drinking Smirnoff Ice “could you stop kicking sand at my little girl please” the way she says “please” was downright combative. I look around and see a round headed bruiser of a child confidently ignoring her as he kicks sand over two little girls digging. I see my mom and as we leave one of those little girls runs up to her mom
“What's these?” she asks.
“They’re crawling all over you” says the mom
“RED ANTS” exclaims the nan sitting next to her and in the same motion dumps a pint of squash over the child.
Later we go into the main room, I note you can't get into the main room - which I'm sure used to be called “the Ballroom” when I was younger - without walking through the expensive arcade. If it wasn't for the beeps and jingles of the arcade itself you’d be able to hear the litany of a thousand children saying “mom can I have 50p?” echoes of the walls into infinity. The first thing to hit you is the humidity, the main room is hot with the body heat of the entire camps children running around the tables occupied by parents exhibiting the exact opposite of “helicopter parenting”. Its about 10 at night, back in my youth I remember that at nine o'clock in the main room all the kids would be lead off the dancefloor by a man in an alligator suit and after that kids were expected to be out of the room, or at very least stop running around like, well, excited kids on a diet of iced sugar slush and sweets with more chemical than most comprehensives science rooms can afford. But now it’s near 10 and the place is feral.
The nights entertainment is announced, its Ultimate Britney a Britney Spears tribute act, who actually does look very close to Britney, the voice is there too and after the first song she’s even gone to the trouble to affect an American accent. She accompanied by two backing dancers, I can't decide which ones off beat and it's bugging me until I realise it's both of them. She’s a class act the Faux-Britney, rather than ignore the kids during the slower songs, she's climbed off the stage and dancing with the them. I do the quick maths, the oldest person on the dancefloor would have been 1 year old when Britney had her hair-shaving brolly wielding spree.
Culture echoes in strange ways, pop really will eat itself, scandalous lolita becomes persecuted “bad” mother, becomes fangless baby-sitter and family entertainment. The Spectacles belly is never full.
On one of tables in front of us a six year old stalks his grandad who is trying and failing not to stare at the girls on stage. WHAM the six year old connects with the old man’s kidneys. He raises a hard white plastic axe for a finishing blow as the older man doubles over in pain. Another adult swoops in picking him up. The axe clatters to the ground with a noise that shows it was definitely not supposed to be used for this sort of play.
The next night it's Saturday, the act advertised is Amethyst (or Sapphire or something) an “illusionist”. The room is even more tightly packed and the free ranged children squirm in the gaps of adults determined to have a good time. It takes twenty minutes for the two bluecoats on dancefloor duty to clear it, it's comical to watch but also, if you have the right kind of mind, melancholy in a Sisyphean way. A Bluecoat comes on stage.
“Now boys and girls we have a magician, Now has anyone ever seen Help My Supply Teacher is Magic?” the crowd blink.
“No I suppose you wouldn't - it was on at eleven o'clock on a Thursday. Anyway please shout and cheer and clap for Amethyst!”*
Earlier that day, I had requested that we head to the beach for the sunset, I’d just had some bad news about a kid I used to help teach and kinda just wanted to be near the sea for a bit.
“You really won’t get to see the sea, we’re too near Weston, the tide doesn't come that far in” says my Dad sagely as we get in the car.” We pull in the car park and see two or three rescue cars and people in jumpsuits highlighted in fluoro yellow.
“Must be doing exercises” says my dad
Some people are near the sea wall taking photos. I climb up and take a look. The sea is right up to the sea wall, a little further down a car boot pokes out of the water and gentle bobs up and down.
“It's never done that before” remarks my dad.
Mom, Dad and my sister immediately join the crowd swapping the same information back and forth. I hear that it's a freak tide that caught the owner out while he was walking his dog, and a discussion that borders on schadenfreude about whether the Audis insurance would cover the damages.
But I tune them out and stare at my freak tide. A bubble gently floats out to the horizon and I can feel my nephew settle in next to me waving the bubble wand. I needed the sea that day and I was pleased to note that freaks have a way of coming through for you.
*or Sapphire, or something