A Skegness State of Mind


I’m sure you know how it goes. The brain needs a holiday. Two weeks on a tropical beach: hot sun, good book, favourite music, rum cocktails – you know the kind of thing… This is how brains operate isn’t it? They go on for so long and then phut! – nothing but moaning about getting time off. ‘Why no overtime for dreaming? Why no pay rise for over-vivid imagination? I need a break. I need a sun bed, a palm-frond shade, ridiculous Bermuda Shorts and a leather necklace.’ Telling them that you already give them all the blood supply and oxygen you can spare just doesn’t cut it. Brains need leisure time apparently. They need to sit back and watch the old, fat man struggle with the deck chair whilst his wife struggles with the ill-advised thong. Brains need to be under a cloudless blue sky. They need to switch off.

My brain is agitating for a break. It is tired of pondering the imponderable. It no longer wishes to consider how, if the cream always floats to the top, we have Trump and Putin; how does a fly land on the ceiling; why does a cat have nine lives when a child – equally reckless – has only one? It is tired of ‘What if…’ It is weary of spending so much time looking in on itself. But this is my brain: it is not thinking about white sand and cocktails, it is thinking about interminable drizzle, cold chips, warm beer, ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ from a broken transistor radio, rolled up trouser legs and a paddle in the sludge-brown surf. My brain is thinking of somewhere it can blend in and conform to the norm: slap on a Kiss-Me-Kwik hat and folded paper nose guard, nick the jokes off seaside postcards and sell them to Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown…

The crinkly grey matter that occupies my skull spends its life on edge. It seldom finds the space to switch off – at least not when it is acceptable for it to do so. It does, on occasion manage a quick snooze in the middle of a wifely lecture, a 0-0 draw in the rain, or any part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. My brain works like an actor in Casualty – if there’s a kerb to trip up, it will break its leg in a storm drain. Most of the time, when it’s important that it maintains focus, it does alright – as long as it doesn’t get mesmerised by the windscreen wipers – it generally delivers me to the appropriate location at the scheduled hour, it’s the finer details it tends to let slip as it gets jaded. Minor issues, like remembering keys, wallet, shoes, have a tendency to slip from its grip. It is not always totally rational in its decisions about where to send instructions. Put my fatigued brain in charge of a nail gun and see where it gets you.

Right now it needs, I feel, a few days by the coast to unwind. I will struggle on without it: I am fairly used to just getting on with things whilst it is off somewhere else on some flight of fancy or another. After a few days in an East Coast B&B (cold water only in rooms, toilet facilities on alternate floors, no special dietary requirements catered for) it will return to me before the sheets need burning and we will decide together where to go from there. I think I might suggest that it takes me off for a week in the sun…

…It wasn’t until I read this through that I realised how many references there are that will only make sense to UK residents. I will try to explain the most glaring below, please let me know if I can help you with any others:
• Skegness is an English East Coast Seaside Resort (EECSR). It is never known by its Sunday name, but is always called Skeggy.  EECSR’s are usually cold. They are usually wet. In the balmy summer days of sand, sea and sleet, the plucky holiday maker can get a surprising variety of ‘novelty’ genitalia-themed inflatables, chips, all manner of penis-shaped confectionary and, the last time I was there, dysentery.
• Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown is an English comedian, much loved by people who really should know better.
• Casualty is a hospital-based TV soap. Everything that can be fallen off or walked into is duly fallen off and walked into, leaving the hospital staff to deal with the aftermath, generally just before the bomb goes off.
• Seaside B&B’s are best visited early in the season whilst the sheets are still clean… I must be honest here, my own experience of seaside B&B’s, although plentiful, is also some 50 years behind me. I am certain that they are much more comfortable, friendly and sanitary by now. I do not know whether it is still customary for a gong to be sounded on the landing when breakfast is ready, whether it is still normal to be locked out straight after breakfast and not allowed in again until after dark, nor whether the single occupiers are still forbidden from having another person in their room – even if that were possible, given that the average single room is a former broom cupboard in either roof or cellar and, generally speaking, not of adequate proportions to entertain a gyrating feline.
• Skegness has a clock tower, a crazy golf, a fun fair, approximately 3,768 fish & chip shops, a model village and a tide that never quite comes in or goes out – and I love it. Like Blackpool it has ‘illuminations’ – although they are called traffic lights.

Downhill Racing and War-Games


On a cold day I can still feel the abrupt end to the Irony descent. On a hot day, I can still see its aftermath. The Irony (iron-e) was an old open-cast mine site where we used to play as kids. Despite its nickname, what had been formerly mined there was not ironstone, but limestone, which I think is vital in smelting iron. It had, for whatever reason, long been abandoned and, by the time it became our playground, was little more than a shallow-sided hole in the ground full of bits of pram, bits of bike, broken this and broken that, dog shit, broken glass, fridges, cookers, soiled mattresses, tons of old asbestos and, occasionally, dearly departed pets. It was most definitely not the place to be and, therefore, we loved it.

On good days you could gather together enough part-bikes to cobble together a ramshackle whole. The wheels seldom matched – sometimes leaving the rider facing the floor at an angle of something like forty-five degrees. Both wheels and handlebars had a disturbing tendency to come adrift at the most inopportune of moments. The brakes never worked – most often the only practical way of stopping your downhill trajectory was simply to dive off and hope to not encounter glass or excrement. More often than not, the unfortunate ‘test pilot’ ended the day being carried home, like some shit-splattered dispatch-rider, to be dumped unceremoniously on his front-door step. (Injured boy’s mums were likely to lash out indiscriminately – particularly if school shoes had been damaged or shirts had become blood-stained.)

Another great resource were the clapped-out prams which, with the minimum of effort, became brilliant, if unstable, downhill tanks. The chances of reaching the bottom with the battered perambulator intact were minimal; yourself, even less so.

But neither ad-hoc bicycle nor buckled baby carriage, ripe though they both were with adventure and opportunity for bodily damage, could compare with the lure of an area that was simply unmatched in its suitability as a war-zone. We were of an age when it was always Dear Old Blighty versus the Dirty Hun – although, if all of the pram wheels were still pointing in roughly the same direction, there could possibly be a Japanese Kamikaze Pilot thrown in for good measure – and the game normally consisted of chucking whatever came to hand at one another as we dived in and out of our corrugated asbestos bunkers, until somebody – often me, to my recollection – had to retire to the nearest field hospital (kitchen) where they would be cleaned up and temporarily patched, before being sent off on the Corporation Bus to Casualty for more advanced embroidery and bandaging. The too-late-for-tea return home normally featured a clip-round-the-ear for not walking the dog which had, in desperation, crapped in your school bag.

It has been filled in now, the Irony. It is covered in ticky-tacky housing and a shopping mall. It is not half the fun it used to be, but I feel its presence every day. I feel it in the strange, bony lumps in my legs and the scars that tingle in the cold or stand out white against my sun-singed face in the heat. But most of all, I feel it every time I ride my bike and realise that the brakes aren’t quite what they ought to be and that the chain broke about five yards ago, just before the seat fell off its pillar…

Oh, happy days!

A little note: please remember this was the 60’s. Boys and girls were barely considered to be of the same species. Girls played ‘house’ with dolls and read Jackie; boys played football, war or Cowboys and Indians. That’s the way it was. Not necessarily right. Not the way that we’d want, but just the way that it was. We can shape today, we can transform tomorrow, but we can’t change yesterday…

Why can’t we reach the sun?
Why can’t we blow the years away?
Blow away…
‘Remember a Day’ (R. Wright) Pink Floyd