My Son Slowly Killing Me (Holiday Update #2)

My Fitness app blew up. We had been walking that much it stopped counting my steps and went into meltdown. Sun cream was running into my eyes, stinging as they were as I squinted against the sun.

I convinced him that it was time, after hours walking around Blackpool in the heat, to head back to the B&B for a shower.

Cold shower done, it was bliss to lounge on the bed in the shade.

“Dad, can we go on the beach now with the football?”

I silently sighed in exasperation.

“Why don’t we take a break for a bit first? We don’t have to do everything at once. We’ve still got three days here.”

“Please. I want to go into the sea while you take shots at me.”

I mentioned the sun, how it might be cooler and safer in a few hours, but he broke down all my walls. So off we went, sun cream back on, into the oppressive heat. It was a million degrees.

There wasn’t much relief in the sea breeze, either, and as he waded in there a few feet I began launching the football at him beneath the sledgehammer sun.

The only thing off-putting to him were the jellyfish, they were washing up everywhere on the sand. It wasn’t enough for him to call it a day, though. Maybe he felt challenged by the two younger kids (they sounded Australian) who were scooping them up and throwing them back into the water.

And then came was Divine Intervention.

The next day was the first of the annual Blackpool Airshow, with the Red Arrows, Spitfires and all others expected to attract a further 100,000 people to the holiday resort. While we were stood there, he up to his waist in the sea, me wilting on the beach, two low-flying jets came screaming in above us. Maybe they were coming in early for tomorrow’s show, or the pilot’s were familiarising themselves with the route they were due to take.

“What are those?” he shouted in alarm, looking upwards.

“Quick!” I said, taking the opportunity, “we have to get back to the B&B. It’s the Russians!”

We returned later, just before sundown.

My Son Slowly Killing Me (Holiday Update #1)

It was the first day of five spent in Blackpool, and he was eager to try out the rides on the South Pier. So, after a Maccies breakfast, we had a walk over. The day was young but was already heating up, our stay coinciding with another August heatwave.

We purchased tickets from the booth – twenty five tickets for twenty five pounds – and he nudged me towards the first one that he wanted to go on. I can’t now recall its name, but that became the least of my worries.

We were locked in and the ride began as the music started to blare, the speed building as we began to spin in our seats as the mechanical arms holding us moved us in and out of the attraction’s outer edge.

In/out In/out.

Within minutes I thought I was going to throw up (did I mention that this was straight after a Maccies breakfast?).

How embarrassing would that be? Me, at fifty, by far the oldest person on it, surrounded by young children with my eleven-year-old son cheering alongside me. As the speed increased so did that feeling in my stomach. I painted on a smile for James every time he glanced at me in this, our great shared experience, and tried my best to contain myself.

The relief I felt when the ride began to slow. I’d managed to get through it without raising any suspicions of how I was feeling, thus maintaining an aura of heroic cool in his eyes.

But soon I discovered that the only reason we had stopped was because a kid, about seven years old, had banged his head and they were letting him off as he was upset.

And then, over the speakers: “BECAUSE WE STOPPED EARLY, WE’LL SEND ALL YOU ‘ROUND AGAAAAIIINNNN !”

Jesus.

“SCREAM IF YOU WANNA GO FASTER!!!”

Keep your fucking mouths shut I thought to myself.

I could hear them over the music.

In an effort to distract myself from what was building within, I began reciting a mantra: don’t think about food/don’t think about food/don’t think about food

But the only word my tormenting mind was focusing on was ‘food’.

It got worse. I kept my mouth closed and my eyes down to avoid the swirling, dizzying landscape around me. Somehow, I’m not sure how, I managed to contain myself until the ride’s end and clambered out of the carriage on shaky legs.

An oblivious and excited James was eager for more fast-thrill stuff, rhyming off a list of all of the rides that awaited us. I managed to convince him that if he went on the rides alone from now on his tickets would last longer and he’d get to go on even more rides. He appreciated this altruistic gesture as I waved him off on the Waltzers and then hurried forthwith to the toilets in the amusement arcade. I thought that if I could induce myself to vomit, getting the seeming inevitable out of the way, then I’d be okay after that.

There was no toilet roll. With there likely to be someone waiting outside to use the toilet after me I couldn’t afford to miss the target. I’m going to have to get this right. I lifted the seat to avoid any splashing, bent right over the pan and stuck my finger down my throat. Twice.

Nothing.

I abandoned my plan as my still unsuspecting son would be coming to the end of his ride. I went outside to be confronted by the sight of a boy being sick at the pier rail. He was about ten. A security guard was asking him if he was alright, speaking into a radio when the lad shook his sweaty head in response in-between heaves. I started in horror at the idea of him having to deal with middle-aged me if I followed suit. The current casualty list age being: seven, ten, fifty.

I looked out over the seafront and took deep breaths, hoping the sea air would help but the sight of the rolling waves made me worse.

That was great!” James said when he found me, his hand finding my sleeve to tug me towards the next ride in his sights.

And again. And again. Literally: ad nauseam.

Eventually he ran out of tickets and we ran out of morning.

Which meant only one thing: lunch time.

Although feeling a little better, I was still slightly queasy, and everything he suggested sounded greasy. Chips; burgers; hotdogs.

I tried to play it cool. “How about a nice salad bar?”

“What’s one of those?!” he asked with barely disguised disgust. “A salad bar? On Blackpool front?” While pointing out a stall nearby that had onions frying at eye-level. I needed to avert those eyes.

There’s four days to go.

It’s a thousand degrees.

Traumatic Scene

Not So Same Old, Same Old.

Blackpool 2020. I’ve been to this northern seaside town countless times since I was a child, but in 2020 even the familiar is different.

I was there with my son, James, last Saturday to watch a football match, staying overnight on the Friday. It was busy, but not pre-Covid busy.

As James was walking out on the beach, I walked along this promenade, keeping apace so I could keep an eye on him.

There was a car to my left, stopped at a red light, and a guy was shouting through a rolled down window “Hey mate, improve your social distancing!”

I looked around. Was he addressing me? It appeared he was.

“Improve your social distancing!”

Really?

There wasn’t anybody within at least fifty metres of me. James was about a mile out to sea. The lights turned to green and he drove off, shouting the same message to other pedestrians that he passed. He wasn’t anyone official, and he didn’t look like, you know, a loon. It seemed that he had made it his own personal mission to prevent the town having more Government measures imposed upon it.

Blackpool seafront is breezy at the best of times, if bearing rain a destroyer of plans, and this day was really windy, as is evidenced by these bending tulips. Or, as they are better known- ‘giant spoons’.

I was feeling my age.

While my son walked freely across the beach, I found numerous windbreak-walls to sit against while watching him.

Then, hood on, hat on, mood on, I joined him to walk beneath one of the old Victorian piers, the sea being out, spying the tower between the supports.

This caught my eye and so my camera. Emerged from the depths to breathe once again in light, like barnacle-encrusted cootie trees, shaped like a St.Andrew’s cross.

Halt-who goes there? A shoed adult, a barefoot child, and a gull. It wasn’t volcanic ash in the Cretaceous period forever preserving a passing sauropod, but I liked it.

If you squint, or maybe do that thing with your thumb and index finger to enlarge this photograph, you’ll see my lad out there-far enough away to give my wife a heart attack if she’d been there with us. I assured her by text that he remained in sight at all times. I didn’t tell her that I had binoculars.

The day wore on, the light grew dimmer, the wind grew colder. This gull was gliding effortlessly in,similar to how we freewheel on a bike, coasting in to find a place to settle for the night.

There were starlings, too, around the pier. If it was a murmuration, then they were murmuring above us, turning and wheeling perfectly in unison like a shoal of fish.

Twilight – a liminal time, and James was on the edge, as the tide rolled back in and my thoughts began to turn to that warm room back at the B&B.

Before the sea had started to return to shore, there’d been the odd person out there on the beach, hundreds and hundreds of yards out, walking alone and wearing face masks. Unless it was a way of keeping their face warm I just didn’t understand the thinking behind it. The guy in that car would have been proud of them. And still tell them to improve their social distancing, by megaphone.

Evening was coming on, autumn was coming on, exhaustion was coming on.

The sun sank into the sea, a final flash of fire engulfed in its repetitive end, and still the wheel on the pier turned, around and around, everywhere we looked – the same old cycles.

This gull seemed reluctant to leave, allowing me to come closer to observe it. One final photograph and then we sought the sanctuary of our room.

It’s a nostalgic place for many of us, Blackpool, with long memories of family and old friendships. Away from this attractive seafront though, I think it is quite a deprived town.

Whenever my wife has been here with us, a common question of hers is uttered with an expected regularity while observing the members of numerous Stag Nights and Hen Dos staggering out of the promenade pubs:

I wonder how many marriages are being wrecked tonight? How many babies being conceived?

All out of the hearing of the children, of course, for they see nothing but magic.

That’s her astute understanding of human behaviour, but that kind of stuff can’t go on this year, can it? Not in 2020, when we’re all social distancing.

Blackpool

One last return to that coastal town, and the rain drove in from the Irish Sea, the October wind triumphing in gusts. Sheltered within our crawling car, we witnessed the season stamp its seal through a conquering night, barely held at bay by faltering, neon light. The streets were swept clear, the waves threatened to swamp.

We bid our farewell for the year. The dark rejoiced.

 

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Blackpool And Gomorrah

We have just got back from Blackpool tonight, having taken the kids to see the illuminations. While they had eyes only for the lights, the rides, the toy stalls and the sea, my wife’s throwaway comment about the things that she had observed revealed a different perspective to that of the children:

“I bet here tonight there is nothing but fights happening, babies being conceived, and affairs starting up.”

She really has a rose-tinted take on humanity doesn’t she?

Anyway, in all of their ignorance and innocence, the kids loved it.

There were donkeys, you know.