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!”
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.