Living on the seafront has its ups and its downs.
In the summer, when the sun is shining and the beaches are littered with the half-naked bodies of docile, ultra-violet sponging homo-sapiens – a pinkturningtored orgy of roasting, vanilla-tongued, beer-bellied, Ra worship – then living by the sea is pretty nice. On a sunny summer Saturday you are likely to find me propped up on one elbow on the pebble beach, reading a book between token swims, sipping cold beer from a can and maybe eating blackened barbecue remnants. Yum.
But even the height of summer has its downside. I can put up with the crowds, with the occasional groups of drunken morons on a day out from Croydon (or wherever), and with the sudden changes of the English weather. All that is fine. The problem is that whenever I look out of the windows of my tiny flat (the inevitable trade-off for living here) I see yachts – gigantic ultra-modern, slick, pure-white, unobtainable, dick-extending yachts – gliding by. The men (and the little dots piloting these yachts are all men) can be seen sipping champagne as they pull in too close, motoring their massive plastic phallic dreams to an area of sea as shallow as their ambitions, coming near enough to the beach to endanger the lives of vulnerable swimmers.
They do this, of course, to attract the attention of the almost limitless supply of attractive twenty-something girls invariably found sprawled across the hot stones in various immodest states of undress. And do these men get the attention they clearly desire? I don’t know – but if they don’t it doesn’t stop them trying. Am I jealous? Of course! – although this year I got some disapproving looks (and some approving laughs) from fellow beach-floppers when one sunny lunchtime I decided to hurl insults at a yacht that had come way too close, safe in the knowledge that I could run away faster than the bastards could swim. They probably didn’t hear me though, so wrapped up were they in their own private little world.
In the winter, things change. Where the beach was writhing with lazy life it is now barren but for gulls, crows and whatever crap the sea has thrown up. The late evening beach fires of the summer are snuffed out and the crowds are ten-times decimated. There is no sun to worship – besides, X Factor is back on. In many ways I prefer this time of year. I can walk along the promenade without tripping over kids or being insulted – perhaps threatened – by two generations of drunk elders, which is nice. Best of all, the yachts I hate so much are hibernating beneath tarpaulin, stacked on racks or snoozing in some opulent marina, tethered to abandoned quays.
But in winter my tiny flat is far from cosy. The building we are in is listed, meaning there is no double glazing. Instead, the Landlord has ‘fitted’ secondary glazing, a sort of inner window. Where the building is so old (and clearly built before man invented straight lines) these square, modern windows simply do not fit in the hole. There are gaps all around which the wind makes the most of, squirting in at twice the speed it probably otherwise would, its howling amplified unbearably. And it gets very windy here.
Sometimes I sit on the window ledge with a cup of tea, watching storms as they chase across the sea, night skies crackling with lightning, the tiny lights of ships holding on tenaciously to tumultuous horizons. Sometimes the storms blow by without touching the land; sometimes the storms blow in from the sea, hitting my windows head on, the gale propelled rain, unhindered by buildings or civilisation, smashing itself like a million harikaris against the glass.
I lay awake listening to this – the rain beating on the window, the wind howling, the sound of the waves crashing loudly against the beach, the almost visceral sucking sound of the sea pulling its army back across the stones, regrouping for another attack. In this liminal, half-dreaming state it is almost impossible not to think of the tsunamis we’ve all seen on the news recently, and of the floods in Queensland, Rio, Thailand and elsewhere. Although the chance of that happening here is slimmer than slim, perhaps this optimism is unfounded. Perhaps the next wave I hear won’t stop at the beach. What would happen to me if a tsunami wave hit my windows; would they cave in and fill the flat with water? Would the whole edifice crumble, listed or not? Could I do anything to save myself, or would I be washed away, as powerless against the waves as the rest of the beach debris?
It’s a fact that the sea level is rising; just as the sea between here and Europe was once land, this land will one day be sea.
Climate change is not the only man-made issue I can’t help but worry about as I lay, not quite awake, listening to the storm. There’s that other storm, the one made of incomprehensible treaties and unfathomable debt, blowing across the channel from France and Germany, from Greece and Italy; a storm that genuinely threatens to engulf our livelihoods, our prosperity, our ambitions and even our democracy. And I mean ‘our’ in it’s most cosmopolitan sense, not in the sense most news seems to be reporting this in – as though the economic crisis in Europe and the rest of the world is an issue simply of foreign policy that may have some adverse effects for us Brits. No, this is a storm we (or at least our politicians and big businesses) had a hand in creating, and which now threatens to submerge Britannia – along with the rest of the West – beneath the waves she still believes she rules.
My only consolation is that when it all goes nipples-up your poncey fucking yacht’s gonna sink too, ha ha!