Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Breaking Through

          “Oy, big man !” shouted one of the surfer crowd at Terry as he stood by the crowded bar, “Stand still, there’s something weird on your head !” , the speaker turned around to check if he was getting the required laugh from the others at the table behind.

Terry was six feet two by now, barely the same boy who’d first come down. He was dressed in patchy bleached denim, more bleach than blue in most places, wore a ragged t-shirt, doc martens and a wide eyed look. This, topped with a psychobilly quiff in peroxide blonde, was what attracted the comment. Down here the idea of this being anything like normal was a non starter,

          Terry turned diffidently to the speaker and smiled. He was used to this and wasn’t particularly the aggressive type – he could, if he could be bothered, get worked up into quite a righteous anger about things, he’d also been known to flip out unexpectedly at times. But tonight he was feeling mellow, he’d had a good day beaching out and was looking forward to a few drinks with some people he’d met down on the Valley campsite.

          “It’s all the new thing mate,” he replied with a charm that belied his looks, “Up country everyone’s got ‘em – can’t move in London without getting a quiff in your face. What happened to yours though ? Looks like you borrowed it from your sister.”

          The table laughed at the guy with long blonde hair, normally shaggy but combed tonight in deference to the occasion. He scowled for a second, not really convinced that he hadn’t deserved that, then smiled back at Terry and peace broke out. Terry relaxed – he’d secretly admired this crowd of misplaced would be Californians through other summers and now had some contact at least. It made all the difference to how he felt in the bar – it had only taken six years and now he felt that he was at least on speaking terms with them – this made him one rung higher than a mere tourist to whom speaking would be anathema. Some of the guys who came down on holiday made it sooner, usually if they could prove their worth in the water and in the bar, but Terry was still a poor surfer and a terrible drinker. Girls on the other hand could make it into the scene much much quicker – but they found themselves discarded pretty quickly too, it seemed only the hardiest survived the process to stay around – Terry felt for them, particularly having to deal with some of the local girls who would take even longer to give someone a clean break than the guys had with him. You were still a newcomer around here even if you’d lived in the village ten years or so.

          Ambivalently Terry also wanted to have the easy (or so it seemed from the outside) access to a wealth of seventeen year old girls on their two weeks’ holiday, discarded and replaced with consummate ease, especially if they got too clingy.

          A couple of sips of his beer later and he felt a slap on his shoulder – it was the rangy blonde guy from just now.

          “Sorry mate, just showing off a bit….” He trailed off. “No hard feelings eh ?”
          “Nah, don’t worry about it”
          “Where you from anyway – staying at the Valley ?”

          Terry was taken by surprise at the apparent warmth and fumbled his answers to these easy questions.

          “We don’t bite you know… well Tigger there does but that’s personal…” He laughed. “Joe’s the name – look, haven’t I seen you about here before ?”. The accent was pure Cornish.

          “Been coming here for six years now…”

          “That’d explain it – you must have been on the radar somewhere. Not with the hardcore hair though ?”

          “No,” Terry was more relaxed now, not tense and waiting for the sting in the tail. He’d actually seen Joe a lot over the years, serving in the shop – but guessed that he was just another face coming in to buy sweets and underage cigarettes during the summer madness. “Hair’s relatively new, is down here anyway. Like it ?”

          “Well, a bit too much for me – I likes it long still, but maybe one day I’ll go for the Elvis on Acid look, who knows ? You waiting for anyone ?”

          “No-one in particular…just a few people I barely know”

          “Come and sit over here then, you look a bit lonely propped up there on your jack, besides I think that there’s someone who wants to talk to you.”

          Terry blinked, confused. Joe saved him the effort of asking what on earth he was on about – uncharacteristically as it happened because Joe was normally the sort of person who could string a listener out for half an hour or more. But Terry had that sort of effect on people too – they looked at his face, starting to look chiselled around the jaw now, carving itself out from the teenage plumpness, and felt that he was too guileless to mess with for long - it made most people very protective of him despite his hard shell. He was also just finding out how attractive that made him to women, but only just.

          Joe motioned at the table. His finger picked out a blank chair, but it didn’t seem to stop him talking about it as though its occupant were still there.

          “ I think that Ali here would fancy a chat at least – she was going on about you soon as you walked in, she’s a bit lively mind. Not an Emmett but not a local either. Hangs out with a bunch of travellers some of the year and usually turns up here every now and again. Dave met her at a festival once and she kind of followed him back like a puppy.”

          Terry waited until the deluge of information had flowed over him. He couldn’t work it out, one minute he’s an outsider and the next he’s getting life histories and introductions. No wonder people thought that the Cornish were all mad. Besides which he was being introduced to someone who wasn’t there and who he’d not even clocked beforehand, he wondered again if he was being set up for a fall.

          Joe noticed his concern, looked again over at the empty chair and carried on as if it was perfectly normal to be talking to space. In his case it often was. He introduced a couple of the others as Terry warily joined them, Tigger, Crush, Dave, Matt. They nodded, the one wearing the patched leather coat and paint stained jeans, Jaz, held out his hand to shake. Terry sat down, still puzzled at the empty chair as they started their conversation again, in-jokes and references to people that left Terry feeling even more of an outsider than he had at the bar. He began to wonder if he had been better off alone sipping his dark brown pint of Wreckers.

          Then a woman appeared from the direction of the pub’s front door and headed towards them smiling – she was slim, but not the waify hippy looking slim that many of the other beach blondes were, boyish with an easy walk and an unhurried look to her – it was only later that Terry realised she’d been outside for a joint and was stoned. She had a face that matched her figure – boyish, but with full lips and eyes which meant that for all her maleness she was very definitely a woman. Her hair was cropped close and short, blonde like all the other beach boys around here, although in her case it was more golden, more natural and less saltwatered. She wore jeans, but, Terry noticed, not flared. The look was completed with a jacket which fitted close and cut in at the waist to show her hips. The overall effect was disconcerting for Terry – he felt like he’d been caught gazing at a choirboy and having rather guilty thoughts. He looked away. But then she pulled out the empty chair next to his and picked up the half pint glass that had lain undisturbed between the beer mats and empty crisp packets. She smiled at Terry, he saw that her skin was paler than the rest of the crowd, a creamy pale, very English, very old fashioned in these days of the package tour beach brown.

          “Hi, stranger,” she said half giggling and turning a shade deeper as she did. "Ali.” It was a statement but Terry took it as an invitation.

          “Terry”. He laughed.

          “They been giving you a hard time ?” Her voice was burred with the country, although somewhere softer and milder than the South West, Terry couldn’t place it just yet but it held promise of hops and fields of yellow mustard seed.

          “No”, He’d become monosyllabic in her presence.

          “They’re OK really, “ She didn’t seem to notice his quietness. “Still, they have to behave while I’m here – know too many secrets about them.” Her eyes smiled even while her mouth tried to remain serious. “How come you’re down here ? I think I’ve seen you in the village, kind of hard to miss really – you don’t look much like a beach bum to me.”

          He explained the story of how he’d been coming here for years, that he wasn’t so much into the beach scene but that the place itself was such a draw, somewhere where he could get away from reality for a while, take stock of life, try to forget about the hassles of having a crap job and turmoils of his parent’s tempestuous relationship. How three weeks in a tent, even if two of them were spent in the rain, were preferable to the dark one roomed flat and always slightly damp bed that he normally had, above a butcher’s shop where the smell of carcasses and long forgotten pieces of dead rotten animal seeped into your skin and your clothes after just one night of sleeping there. The Slaughterhouse his friends called it, even if they rarely chose to spend any time there now that the novelty had worn off. He told her about his complete fuck up of a relationship that was on/off/on and currently off again. He spoke about how he really should be crossing the American Mid-West on a Harley if only he had the money and the time, how the great dream of being on the road Kerouac style had only ever got him as far West as this and as close to the US as the docks at Southampton. All these things just flew out from his lips, making up for the last ten days of introspection and solitary cliff walks. She absorbed his tales of club life in London and dreary daily life in an insurance office where they had nearly thrown him out when he had the hair bleached, even now he had to tone the spiky quiff down for work and wear something approximating business dress. He name dropped like crazy and then realised she’d never heard of any of the people involved so consciously stopped himself doing it. He spilled his life onto the table in the way that only someone who has lived half a life could do, making room for his dreams amongst the ashtrays and his fears between the foam smeared empty glasses.

          An hour must have passed, maybe more. Ali smiled at him indulgently, but not negatively, she wanted to indulge this rather fragile boy who felt that the world was out there waiting, but just didn’t know when it was going to start. In all this time she said barely a word about herself.

          “Hey Flat top ! – what you drinking ?” Jaz yelled over the increasing din of the bar, “You too Ali ?” – He shambled to the counter and proceeded to pull a wad of notes from his pocket. He was decorating houses at the moment and the second home boom had been kind to him. Even then he could still get pissed off about painting houses that he’d never be able to afford even if he worked at it day and night for the next ten years and lived a monk’s life in between shifts. Last week he’d plastered a house that had been his aunt’s until she died – two owners later and it was a holiday home that belonged to a man who’d made millions canning baked beans. Life didn’t seem fair but you just had to get on with it.

          Terry got up to help Jaz – they spoke a bit about life in general, safe topics. Then, as the second row of customers at the bar closed around them Jaz leant forward and spoke closer to Terry’s ear.

          “You want to watch her mate – got a bit of a reputation as a problem child that one. Not my place to talk but wouldn’t touch her with a fuckin’ ten foot board. Used to go out with Dave – but that finished ages ago. Drops by to stir things up every now and again and it looks like you’re getting pretty stirred up yerself.”

          Terry didn’t know what to say. But if it was a warning shot then it went straight over his head – which he later reflected, is exactly what warning shots are supposed to do anyway.

          Jaz was interrupted by the barman taking his drinks order and when they returned to the table all he did was throw Terry a look with raised eyebrows as if to say ‘You’re on your own there’, and went back to arguing with Matt as to whether the Who or Led Zep were the better and noisier. Terry didn’t care, he preferred reggae, but these guys had barely heard anything other than Bob Marley so it was a loser as conversation topics went.

          Ali took her half pint from Terry and held the touch with his fingers as she did. Terry immediately forgot anything Jaz had said.

one for Terry...

....and one for Jaz...


  1. "He spilled his life onto the table in the way that only someone who has lived half a life could do, making room for his dreams amongst the ashtrays and his fears between the foam smeared empty glasses." - so beautifully put - and I think we've all been there - at one end of the conversation or the other!
    'Revolver' - oh, trying to sort out my memories. Peter Cook and a ballroom. Late night transmission and nobody seemed to care that much... It was only when checking up just now I realised there were only 8 programmes in the series and it was as 1978 - earlier than I remembered. Glad I was there, though...

  2. Ah Revolver - I'll admit my time lines might be mucked about a bit here, but I remember it very fondly - no-one much watched it but it seems that at least two of us did ! The music is a bit arbitrary but I couldn't resist the audience, its how I remember 78, no mohicans, just some interesting DIY clothes and quite inventive (?) dancing. Cant believe there were only 8 programmes though. Pretty much Peter Cook's last finest moment, Torquay's most famous son !