When you get to the south coast of England you realize there is nowhere left to go; it’s the end of the road. A suitable metaphorical environment for the elderly who contemplate the sea’s silver horizon; disastrous for the drinkers, the hordes of the hopeless who somehow discover themselves hungover, washed up, and stranded on these pebbly shores.
London boroughs have been shipping their problem families down to cheaper accommodation and a more forgiving social environment for years, but now it seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Fighting, brawling, spitting, vomiting, drinking, peeing, shouting, swearing, what you looking at. London Road, St Leonards on Sea, Hieronymus Bosch on a weekday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Mr Margolys takes a refreshing walk along the promenade, having left his sea front home and double locked the door. White waves graze the pebbles, then withdraw. A soothing repetition like a heartbeat. A blue sky. Deep breath, seagulls soar. Ah this is the life. Expiring, inhaling, all regular and fine. ‘Hi how are you? Yes fine thanks.’
Beneath the promenade, a walkway, invisible to those above. A concrete colonnade, never dry, and reeks of piss. A sense of danger, hidden from view, promenade walkers’ eyes ahead and don’t look down over the edge, beneath the railings, inhabited as it is by English tramps and drinkers and their dogs.
Two round fortresses, once romantic viewpoints for seated lovers, jut out onto the pebbles perhaps a hundred yards apart. As the afternoon progresses, these are thronging with drinkers. From the westerly fortress, English voices rise and are audible to Mr Margolys, Julia, pushing her newborn baby in a pram and Madge and Sol who just moved down from London, marveling at the enormous house they got for the price of their pokey one-bed flat in Hackney.’You fucking what?’.
Cans of industrial strength lager flash in the sunlight on the way to eager, if slightly uncontrollable, lips. Guzzle guzzle belch, wipe mouth. Chuck empty onto beach. Dog races onto stones, retrieves can. Nah you fucking idiot. Boot. Yelp. Chuck it back, restrain hound. Laughter, dog snaps and struggles. Haha.
In the easterly fortress, strangers. Narrow-eyed newcomers, stubbly, furtive, dark hoodies and old-fashioned jeans. Sharing rations, cans of booze, smoking, picking up fag ends, rolling. Spitting, shoulders hunch against solid gusts of southwesterly wind. Nothing to do. Intermittent radio-tuning snippets of another language heard on the prom by Julia, pushing her baby home now, turning her collar up, thinking of dinner. Romanian. New arrivals with nowhere to go, homeless now the channel has been breached. Fierce and defensive. Gathering.
As the sun begins to set this thin mid-winter afternoon, all eyes turn westwards, mesmerized by the routine of the universe. Madge and Sol lean on the railings, Sol stamps out a cigarette, the butt falls over the edge and into the damp colonnade where it is swiftly gathered by an unseen hand.
All eyes are on the sunset but those of the English Tramps who have suddenly become aware of their easterly neighbours. ‘Who the fuck?’ ‘What the fuck’ ‘Fucking Hell’. A low growling as the sun slides over the end of the planet and dark clouds roll in.