A Day In Blackpool

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I smell the salty sea. I hear seagulls crying and the distant voices of excited children. Opening my eyes, I stay laying in the cloud like bed. At the half open window, the breeze moves the netted curtain back and forth as if it’s breathing. There is a waft of frying bacon.

I have eggs, bacon and toast then set off from the bed and breakfast. All day I walk around Blackpool. The morning is a little dull; heavy clouds fight with the sun, the sea waves over the dark sand of the beach. There is a handful of people about; dog walkers, families, old couples, a mini bus of school children.

I walk on the promenade. Going past all the shops selling tourist things; postcards, sticks of rock, magnets and beach toys. The cafes where breakfast is in full swing and their windows are dripping condensation. The arcades and casinos with their doors shut, locked until lunchtime. Ice cream stands, sweet treat stalls and fast food vans at every few steps trying to tempted me.

I walk on the piers. The damp wooden planks creaking underneath me. The sea crashing below trying to erode the iron supports away. The benches with their green iron frames awaiting weary bodies. The rusting memory plaques of people long gone who once loved this spot.

Just opening fairground game stalls with harsh looking aged men hanging up cheaply made soft toys. A closed beach shop, a closed arcade, a closed cafe and music hall. Near the end of the pier is a small collection of children’s theme park rides still hidden their covers. All these places will open in the afternoon when they make the better business.

Here, yet more food stalls; a white trailer selling burgers and hot dogs, a drinks bar, a sweet stand. There pink and blue candy floss swing in bags and giant ‘dummy’ suckers on red ribbon necklaces dangle next to them. In trays lay pick ‘a’ mix sweets, boxes of chocolate and fudge, mint hum bugs in jars with labels saying ‘A gift for you from Blackpool.’ Sticks of rock in all sizes stand out with their brightly coloured strips.

I buy a few sticks of rock and go to the end of the pier. I unwrap one and stand looking out to sea, sucking on the minty sweet. The waves are far out, blending with the grey sky. There are no boats or people in the water. Birds hover looking for fish. I think about being out there, surrounded by the waves.

Finishing the stick of rock, I walk back and go down a sand covered boat slipway. It sinks into the beach. I walk across the drying sand, noticing old bits of things the sea has left behind; seaweed, sticks, food wraps, drink cans, plastic bags, dead crabs, broken shells.

Close by, sad looking donkeys huddle together, their little bells chiming, their hoof prints deep in the sand. A middle aged woman in a high visible jacket gives the donkeys buckets of water and hay.

I walk pass them. The woman looks over her shoulder, sees I’m not a customer and ignores me. She pats one of the donkeys’ shoulders, muttering something to it.

I get off the beach via a long staircase which takes me back to the far side of promenade. I turn and look back. Over everything the Blackpool tower rises; a monster of iron.

It starts to drizzle. I feel the specks of rain on my face and hands. There’s only open space here, so I walk for the nearest buildings but the arcade isn’t open yet and the fish and chip shop has no seating inside.

Further on is a cafe but it’s closed, a few shops then a restaurant but going in would mean having to buy something. I cross the road and go into the shelter of rows and rows of buildings that are either eating places, shops, arcades and casinos. The rain gets heavier, the sky gets darker, I weave in and out of these places.

I realise I’m going in the direction of my B&B. I pause by a food van and get a greasy burger and a can of coke. I put them in my pockets and hurry back to my room. The front door is open, nobody at the small welcome desk. There is noise from deeper inside; a vacuum cleaner, distant voices.

In my room, I drag a chair to the window, open it and sit there. I eat the cool burger. Not enjoying it but it solves my hunger. I drink some of coke then leave the rest. I get changed out of the wet clothes and into something drier and warmer. I go back to sitting by the window. The rain is really coming down now. It sweeps across in sheets, pounding over everything.

I take another stick of rock and suck on it to get the bad tasting burger out of my mouth. I carry on watching the rain and I think about the people out there, the donkeys on the beach, the distant and constant sea.       

Salt

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Doctor Roy Parker stood on the end of the pier, huddled in a huge winter coat and looking around. Everyone thought him mad to take a seaside holiday in February but he embraced it. The quietness at the out of season resort, the emptiness of the beach and town, no worries or cares, created a perfect escape from an intense twenty-four hours- seven days a week hospital job.

Resting his arms on the rotting wooden rail, Roy watched and listened to the gale force winds creating mini sand storms along the beach below. Out at sea, the wave tops were whipped into meringue peaks which then crashed onto the shore and got left behind by the large rasping, rolling salty water.

Rain started falling, fat drops plopping onto the wooden boards, the damp sand and stormy sea. Roy didn’t mind, this was nature at one of it’s wildest moments and he could just become lost in the raging weather. He balanced himself against the elements, letting them sweep everything away for a good while.

The wind became more violent, throwing sand and waves upwards to Roy. A tingle of danger went through him and the Doctor decided he’d had enough for the moment. With rain and sand grains clinging to him and sea salt the only thing he could smell, Roy finally turned away and walked back to the large dome cafe that dominated the middle of the pier.

He opened the door and was greeted by a gentle warm hug of air. Choosing a seat near a  right hand side window, Roy noticed he was the fourth customer in the cafe. Two old ladies in their seventies or eighties, sat a few tables away in the center row, were enjoying a meal. To the far left, next to a rain coated window, a young man in his twenties or thirties, sat with his eyes closed and hands around a white mug. A yellow Labrador guide dog sit at his feet, tongue lolling, face attentive.

The rest of the tables, though set for customers were empty, giving an eerily abandoned impression to the place which the weather made all the more real.

Looking towards the counter and kitchen area, Roy saw a bored teenage girl at the till putting a brownie onto a plate. Listening, he heard a soft brush of musical notes coming from the kitchen along with the smell of mingled hot food and coffee.

Roy picked up the plastic covered menu wedged behind glass salt and pepper shakers and a bottle of vinegar. He scanned the deserts and drinks list then turned the menu over to see the meals. There wasn’t a lot of choice but that wasn’t a surprise.

Meanwhile, the waitress took the brownie to the blind man and spoke to him for a few minutes. She patted the guide dog’s head. Roy got the impression they knew each other which in this small town was easy to believe. Then the girl turned, coming towards him whilst digging out a paper pad and pen from her white apron bag.

‘Hi, what can I get you?’ she asked in a fake bright voice.

‘A pot of tea,’ Roy answered.

The girl noted it down.

‘And fish and chips.’

The girl made to nod then replied, ‘if you order the special it comes with tea, bread and butter.’

‘Is that a pot or just a cup?’ Roy asked, avoiding the temptation to look at the menu again.

The waitress thought for a moment as if she had forgotten or was deciding something, ‘I can make it a pot,’ she stated and wrote on her pad again.

‘Thank you,’ Roy said.

The girl walked off and disappeared into the kitchen. Roy listened for voices but the wind, rain and sea were in storm mode and all other sounds were now blocked out. Turning to the window, Roy watched the rain pounding against the glass and clouding the view which he imagined on a nice summer day was a picturesque beach.

He was lost in his thoughts for awhile, so when the waitress appeared with his tea, Roy was slightly startled.

‘There you go,’ the girl said as she set a tea pot, milk jug, sugar bowl and cup down.

Roy thanked her as she headed back to the kitchen then looked at the mismatched and dented tea set. The poor sliver colored tea pot had seen better days, the rim of the sugar bowl was chipped and the darker sliver milk jug looked like it could fall apart. He gingerly poured the steaming tea and fridge cool milk into his tea cup.

‘Excuse me, Sadie,’ a man’s voice called loudly.

Roy looked about and saw the blind man trying to attracted the waitress attention.

‘I’ll get her for you, dear,’ one of the old ladies spoke.

‘We are leaving now, Mark,’ the second replied.

‘Thank you, Iris and Lilly. I want to leave too,’ the blind man answered, ‘the storm sounds bad, so I’m going to get a taxi.’

They both got up. The first lady, who was wearing a powder pink felt coat and had a hint of pink in her white permed hair, walked slowly to the counter. The other lady dressed in a pale blue felt coat and with blue wisps in her white hair, went over to the blind man.

Roy watched, wondering if they were twins or sisters or friends.

The waitress appeared at the counter, talked to Iris or Lilly then picked up a phone.

The old lady went back to her sister or friend and after saying goodbye to Mark and his dog, headed for the door.

Roy braced himself to feel the bite of the wind as the door opened but he was sat far enough away that he felt just a whisper of the chilly wet air. He picked up his tea and took a few sips, feeling warmth sinking into him.

The girl appeared at his side and placed two plates down, one had two slices of bread and small pot of butter, the other held his fish and chips.

‘There you are. Is there anything else you need?’ she asked.

‘No, thank you,’ Roy answered.

With a single nod, the girl swept away and over to the blind man. She talked to him, no doubt saying she had ordered a taxi.

Roy arranged the plates of food how he wanted them then put salt and vinegar on his fish and chips. He picked up his knife and folk from the white napkin and started eating. It wasn’t the best meal he’d ever had but it tasted great today. The chips had just a crunch to their outside and were soft in the middle. The fish was lightly and crispy battered, soft and tender inside. With the added salt and vinegar the whole thing came together in one celebration in Roy’s mouth.

So distracted was he, Roy didn’t noticed the blind man leaving till he felt a touch of cold. Looking up and towards the door, he saw the man going out and the waitress helping him. She closed the door and hurried through the cafe into the warmth of the kitchen.

Alone, Roy took a moment to glance around then carried on eating. The fish was tasty, though the salt was drying out his lips and he had to keep licking them. He drink some more tea to help. Unable to stop, he ate quickly, forgotten how he’d built his hungry by a morning walk in the town, then along the edge of the beach and around the pier.

He was finished before he knew it. Pouring the last of the tea, Roy hugged the cup and listened to a rumble of thunder in the distance. He looked out of the window and though it was hard to think the weather had gotten worse, it seemed just that.

Roy finished his tea and sat relaxing for a few minutes. Coldness crept over him and he felt stiff in his legs and back from the plastic chair. Perhaps, it was just his imagination but he felt a slight rocking motion.

Getting up, he went to the counter and looked for the girl. A door labeled kitchen was open in the back wall and Roy could hear radio music more clearly now.

‘Hello? he called, his voice sounding loud in the empty cafe.

‘Coming,’ the girl called back.

She appeared, trying to turn a scowl into smile.

‘The bill, please. And if it’s not too much trouble could you phone me a taxi?’

‘Here you go, the girl said and handed him a slip of paper, ‘and yes, I can. Where are you going too?’

‘To the Mermaid Hotel,’ Roy replied as he dug out his wallet.

The girl took his money and made the call. He listened as she said the address of the cafe and the hotel. She hung up the phone and turned back to him, ‘The taxi will be a few minutes and pick you up from the pier enterence.’

‘Thanks,’ Roy answered, he added a ‘goodbye,’ and went to the door.

Preparing to step out into the storm, Roy took a deep breath and opened the door. Rain that felt solid hit him and the strong wind tried to force him back. Roy wrestled with the elements, hurried out and back along the pier.

‘It is swaying!’ he cried.

Daringly, he looked over the safety rail and saw the sea waves arching upwards around the wooden supports. Imagines of the pier collapsing, the buildings crashing down and himself thrown into those violent waves flashed through his mind.

Panicked, Roy ran off the pier, slipping on the wet boards and dodging the small buildings and stalls that were dotted around. He made it safely to the enterence which was an indoor hallway connecting the street to the pier.

Huddling inside there, water dripping everywhere, Roy looked out for his taxi. A rumble of thunder made him jump then laughing loudly, Roy let all his fear go. Of course, the pier was moving! It was built to do so! How else would a wood and iron structure survive the sea? And the storm was only that and nothing to be scared over.

A red car pulled up outside, horn blaring.

Roy opened the door, walked out and got into the taxi.

‘The Mermaid Hotel,’ he said to the reflection of the driver’s face in the rear view mirror.

‘Right O,’ the driver spoke and peeled the car away.

Just Be

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Looking down at the tarot card in her hand, Moon thought it was too much of a sign. The Queen of Swords was sat upside down in a Gothic style throne and frowning as if she was very disappointed in Moon. The Queen’s long sword pointed upwards in a threatening manner as if it was questioning Moon too.

Setting the card aside on the purple velvet covered circle table, Moon shut her eyes and tried to block everything out. Still though, she could hear the arcade staff setting up for the day, their voices mixing with eager cries of children waiting outside and the sea waves splashing against the wall. She breathed in deeply, focusing on relaxing and opening herself to what the universe was saying.

Letting out a deep sigh, Moon opened her eyes again and looked down. The Queen of Swords was still there. That frown looking deeper then before and the eyes more piercing. Of course, she knew what the card meant. There wasn’t one in the whole deck she did not know. It was just that…She was having an hard time taking in the message.

The sound of the arcade’s doors opening drew her attention. She stood from the small high back chair and took a few steps to the side. Trying to make her skirt and bangles not jangle so much, Moon peeped out from the heavy purple curtains that surrounded her little box and watched people entering. There was only a handful; a few local kids with no where else to go during the summer holidays, grandparents with their grandchild, a tried mother with her trio and two very elderly women.

Moon let the curtain fall back. She was not due to open yet, even though she was desperate for the money but she knew none of those people would come to her. Stepping back and sitting down again, she looked at the Queen of Swords then picked the card up.

‘I shall try to be more myself,’ she whispered, ‘though being less like any female in my family is hard. It’s difficult to find your own path when someone’s already cut it out for you. Looking at all the different angles might help though.’

Moon placed the card back with the others, shuffled the deck and placed them into the small wooden box again. Placing that in her bag and picking it up, she left the tent. The curtains that had been muffling the sounds and smells of the outside world settled behind her and Moon walked away.

Going out of the arcades bright red painted doors, she turned and walked alongside the sea wall. Breathing in the fresh, salty air, she took a few minutes to think deeply about things. The Queen of Swords was firmly fixed in her mind’s eye and Moon could almost hear the Queen’s voice telling her to listen to her inner self.

‘What do I want?’ Moon said aloud without meaning too.

A nearby seagull squawked at her and Moon turned to give the creature a dirty look. The bird took flight, flapping large white and grey wings across the sea’s choppy surface. Moon rested her arms on the wall and looked out. The morning sky seemed full of promises and it was beckoning anyone willing enough to travel towards the horizon a chance to take one of those promises.

How difficult can it be to reach out and take what I want?  Moon thought.

She looked back at the arcade and beyond it the wooden pier. She could just make a few people all ready walking down towards the funfair and the theater at the end. Turning back, Moon watched the waves knocking against the wall. The water seemed to be asking her to let it in and in her mind, Moon let it in.