Accident at Frinton-on-Sea
It was a case of just sitting tight and waiting. Eventually the words would come. He was going to be a writer – just like that. He would write a story, perhaps not even a story – just a scene, just an event would do. It could end with an accident, something shocking, he thought. Time wasn’t an issue – the task was a stimulating little challenge. He smiled to himself and began to be a writer, there and then, on the beach, with no paper, nothing to write on, but it could be done, or, at least started – in his head. He sensed it wouldn’t go away, until it was finished. It would be as unavoidable as the accident he would have to come up with – eventually.
Thus he mused, as the waves crept a little closer to where they were sitting, the waves that he would recall later for having washed away the hole he’d dug earlier with his five-year-old grandson, and the castle they’d built together; and the stones he made him carry down the beach for a few minutes’ fortification that would be knocked out of place, rearranged as haphazardly as an accident or as the way the waves would crest up and break in unpredictable places, some even going under before their comrades died like D-Day soldiers, gasping for air on the beach, spewing their white spume, like dribble out of an old man’s mouth. Not out of his own mouth, he would hasten to add, before his readers thought it was him dribbling there, in front of all those people on the beach, enjoying their day out. No, it would come out of the mouth of the salmon-pink fat man arrayed on a lilo like a floating burial-mound, over there, over by the marker buoy, one arm, his steering arm, limply dangling in the water.
He would call himself the author, and write about playing the new game of throwing the stones into the sea for his grandson to retrieve, for the latter kept insisting stones belonged on the sand and not in the sea. At which point, he could include something impressively philosophical about appreciating the potential of a child’s memory: we couldn’t all be famous, but we could live a little longer in someone’s memory. At least, it would be reassuring to think so, he could add.
Meanwhile, the waves were getting closer still, and some people were panicking a little, and packing their things, fearing the tide would trap them up against the sea wall. Perhaps this could be the accident that was inevitably going to happen, to save himself any more planning? No, he didn’t think so, knowing the beach and how a spring tide as gentle as this would stop short in certain places and leave you alone, to eat your picnic in peace, to contemplate the view.
The view – thinking of which, he realised he needed to include a little description. He would have to bring the scene to life, make it imaginable, memorable even. Cinematographic. Whatever that meant. And all the while, time, which initially he had thought wasn’t an issue, was ebbing away, as he struggled to take in the scene, to memorise it so he could take it away with him to commit to paper when he got home, not forgetting the nagging question of how to create an accident. Nor must he neglect to mention he had the insatiable demands of his grandson to contend with; he ignored him at his peril. And his wife.
Suddenly, the task was becoming insuperably difficult, what with having to think while pouring out drinks, handing out sandwiches, and attending to the dogs; one with no sense of propriety, repeatedly taking her smallness to be the qualification for yapping at all passers by, and necessitating frequent restraint, or chasing after; the other, a perpetual pain, persistently pestering him for food. And all the time, there was the need to be on the watch for people passing along the path behind the sea wall whose offspring would disturb the patches of sand that lay inexplicably on these walls, and delight in flicking them onto their victims down below.
He had to anticipate his readers thinking he hadn’t really included any description; they would be expecting him to evoke the sunlight playing on the waves, a piercing glint you couldn’t stare at for long unless you wore sunglasses. No, on second thoughts, he would omit the waves, with their oh-so-obvious heavy hints of disaster, but the picturesque fishing-boats and the jolly yachts, now, they were surely worth a mention, as they could always be counted on to complete a seaside scene. But he would not have his readers assume this was a typical resort; no, he would describe this one as having no funfair, no ice-cream kiosks, no tea-rooms, none of the paraphernalia you associate with, say, Southend or Clacton. It would simply be a long, clean beach, beautifully braced with barely battered breakwaters, a long sea wall and, behind it, a long border of lovingly tended beach huts – a decent seaside town people dream of retiring to, to end their days there in a luxury flat, staring at the sea, and dying of genteel regret, and exquisitely desperate boredom. A misanthropic, melancholy thought he rather liked; he would definitely slip that one in.
But it was nearly time to go home. Time left for thinking was nearly up and the description needed more work, so, after another really last game of throwing stones for his grandson, he hastily looked out to sea and conjured up a few thoughts about what it must be like to be out there: life on the waves, with the wind fluttering in the sails, tangling with your hair – the imagined carefree life of the imagined rich; the fishing craft and their rough-faced crews, but not as weather-beaten as genuine fishermen used to be, or so he surmised.
Once that paragraph was complete, he could have the tide going out, and a startling speed-boat suddenly coming into view – its colour of no importance – and the swirling wave it created would tip the sleeping fat man off his drifting lilo into the cruel sea. To drown, perhaps? Something to be decided later. And he could follow it up with something about it being an accident waiting to happen, and then ask, was it inevitable? He would ask his readers if they’d foreseen it, and if so, he might even ask why had they just sat there like the people on the beach, and done nothing to prevent it. Was it post-modern or plain stupid to ask a question like that? He wasn’t sure. Better leave it out, then, he thought.
Why hadn’t he, was not a riposte he’d get, he assumed, laughing at another of his silly jokes, then deciding not to use it.