Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

We picked up the key to the caravan, let ourselves in, ascertained the phone signal situation (none) and went to the beach. Polzeath beach is the kind of bucket-and-spade beach Janet and John's Mummy and Daddy might have chosen for their annual holiday. First, soft white sand ideal for burying Mummy;

then a broad shining plain of hard, smooth sand, ideal for sandcastles, dam projects, or tunnelling to Australia; then gentle inchdeep wavelets - spent rollers - for toddlers and oldies to paddle in. Then flags.

Then thundering surf crowded with Neoprene figures, all shapes, sizes and ages, some of them screaming, and riderless surfboards flipped skywards; each successive wave a chaotic and exhilarating drama.

We were an all-male, three-generation lineup this year: me, my boy and my boy's two young sons. At the entrance to the beach all save my boy took off our socks and shoes and stuffed them into our bucket. Four abreast and squinting into the brightness, we progressed pale-footed across soft then hard sand towards the line of surf. My boy was depressed and preoccupied. His younger son was hanging on to his hand, grizzling. His elder son, however, was prancing ahead, shrieking ecstatic gibberish, and dancing dementedly in every rock pool. I saw only one item of litter: a Moet and Chandon champagne cork.

We possessed neither wetsuits nor boards, but we were equipped with the aforementioned bucket, blue, and a bright red spade.

So we scouted some low, mussel-coated rocks, found a suitable cockpit-sized declivity, and grandad excavated thick, enclosing ramparts, so that when the tide came up, we could stand behind them and calmly defy the sea, until finally it breached and overcame them, whereupon grandad would do his startling impression of a German U-boat klaxon signalling action stations, and we would scramble to safety over the rocks.

While I laboured, my boy sat on a rock, rolled a fag, checked his phone again, found to his surprise that he had one bar, immediately made a call, and had an increasingly sharp altercation with his ex-partner for ten minutes, while his younger son clung to his trouser legs and cried. A smooth-faced young lad tripping over the rocks saw my effort, stopped, and said, 'That's what I call not bad, actually.' I topped off the ramparts with a castellation of mud pies and we took up our positions within.

A calm, the first of our holiday, descended upon us. …

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