I went on Walk 34, the island walk, returning to the scenes of my youth. There was a long journey to make before the starting point proper. After arriving at the railway station, I needed a bus in the direction towards where I used to live. I had to wait a while in the town before the bus came so I walked over to the sea front. For two holidays I had lived in this town before we moved about forty minutes bus ride away. I used to be very bored here. I have a memory of sitting on the pebbly beach here in the hot sunshine, among crowds about whom I felt very differently from how I would today. I wrote about it. I am sorry that I lost what I wrote, it described a mood that was new to me. Now I felt an urge to talk to someone, tell them I lived here thirty years ago and had come back here for the first time. I told an old couple at the bus stop. I got little response. I take the bus for half an hour or so. Some new building, some expansion of M.., perhaps. Perhaps not, perhaps it was the same then as now. Some blacks get out at the stop by the road to the open prison. Much is surprisingly the same. Even the street where I lived with my grandparents looks still unmade up. I recall their unsuccessful efforts to get the neighbours to club together to pay to get it surfaced.
Emotions return. Like the contempt felt in those days. What is now vividly past was then vividly present. Recall the feeling I had returning here one autumn. One flat and desolate corner, passed on the bus, under a bleak grey sky. Strong adolescent nihilistic emotion.
Other emotions return, like the strong sexual feeling of that time. The competitive game one was presented with. The process of tackling it was one of immense difficulty and complexity. Looking back now. Shyness one might have called it then, social phobia. some would say these days, and prescribe therapy or pills. Like the world of the disabled, my world. Like being deaf. Just shyness. Not just with these classes of people, with whom I dared not speak.
Times have advanced, obviously I have moved on, but I am not thinking now of the present. There were things in the past that had never been resolved. Though much has changed in the course of a life, there is much that remains from those days. It was not just that class either.
Your own present, your own past. Everywhere pressure, clichés, received interpretations. Your present is nothing, because the past is all. And when what was present is now past, it is still what was once present.
I get off the bus at L….. and walk down to the sea shore. There are many bikers down by the beach with their motorbikes. In those days they were menacing black leathered thugs, much to be avoided. More on that. I walk along the sea wall towards S….
Click to the past.
I used to take long solitary walks out to sea. In the winter time when the tide was out and the mist came up I could feel I was miles from anywhere.
Just before S… there is the official nudist beach. A few men and women, probably more women . I count five, all naked.
I get the usual therapeutic effect To say it is not just about sex is a well worn statement, much derided, but there is something in it. Naked they are transformed. All hostility fades.
I also naked, try to walk out to sea, sink ankle deep in mud, return. Women go further out. I follow them, return again, take out my binoculars, and sit on a wall to watch them. Three local youths ask me about them. I pass them over. In their local accents…"they binoculars arr ar'. Jokingly pretending to look at the boats.
It is strange to find that now I am acceptable. Before I was in enemy territory. I was a freak. The times have changed unexpectedly. Much hostility just seems to have evaporated. Local lads. Me naked too.
Past S…. I take a wrong turning into the nature reserve to discover a colony of little tern.
The path came to an end and I had to retrace my steps back to the sea wall
Walking with shirt off on this hot day. I felt I would like to walk naked.
On the sea wall I reflect upon youth, nudity and sex. Age, projection, imagination. The originality, creativity, evolution in sexual matters as elsewhere.
I reflect on how I would have reacted to the presence of a nude beach here when I was young. From age 14 or so I had been watching naked women at Soho strip clubs, so that was not so special. What excited me more at that time was being seen naked by women. Now I like to think of women experiencing a similar pleasure exposing themselves before me. For this, even age and beauty lose some importance. I respond to the feeling in the mind of the woman, her inhibition and her overcoming that in exposing herself. Even an old woman can feel a pleasure in showing herself naked. To that pleasure I can relate. Problems of not being understood. Development of cerebral refinements of sexual enjoyment. Think of this in terms of evolution. It is some outflow of energy not demanded by evolution.
Walking along the raised pathway across the marsh. I am getting back in touch with myself. Though I lived there I was from elsewhere. I lived as an exile in a world that was often mysterious. The activities of man were as strange as the workings of nature.
The people here when I knew them were quite inaccessible. If I can talk to them now they all seem completely different. Unaffected friendliness is very strange.
H…. church did not move me as much as some churches do. Yet according to the guide book this is one of the most magical remote and mysterious spots in the south east. I wanted a magical spot and this was not it. There was too much the clarity of a hot summer day.
I wanted magic. I wanted intense feeling. Here I felt I wanted to go mad. Click to the future. The excitement was less than it should have been. Something to do with the time of year, I think, years later. High summer is not the most magical season.
To the Ferry Inn., where drinkers are like drinkers elsewhere. There is nothing much mysterious about them.
The beer is good though.
I walk back to L…..
In L….., I have an idea of when the last bus goes. I find a bus stop and ask in a shop for the times. There are one and a half hours to wait. I go into in a pub. I sit down, read a bit. Local people. Recall the woman in the tea kiosk long ago who complained about riff raff who were ruining the place.
Think of my own inhibition and snobbery.
I drink a pint of bitter. Still so much time. I go off to look for the rude postcards, which George Orwell found such a charming feature of English life. I used to enjoy them, even while expressing hypocritical disapproval at their ever increasing vulgarity. Another institution that seems to have passed. I can’t find any. Have a bag of chips. Walk down to the beach. Come back. Still more time. I go back into the pub, come outside and sit at a table.
Caravaners. Common people.
Two women came and sit down opposite me. They know the others already sitting at the table. One is frumpish and unappealing, the other reminds me of Denise (link Denise) She had streaks of grey in her hair, which was reassuring, because I could feel I am not too old for her.
I have recently been meeting young people, who have no grey in their hair.
I have been looking at young people’s hair recently, like the hair of my son, and also that of a delightful girl of exactly his age..
'Don't worry it might never 'appen".
This was my cue. I tell her I am feeling all right, fine, have just been on a walk, I explain where I have been and she agrees I have walked a long way. How I used to live here 30 years ago etc. About my job in the pub that lasted a couple of days.. I talk well, I am at my best. I am charming, well controlled. I talk about the Krays, who came to the local pub. I am witty, informative. I talk of the criminal sub-culture here, (’He’s right, says her friend, what about your friend J…?’) Everything is different, transformed, I am what I wasn’t then. Or what I was sometimes, in context, like with male friends. Fed up with the place she was, I am feeling high. I can see how good it could be.
Her name is Ruth.
She came from Fulham,
I tell all, or almost all, At least about those times. My life with my grandparents, about not speaking to anyone, about being so shy. About the sea freezing one winter, and how I walked along the beach knee high in blocks of ice. The death of my parents and being sent to boarding school.
Leysdown.. Sorting out old things, ancient inhibitions and difficulties.
As I got up to go for my bus, she called me back said how she would like to meet me again.
I kissed her full on the lips. I did not ask for her phone number, though maybe I should have done. This redeemed.
This theme of
redemption.. How we need it. Redemption from so much that seems
From the old patterns and tensions. From contempt, fear and disgust.
comes in the form of a woman.