No Fun Here
19 July 2001
1. Worthing, West Sussex
This is the theory.
Worthing is beyond death. Old people don't go there to retire or to die. They move there to stop. To stop worrying about anything. To wander down the seafront past the pier day after day, looking at the seagulls and buying teacosies in the Cats Protection League shop. To be able to buy "OAP discount roasts" at the pub.
It's odd to walk through. The slow tide of grey and beige knit cardigans passing past through will brush against your very mortality, sucking it away and replacing it with some nice comfortable slippers. Yet simultaneously that same geriatric ooze will remind you how young, how virile and how damn sexy you really are. You, you lump of machismo with your shiny new trainers and pristine copy of FHM - you don't have to stay here and watch the seagulls defecate on your fiesta whilst waiting for a pensioner-special haircut with Dominic. You will feel fast and brightly coloured.
As you may have guessed, it's all a conspiracy. A con. The old 'uns aren't here for fun, for pleasure. Not for them to taste the last bittersweet joys that life has to offer them before they pop their clogs. They're here to pour their savings away willingly.
Consider - houses and trinkets. Shiny trinkets. Every British citizen over 55 loves a trinket. Brass elephants, Chinese-style water features, Diana memorial crockery. Ceramic giraffes. Thimbles. Victorian-style candelabras. Such things give meaning to a life long gone desiccated. But where to get the cash for such lovelies? Easy - sell the house that you and your loved one have lived in for thirty-odd years, get the mortgage back and spend spend spend on bright tack. The companies that buy the houses can then keep them until the old folks die, then sell them to their children. These are the same companies that make the trinkets. The money cycles through, increasing with each grey turn.
And. The oldies of Worthing have no need to worry about spending their grandchildren's inheritance on such foolishness because they have no grandchildren any more. Their grandchildren were taken to Camber Sands.
2. Camber Sands, East Sussex
This is the theory.
Five minutes after arrival we saw a child's abandoned blue jelly-shoe on the sand. It's the only sand in Sussex, a thousand metre break from the usual pebbles on the rest of the coastline. Children like sand - they can build sand cathedrals, bury their younger sister or just eat it. No child complains when told that they'll be taken to Camber Sands. They don't realise that they'll be left there.
About two hundred metres from the jelly-shoe was a single child's footprint. Not part of a walking track - the nearest other footprint was an adults a good stride away. Some child had been pressed into the sand and then removed.
The K**** K** cafe sells the usual chips sausages pies fare. There are inflatable bright animalistic things. The slush puppy machine slowly pushes the red icy gloop round and round. It topped up with blood to keep the colour. Outside on the wooden steps leading down to the beach was a dirty plastic tub half-filled with water. It had "DOG WATER" written on it in fading black felt-tip.
The sky was grey when we went and neatly complemented the wet sand. The children there were all happy in their games, unaware of their future. The small naked running ginger child with no clue that her elderly uncle would soon drive back alone. The parents of the two toddlers burying their feet in the beach thinking about whether it would be better to leave them when they were happy and oblivious or when the danger and fear was upon them.
There are massive concrete huts near to the tea-bar at Camber Sands. The children are put there until they are needed, hired out by the company. Possibly for hard labour. Organ-transplant maybe. Cleaning the tricky little corners of gigantic silver sculptures with their tiny fingers.
The parents receive a monthly payment from the company for this. It stops after five years, by which time they will have forgotten that they ever went to Camber, and will have new carpets.
The only people who could bring them back again are their grandparents, who traditionally pay more attention to the children than their own parents do. More spare time and all. But their grandparents have forgotten too that the children ever existed. They are hypnotised by the candlelight reflecting off the brass elephants.