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St Bees, the Disappearing Uncle and his Graffiti friend (Part one)

Julie O returns...

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by Julie O, Arts Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: November, 2013
a ladies under garment/baby clothing shop, and a shop which sold many fantastical things such as rubber horror masks and quality pen knives.
by Julie O, Arts Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: November, 2013
a ladies under garment/baby clothing shop, and a shop which sold many fantastical things such as rubber horror masks and quality pen knives.

Where to start? Well, I could start at the beginning but I'm not sure where that is right now. So I'll just start.

St Bees is a village and a coastal position on the north west coast of England. It pokes out prominently into the Irish sea just below the border leading up to Scotland. Look it up, it's not hard to find. Maybe you should go there. I would recommend it I think, even if it is just for it's Cafe, which has been there forever and its ice cream by local company Hartley's. As a child this cafe was just one of the local business which I had in mind I was going to be owning and running. I was obviously ambitious as a child. The other local business included a haberdashery/toy/electrical shop, a tiny stationary shop, a ladies under garment/baby clothing shop, and a shop which sold many fantastical things such as rubber horror masks and quality pen knives. This last one also had two resident evil Siamese cats who would happily claw you to death given half the chance.

It would have been painful to have had to choose only one from all of them so I have held onto the fantasy which keeps them all close to my heart but not in my reality. It could be one of the many ongoing disappointments in myself and the very real explanation for all this low self-esteem.

The caravan we stay in is a static one. It is approximately thirty four feet long by fifteen feet wide. Identical to at least fifty others on the site although the porches or walkways to them do vary It is sectioned up into one large bedroom at the back (with en suite shower/toilet), a kitchen diner leading into a very comfortable lounge area. Following on from this is a small cloakroom area leading to two small bedrooms, one with two pull down half ¾ single beds and another room with a single three-quarter bed. Next to these is another shower room with toilet a little smaller than the other one. It is superbly cool and cosy simultaneously.

Above all of the three-quarter beds are neat perfectly positioned cupboards with an assortment of items secreted away in them. I know this because I looked, It's what I do, check the immediate environment out. It was either me or the kids. So I thought I would get in there first.

Spare table lamps, sweaters, kids dressing gowns. On closer inspection in the smaller of the two single rooms I noted the cupboards had an abundance of sweaters, mostly of the brown and navy colouring. Nothing bright or garish. 'Men's' deodorant, books on war, more sweaters, a book on a popular graffiti artist and other small ephemera. On the windowsill is a small photo in a frame. The size is approximatelyten cm by five cm and the little plastic frame is ornate in design. The picture is of my uncle wearing the garments usually worn by the celebrating graduate, cap and gown. I wonder when this was taken as he looks remarkably similar to how he does now (he now resides somewhere mid sixties I would guess). I also don't recall hearing that he went to university in the last ten years but what do I really know, it's not like I have kept tabs on his every move.

I pick the photo up and study it for a while. This is something I will return to repeatedly over the next few days like I'm trying to find something, or unlock some kind of mystery. Putting it back on its window seat I take the Graffiti artist biog with me and leave the Uncle's bedroom.

The walls in the caravan hold a particular interest for me in that they remind me of the old pre-fab council house I grew up in. As was there, these walls are as thin as paper and could be knocked through with a toffee hammer or kicked in with an adolescent shoe. Take your pick.

Our entrance to the caravan is a wooden slope with Swiss style (again wooden) railings around a sun trapped veranda. This small outside space is mainly taken up with our damp beach towels, stolen dead crabs and pumps full of sand. Surrounding the caravan is neat-ish grass with many rose bushes around the whole of the site. During our visit there is a steady hum of grass being mown, first by the resident gardener and then again by our neighbouring lady with her own lawn mower.

She, the neighbour looked determined, particularly when she was getting close to mowing right underneath our caravan. I was watching this whilst attempting to play badminton with a broken racquet against my tall and agile younger sister. The mower was distracting me as much as the colour of the neighbour's hair, which was a vivid reddish orange. She was a rather round lady with some good energy I noticed. Eventually I caught her eye, or she caught mine, I can't remember which (?) and I engaged her in some nonsensical banter about enjoying herself mowing. She said that the gardener never does the job properly, so I took that to be her way of saying 'I might as well bloody do it myself', which she did and a very good job she done as well. We appreciated her if no one else did. She also had gnomes standing outside the door of her caravan. She said she would be back the next day with the strimmer, she had left it at home. The other home I guess she meant. I had the feeling that she was waiting for me to tell her who we were but I didn't offer up any information about us. Too dangerous really.

From time to time I or we manage to prise ourselves away from our luxurious new home and spend time on the beach, always alert now we are residents, to the times of the tide. It comes in fast and after being caught out by a tide at the age of 14 I am vigilant around the kids but hopefully not paranoid. That's not helpful on holiday. I am lay prostrate on the continuous concrete slab which is St bee's beach seating. I look at the sky, read and think. This great boulder of seating holds many memories for me. I think it is the warmness, how the rock absorbs the sun and stays warm, steady, solid. It is pleasant to lie on, to touch. It's reassuring.

I drift and think of my many memories attached to this place such as the time we (our family and others) were all nearly finished off by a speeding turquoise maxi on the morning of a beach day outing. One very likeable little Italian lady in our village used to organise day trips (five mile round trip) to St bees for families in the town by coach and on this particular morning a whole load of us were sat on the small wall the other side of the roundabout at the bottom of our road waiting for the coach.

I remember sitting near my dad and I also remembering watching the small blue car come speeding down the hill straight over the roundabout heading for us. Everyone scattered and I recall being pulled out of the way as the car bumped and careered over the small wall and grass verge. Luckily no one was hurt. I'm not sure what happened to the driver, whether the blokes dragged him out of the Maxi and gave him a good duffing or maybe he simply carried on driving. If it were the latter he would have ended up shooting past the housing estate and down a steep grass bank into the beck. I'm pretty sure we simply dusted ourselves off and clambered on board the coach with thoughts only of salty egg sandwiches and the helter-skelter. All memories of life threatening escapades put behind us. I hadn't thought of this story in a long time yet here it was back with me as I cherished this warm coastal concrete supporting my back.

Despite having children around making lots of noise and constant demands for food, I am three-quarters of the way through the biog on the graffiti artist. I'm not sure how I manage this really but I remember that I can literally read anywhere. I persevere with this book as I keep thinking that there will be some little gem around the corner. I have hope, so I find myself almost speed reading whenever I have five minutes spare. The premise is one in which the author has many meetings with the graffiti artist and what seems like a yearning for their relationship to develop into something more than that of a very loose acquaintance. There appears to be animosity and an almost dislike from the graffiti artist to towards the author. 'Why bother?' I keep wondering.

So I keep going with it, thinking that there must be some kind of reward at the end for the writer. It doesn't appear so and I finish reading the book in one day. This is quite a satisfying experience of course, to begin and finish reading a book in a day. Although with this particular book for a fleeting moment I feel like throwing it in the waste paper basket next to the TV in the caravan lounge but then I remember the book doesn't belong to me.

I place the book back in the overhead cupboard I first found it and I am left wondering about the owner of the book. Who exactly is he? I know what his name is and what he looks like but I don't really know anything more about him do I? How long did it take him to read this book? Longer than a day?

Maybe he didn't manage to finish it because:

a) It was too difficult or

b) It was too boring

There is the possibility that he never even actually began reading the book but had purchased it for other reasons.

Maybe it was time for some digging.

Julie O
Arts Editor

Outsideleft Arts Editor, Julie O is a sculptor and writer. She is currently putting together a literary arts based magazine in get this, print. You will be able to hold it in your hands.

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