By Mark Burrow
It is the latest reg.
My new Ford Mondeo.
Excellent handling. Suspension. The perfect family car. Shame the
family sitting in the car are far from perfect.
I've had enough.
Driving under the Thames through the Rotherhithe tunnel. The lot of
them with me in the motor.
My wife, Suzy and our young boy: Georgie.
The daughter and her scabby, long hair of a boyfriend. The
mother-in-law too, Mary, in the passenger seat.
I press my foot on the accelerator. Taking the tight bends at speed.
Overtaking traffic. My window's open and the tunnel fumes make the
mother-in-law cough. She's chewing a mouthful of phlegm. My wife's
frantic. Daughter's crying. The women want me to slow down.
I increase the pressure on the pedal.
A truck is on the opposite lane. I'm driving along a straight stretch
of the tunnel road like Nigel fucking Mansell. I haul the steering
wheel right and we swerve so half the car is in the wrong lane; enough
for the driver of the truck to see me head on and stamp the brakes so I
can swerve into my lane. The driver toots his horn, hand signals I'm a
wanker. I salute him, toot my horn and drive on. Now the wife is crying
but little Georgie isn't afraid. He's too young to know or care about
speed limits, the Highway Code, road safety and the billion other rules
and regulations of this adult world.
The scab stayed over at ours. I said he could stay in my daughter's
room if he slept on a mattress on the floor. I should've known better.
I heard him giving my daughter one this morning (she is seventeen years
of age.)??In my house?.
He gazes out of the window, acting like he's not scared.
We exit the tunnel and the car radio picks up the signal. It's tuned to
Radio One and a Queen song is playing. 'Ah, Freddie Mercury,' I say,
'the man was a genius.'
'Stop the car,' says Suzy.
To the scab, I say, 'Do you like Queen?'
'Not particularly,' he says.
'Who do you like then?'
'Oh, different bands.'
'You won't have heard of them.'
'I might have. Who are they?'
'Well, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Sonic Youth, Hole, Babes in
My foot presses on the pedal. Faster. Faster. Red lights and traffic
Suzy grabs a handful of my hair. 'STOP THE CAR NOW,' she says.
I see a Texaco and slow the car down, drifting to the inner lane of the
dual carriageway. I drive into the garage. Stop. Switch off the engine.
The music dies.
I turn and look at my wife. She's shoving the scab. They're getting
out. I look at the numbers and the R on the gear stick. My daughter is
talking, asking questions.
(Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies).
So I say, 'I knew what I was doing. I was only messing around. Don't
Suzy has opened the passenger door, helping her mother out of the car.
'You hear that, mum?' says my wife. 'He was only messing about. Playing
with our lives is his idea of a game.'
'Mum, what's dad's problem?' says my daughter to my wife.
The boy Georgie starts wailing.
'I wish I knew,' says Suzy.
The family refuses to get back into the car once I've filled it with
petrol (non-leaded). They don't seem to realise they are going to
Southend whether they like it or not. My wife went on and on about
going. About us having a "good long" walk along the seafront. Breathing
in some of that "good" sea air. Maybe a "fun" game of tennis in Priory
Park. All of us "together". A family. Walking on the pier. Eating in
Peter's fish &; chip shop. Going on the rides in Peter Pan's
playground. A stroll through Neverneverland.
This was her brainstorm.
So we are Essex bound. It's as simple as that.
'Get in the car,' I say to them.
Mary says, 'So you can kill us with your driving?'
'You're alive, aren't you?'
'More from luck than judgement.'
'Get in the motor.'
'Dad, what is your problem?'
I look at my daughter and then at scab boy. She met him at her college.
I didn't work all those years - I started from the very bottom and
worked all the way up to middle management - to pay for her to go to a
private school to meet up with a clueless long hair loser fuck like
him. I think of her slag's diary under the mattress in her immaculately
furnished, decorated, all mod cons bedroom.
I go to tell her the problem I have.
My wife says, 'Let's call it a day. Get a train back. It's the right
thing to do.'
'No. We aren't going home. You'll have the right hump.'
'But we'd be alive,' says scab boy.
My daughter thinks this is clever.
'I was talking to MY WIFE.'
'Don't talk to Giles like that,' says my daughter.
'Oi,' I say, 'given the noises coming from your bedroom this
Suzy cuts in, 'Please. We're going home. I've had a gutful.'
'There weren't any noises.'
'No, course there weren't.'
'I can't take this.'
'He's not right in the head,' says Mary.
'We're aren't going home. We're going to the seaside.'
They stand there.
'Get in the car. I won't say it again.'
I drive the rest of the way carefully - as promised.
'Look,' says Suzy to Georgie. 'There's the sea, can you see the
Georgie couldn't give a toss about the sea. The sky. The sea. The sun.
The moon. He's oblivious to the lot of it. All my boy Georgie worries
about is sucking my wife's once firm and ripe tits and having his nappy
Mary unwraps the foil on the sandwiches she has made for me. She puts
them on my lap. I can see they are cut into four and the bright pink at
the sides of the sandwiches tells me the filling is salmon paste. She
knows I despise salmon paste - its very invention was an insult to the
poor. A joke by the rich who can afford to eat real salmon. Mary
doesn't see that for her fifty salmon paste buying years she was having
the piss ripped out of her proletariat roots. She's deliberately made
me the sandwiches because I've told her what a joke they are. So I take
them and thank the stupid cow and shove a segment of the pink detritus
into my mouth and look right, beyond a muddy building site of half
constructed flats, to the sea in the distance and then, on the horizon,
a hazy line which is the shore of Canvey Island.
'Georgie, look, it's the sea. We're at the seaside.'
I turn to Mary and open my mouth in a smile, showing her the mushy
'Urrrrgh,' she goes.
I find a space to park my new Ford Mondeo (it's the latest reg).
We're walking along the seafront. Breathing in the salt air of the
English Channel. Hearing the seagulls. Suzy is a hundred feet ahead of
me, pushing Georgie in the buggy, her mother walking beside her.
Traipsing not far behind them is scab boy with slag daughter. His arm
round her shoulders.
'He's not stable,' says Mary.
'I genuinely thought he would get better,' says Suzy.
'He's not, dear, he's getting odder by the day.'
'If he got help, then okay. But he won't. He doesn't listen to anybody.
It's like he's given up hope.'
Scab boy kisses my daughter on the ear. 'Really,' he says, 'the band is
really, like, coming together now. We're improving all the time. I know
the last gig wasn't really that great but the next one I'm really
majorly confident about the whole thing.'
'I think you should be. The music's good.'
'Do you think?'
'Yes, I like it. You've got talent.'
'I'm not sure. My voice isn't the best, either.'
'I like your voice.'
'I've said so before, silly.'
'I wrote you a song.'
'It's a love song. It's about us. Our relationship.'
'Oh, Giles, that's sooooo sweet of you.'
Quickly, he kisses her on the lips. He turns and sees me looking at
him. To my daughter, he whispers, 'I love you.'
'I love you too,' she replies.
They kiss again.
'That was so nice this morning,' he says.
'Wasn't it just? I really could feel you inside of me.'
'Mmm, I really felt it as you came.'
They're heading for the longest pier in the world.
I'm walking down a flight of stone steps to the beach. There is a man
on the beach with bulky, seventies style headphones and a trailing wire
attached to a metal detector. He's craning forward and he looks at the
pebbles and stones and grains of sand. He sweeps side to side, scanning
the ground. He wears a green anorak, waterproof trousers and has a
rucksack. His features and build are similar to a colleague of mine at
work, Carter. The bags under the eyes. The skinniness and bad posture.
When redundancies were mentioned by head office Carter took time off
work for stress and never came back. There are other men on the beach
with metal detectors, scanning for treasure. Some of them, too, I think
The sun has gone in. The sky clouds over and the sea darkens green. I
walk forward and tread on shards of glass from a lager bottle. The
waves are rolling in, breaking on the shore in bursts of foam. Seagulls
circle above the water, calling out, diving into the sea no doubt for
jars of salmon paste?.Canvey Island is on the horizon. The guy who
looks a lot like Carter is standing by a broken deck chair. He raises a
hand to a headphone and taps it. The sounds he's registering in his
headphones are my footsteps. He looks up, sees me; lowers his head to
scan with the metal detector. I go and stand in front of him. I gesture
for him to take off the headphones.
He stops what he's doing. Removes the headphones. He doesn't seem to
'Yes?' he says.
'Don't mind if I do,' I say, reaching for the metal detector.
He steps backwards. 'What do you think you're doing, mate?'
I hold up the palms of my hands. 'Apologies. No offence meant.'
'What are you playing at?'
He even sounds like Carter.
'I only fancied a go. That was all.'
'Buy one of your own, then.'
'Don't be like that. Can I have a go?'
'No, it's mine.'
'Go on. Please. Five minutes. That's all I'm asking.'
'Why should I?'
'Because it won't do any harm.'
'You might break it. Besides, I don't know you.'
He says this and I smile. He wants to keep up the pretence.
'You can trust me,' I say.
'Trust you?' he says. 'Hardly.'
'Please let me.'
'Go on. I won't break it. I promise I won't.'
He mulls it over. 'I don't believe you,' he says.
'Please,' I say. 'You'll be right here, watching me.'
He has another think. 'Okay,' he says, 'five minutes it is,' and he
unbuckles a belt so I can strap the gear on to me. He explains how to
use the metal detector. I get impatient as he goes into the nerdy
details of what to do, of the sounds in the headphones to listen for.
Before putting the headphones on me, he says, 'If you find something,
then I get to keep it, okay?'
'Sure,' I reply, looking around at the beach.
We shake on it.
He fastens a belt onto my waist, puts the headphones on me and then
switches on a box attached to the belt. I'm listening to the bleeps and
static. Scrutinising the pebbles and grains of sand and stones.
Sweeping the metal detector. It's quite involving.
Yeah. I liked it.
Gradually, I feel calmer. Carter had said five minutes but I see him
walk off to go and stand by a seafood stall, where he talks to the girl
serving. She points at me. I look to the ground. There is only myself
and the beach and the noise in my ears. I scan in an area of six yards
at a time. Listening for what's buried underneath. It's soothing.
Calming. Five minutes go by. He carries on talking to the girl (he
always did like the ladies). Ten minutes pass. I understood how the
beachcombers could spend days on the beach sweeping the metal detector
back and forth. Alone. Everyone else, they could go and take a running
jump. What did I care about their sun tan lotions, Speedos, bikinis,
sunglasses, candy floss and 99s? Who needed those things? The
beachcombers were onto something. I began to visualise an escape from
it all. An alternative to the falseness of salmon paste sandwiches. I
could buy myself a metal detector and rove the beaches from Lands End
to John O'Groats. Living off my finds. The occasional treasure.
Travelling from beach to beach. It would be a simple existence. One I
could grasp. Simply me travelling coast to coast. On foot. Walking. I
wouldn't use a car, a train. Maybe a boat.
A boat's okay provided it's made of wood.
This searching, it'd outlast any career. Scanning Whitney Bay. Margate.
Little Hampton. Great Yarmouth. The Isle of Sheppey to the Falklands.
Every beach. Every grain of sand. And when the British Isles are done,
after all its hidden beach treasures are mined, I can set sail for
Europe. Landing in Normandy. Detector in hand. Storming ashore. Ready
to scan every one of Europe's beaches. When that is finished, there are
whole continents to scan and mine: the shores of the earth are waiting
I look down the beach and see the other beachcombers, looking at the
grains of sand and the stones and the pebbles. Up the coast: the same.
The girl that Carter is trying to chat up spoon feeds him jellied
I start to run.