This is an extract from the new book I’ve been working on, about a bloke having a midlife crisis while late capitalism has its own spectacular crisis all around him, asking himself what the fuck (if anything) it all means – a bit angsty, a bit funny, set in a pretty, shabby, post-apocalyptic seaside town … in hindsight, the tone of the material feels like everything happening now was always just round the corner … I’m going to keep posting bits, in no particular order, bits that seem relevant to the strange times we suddenly find ourselves living in …

Michael Smith, St Leonards-on-Sea

Shabby Magic

Sat in the Silchester Road laundrette, making sure the baby’s got clean clothes, watching the gnarly old hippy bloke’s tie-dye slowly floating round and round … the sign on the wall said SMILE, YOU’RE ON CCTV, and I was smiling, soaking up the shabby magic of the seaside town, while the sunset marinaded the room in golden honey …

Walking home through the wedding-cake square, grand Corinthian columns the colour of icing, and rusty streaks running down stuccoed walls from the knackered old satellite dishes that cluster like mushrooms sprouting in the damp of the decaying impossible grandeur, fallen away into this strange, shady half-life … and from the centre of the square, Victoria still stares out to sea, ruling the waves with a traffic cone one her head, her huddled unwashed minions shuffling round the romantic gardens, scratching enough money for a tenner bag or a few cans of Tennents, and glazed eyes stare out from 2,000 leagues under the sea …

Grubby net curtains behind grand mansion windows, alkies on benches, pitbulls on the grass, shady blokes on crutches in Reebok Classics hanging round the phone box … but among this seedy, unkempt undergrowth, a certain bohemia’s blossomed … I met so many wonderful oddballs: a buddhist postman, a theremin player who’s theremin was on the blink, an ex-opera singer with a big white father chrismas beard, a lady from Hot Gossip who used to dance on the Kenny Everett show …

There was always the feeling this place was a law unto itself, a forgotten little corner you hoped would stay forgotten a bit longer, close enough and far enough to follow its own eccentric orbit round the capital, the culture, the laws of economics, somewhere out there beyond the convenient commute of the pointy-shoed fuckers with the hedge fund hair, right down here to the ends of England, where shitty old London Road and its gnarly chicken shops finally runs out of tarmac and hits the sea, and a glamorous old copper-green clock from the Jazz Age still keeps the hours against that vast blue that stretches out the same forever …

And now I walk home by the crumbling elegance of the Regency facades, pot-holed pavements and rising damp; and when the sun’s caught flat against the pastel stucco, the dog shit capital of the south coast can still look impossibly pretty, long shadows against the clotted cream streets of golden hour, a dreaming seaside town for dreamers; and every evening at sundown, I get home to the church bells ringing their rich, deep melody, like it was all a message just for me, St Leonards telling me I’d been given a second chance, that I’d entered into some kind of pact with the place, and it’d be kind to me, and grant me what I needed.

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