:: Article

The Seaside Town That They Forgot to Bomb

By Adelle Stripe.

My Great Grandma had dark leathery skin. Her name was Glenda Mudd. Her eyes, blues and watery, clouded by Glaucoma, shone out across room in the bungalow where she lived. Her husband had died years ago. His name was George and he was a spiv. Grandma Pearl used to tell me stories of how he would hide the kids under his trench coat on the way into the cinema, only paying for one adult to watch the Saturday afternoon matinee. In the second word war the kids were evacuated from the terrace houses of Hull, as Luftwaffe bombers raised the docklands to the ground.
Displaced, the family moved to With-on-sea. East Riding’s Victorian utopian dream. Once the pearl of the east coast by 1987 it had firmly earned the title of ‘armpit of the north’. Like any fading resort, its Victorian heritage was eventually bulldozed into redbrick arcades and dayglo donut and dunk ice cream soda cafes.
With-on-sea famously had the only inland lighthouse in the country. Apparently, its builders thought that coastal erosion would wash the town into the sea by 1967, so to safeguard the lighthouse they built it inland. Fortunately for With-on-sea, the sea never came, but the lighthouse didn’t have much use after that, other than being a curious tourist attraction. Sometimes I would climb to the top of the lighthouse and look down across the town. I wished the sea had washed the whole town away. I spent every summer holiday trapped in council estate on Hull Road, at the arse end of town.
Grandma Pearl used to be the cleaner for the Kit Randall Memorial Museum, which was attached to the side of With-on-sea Lighthouse. Kit was a film star in from the 1940s who had a holiday home in With-on-sea, and after she died a museum was made out of the home that she lived in. It was preserved in time from the day that she died. All of her original trinkets and pictures were in place, along with her clothes, and furniture from that period. Grandma Pearl used to polish her pomades, and remake the silk throw bed three times a week. In the summer holidays I would go along with her, and sit at Kit Randall’s dressing table, pretending that I was her, with a chiffon scarf wrapped around my neck. Her make up, perfume, and photographs littered the table, and when Grandma wasn’t looking, I would smudge my lips with Christian Dior lip salve from the gold art deco case.
There was a picture of her with Robert Mitchum at an Oscar ceremony in the 1950s on the wall, and tall wooden wardrobes holding mink fur coats overlooking her luxurious bed with double padded pillowcases.
In Kit’s bedroom I dreamed of Hollywood. Sensing that I was somehow enamoured with the stars of the silver screen, Grandma bought me a book called ‘Movie Star Portraits of the 1940s’ – during the summertime I would draw pictures of Jane Russell, Ava Gardener, Lupe Velez, and Ida Lupino in my Woolworths scribble pad book – in pencil and biro. The drawings were all disproportionate, and the girls had large lips with enormous breasts and overlong eyelashes. I was an eight year old nerd from Tadcaster with a tight home perm and a purple Dash tracksuit. I wished that I could be like Carmen Miranda.
On the afternoons that Grandma Pearl went door knocking, or to bible study at the Kingdom Hall, I would spend my time at Great Grandma’s bungalow, as she fed me Wagon Wheels with her translucent hands. She wore five rings on every finger, some of them costume, some of them opal. Tinkling bracelets adorned her sparrows wrists – the lucky charms rattled on her bone china tea set.
Great Grandma had a white marble bust of Beethoven on her windowsill. It was given to her by Brent, her boyfriend, as a token of love.
Brent was Withernsea’s greatest living eccentric. He lived on the seafront in a battered white Victorian house, with his brother Harold, who was nearly dead. The walls of the living room were covered in charcoal sketches of the Sistine chapel, in black soot on life sized white paper.
A brass gramophone and a dusty old piano lived between the palms and ferns that sat in painted terracotta pots overlooking the horizon. Brent would sit at the piano every afternoon, and try to write down the symphonies in his head. He had long silver hair that hung down past his shoulders, and weathered skin from his daily mile long swim in the murky North Sea. When he was younger, Brent had been a lifeguard.
On certain afternoons Brent and Great Grandma would come around to Grandma’s house to sit in the living room and drink tea with my Gramps. Grandma would try and convert Brent to the word of the Lord. Brent would laugh at her,
“Pearl. You’re talking rubbish. You’ve been brainwashed..”
Great Grandma would elbow Brent and tell him to shut up. Eventually, Brent stopped coming round, but I would keep going to see him every day on my way to the beach.
Together, With-on-sea’s oldest unmarried couple would walk along the promenade until the sun went down every night. Brent would hold Great Grandma’s hand, and they would drink Sherry until the money ran out, to a soundtrack of Mahler and Holst. They were boyfriend and girlfriend for seventeen years.
When his brother Harold died, Brent lost half of his marbles. But when Great Grandma died, they rolled off towards With-on-sea pier for good. Grandma Pearl persisted in her conversion of Brent to the cause of Jehovah – and as he was in the throws of dementia he was surely easy pickings? But this made Brent hate Pearl even more. Eventually Pearl stopped knocking on Brent’s door after he chased her and the Jedders down the garden with a yard brush.
Brent even forgot who I was. When I took him a picture I had made out of leaves, crumpled together with PVA glue, he looked at me and furrowed his brow..
“Joanie?”
He thought that I was my Mum. He ran his fingers across the leaves,
“I can’t see very well anymore, but I see the colours, they are red and alive..”
Brent cried, and he told me that nobody had been to see him since Great Grandma had died.
“But what about Grandma Pearl?” I asked.
“She can bloody stuff off! If I can give you one word of advice Joanie, it’s stay away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And stay away from your Mother. She is evil”
Bert still thought that I was my Mum, and that Pearl was my mother. I played dumb and listened some more,
“You see. It’s all a big con. Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. Live it for yourself. Make up your own rules. I may be old and mad, but the only thing I can say is this…Keep painting….”
He swallowed his nip of Sherry and I looked at his dirty old shirt covered in paint. He hadn’t washed for a while, and his unshaven stubble had traces of egg caught in his chin, leftover from days ago.
“I’m a hermit, in exile, in the armpit of the north…”
Brent scowled as I waved goodbye to him, and headed off to make mermaid sand mountains on the beach. I thought about the records he had played to me as the sun filtered through his moth eaten velvet curtains, an education and crash course in the Russian Avant Garde.
The next summer when I knocked on his door, nobody answered.
I never saw Brent again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adelle Stripe is a performance poet/fiction writer from Tadcaster, UK. Her work has appeared in Full Moon Empty Sports Bag, Laura Hird, 3:AM, Vomit In The Mainstream, Rising Poetry, Scarecrow, and Savage Kick. She edits the definitive Brutalist weblog, Straight From The Fridge and will one day release her secrets to the world in paperback under the banner “Things I Never Told Anyone”. Adelle hopes to retire to the country and become the only female professional rat catcher in the north, sometime before her 35th birthday.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, May 17th, 2007.