Things look scary outside but I have no food. I’m going to have to face Aldi… and London Road. But it’s early, surely there won’t be too many ghouls around.
I was right, it’s empty and navigating the aisles is quick and easy. I’m feeling happy until I see there is only one cashier… the moody Italian girl who seems to have developed an irrational hatred towards me and almost definitely wishes me dead. I put on a brave face, knowing the encounter will be short. Then, complications; I need to ask for £2 cashback.
“You do cashback don’t you?”
“Is there a lower limit?”
“Well I don’t have very much cash in the till so no more than maybe £20…”
“No I want a small amount, how small can I go? £2?”
“Sure. I know why you want it… for the bus isn’t it?”
“No, for chillis. There are cheap chillis down the road.”
She smiles knowingly (although I think she’s probably mistaken), gives me the receipt and shuts her till without giving me my £2.
“Can I have my chilli money please?”
“No, I’ll keep it for myself now.” she laughs loudly and dementedly. But eventually does give me the money.
The encounter cheers me. Maybe Italian girl doesn’t want me dead. How refreshing. She’s just a bit weird/normal. Brilliant! Today’s going to be good.
If only… if only.
At the chilli shop there’s a new man on the till. New man: new regime. I hand over my chillis for weighing,
“These are the £4.99 ones, the little green ones”.
“No. Those are £9.99 a kilo.”
“No they are £4.99, I come here for them all the time.”
“No! Ask pre-existing man… I see him every week, he’ll tell you — £4.99. I come here every week for my chilli.” Not any more.
“Then I no longer come here every week not any more either then.”
We glare for a very long time, then wrestle to the floor. He squirts chilli at my eye but I wince heroically, batting away the corrosive juice. An old lady drops her hat in panic, rummages hurriedly in a box and rushes out wearing a banana on her head. She’ll fit well in Brighton — but maybe not on London Road.
“Don’t MAKE me go Other Chilli Shop,” I drool in his ear… but he does. We wish each other a good day, knowing we must never meet again.
Now what? I have all the ingredients for a chilli, except the chilli. Other Chilli Shop it is. But the weather’s so harsh. And Other Chilli Shop is miles away. But I AM A MAN. I stop off back home, coat up, put two Aldi-fake-mini-Snickers into my pockets and Bob Dylan in my ears. I say my farewells to the neighbours (waking up the ones who work a night shift so as they don’t feel left out) and head for the sea.
On the way I see a fellow explorer, rugged and defiant, windcheatered… clearly a man who climbs mountains; waiting for the bus. He stares at the bus, steely, his eyes say “I will conquer your peaks just like the mountains I am generally more at home climbing” (I actually think he does go up to the top deck).
“The winter wind is a-blowin’ strong… my hands a-got no gloves. I wish to my soul that I could see…”
The sea is a beast today. Exotic monsters of the deep are long-strewn, not just on the shingle but right up to the curvy, paved footpath. The usual fishheads and spiky seaweed corpuscles abound, but also new creatures… a strange puffer-fish-looking thing… dozens of broken, spindly crab-fingers as long as my arm. Have I missed the apocalypse? I’d been looking forward to that.
A hundred gulls huddle until my feet rattle the pebbles amongst them, then they all rise and fly into the wind. It’s so strong it blows them right back, leaving them hovering surreally. Burnt meringue froths up from the sea’s surface and lands on my skin. I laugh, almost frolick until a small chunk of my flesh falls away, melted by polluted chemistry.
Wild dogs patrol the paved area, looking for heron or human babies to eat. There are no bare, walking humans, every body is encased in a metal vehicle of some kind. It’s like Mad Max but… cleaner and somehow more boring. These apocalyptic survivors have chosen Vectras and Corsas over steam-punk rocket cars. Eyes in a white van peek over The Sun, outwardly mocking but inwardly fearsome “Why is he out there, walking, today?”. A Yodel delivery driver, looking for an address in Yeovil, tries to run me over.
“Let me die, in my footsteps… before I goooooo down under the ground.”
Bob sings. I sing. The sea shouts over us both, a bit rudely. Finally I see another walker coming towards me, aiming to follow me along the surf. I think he’s heard my song, noted my proximity to the sea and put me on some kind of citizen’s suicide watch.
Preston Street goes uphill and I’m not looking forward to it after a long stomp along the shingle. But I needn’t have worried, the wind gets behind me and pushes me to the top effortlessly. I want to express my gratitude but I don’t know how. A goggle-eyed customer at Other Chilli Shop stands, staring at vegetables, pointing, alone. This makes the trials of the day worthwhile — I love that kind of shit. Also the chillis are only £4 a kilo.
The cashier is happy. A bit too happy actually. I ask her if she’s put on weight — to restore cosmic balance. She seems to appreciate the gesture.
The wind on the way home is so powerful I can’t breathe. I’m thinking I might die when a loud crash distracts me, loud enough to be heard over Dylan’s harmonica — and I have those earbuds that block your ears right up so it must have been very loud. I look down the road to see an RAC van has smashed into another vehicle. I enjoy the irony (no animals were harmed) and wonder if there’s some kind of meta-RAC service which might come to the driver-animal’s aid. I don’t help because I am not a meta-RAC driver and I know nothing about cars and I’m nearly dying because of the wind, remember?
I stick to the curvy paved inland area for the homeward journey. I walk on green marble tiles. I’ve never seen them before, despite having walked this curvy path many times. Strange.
“And the crowd, they gathered one fine morn, At the man whose clothes ‘n’ shoes were torn, There on the sidewalk he did lay, They stopped an’ stared and they went their way… “
Just as I’m about to give up my treacherous journey and live in a bin the wind whips up perfectly and pushes me in the direction of home. I angle my coat as a makeshift sail and assume a kind of semi-crouching position. In this fashion I’m able to make my way home without expending any further energy, as if carried on invisible skates.
“I heard some foot-steps by the front porch door, so I grabbed my shot-gun from the floor. Snuck around the house with a huff and a hiss, saying ‘Hands up, you communist!’ It was the mailman. He punched me out.” I told him I loved him. I see a pretty girl from one of the other flats and, desperate to impress her, try to juggle some tins of tomatoes. But in my haste I forget that I can’t juggle and unfortunately accidentally chip one of her front teeth. She takes it very well indeed.