“I didn’t forget it on fucking purpose!”
This is what I wake to on my second day in Saltburn. It’s a family row involving a man, a woman, his mum, her sister and two screaming babies.
“You’re a fucking dozy sod at times!”
“Give it a rest, Tracy! For the last time I didn’t fucking leave it behind on fucking purpose!” the beleaguered man stresses, not for the last time.
I can only wonder what it is he’s fucking left behind not on fucking purpose. His manners? His short fuse? One of their babies? His life? It turns out to be her sun cream which he’s forgotten to factor, if you’ll pardon the pun, into their plans.
“You know the sun brings me out in eximmer!” Tracy proclaims.
Feeling sorry for this diminutive and balding man of Midlands extraction, I wind down the window and ask if I can be of any assistance.
“She’s stressed out bless her,” he grumbles, “we’ve had a run of bad luck we have.”
“I have some spare sun cream if it’s any good to you,” I say.
“Cheers mate,” he says, “Here Trace, answer to all your prayers this bloke.” But she’s too busy muttering to her sister about what a gormless twat she married, and how the babies’ buggies are fucking impossible to unfold because they’re fucking second-hand and fucking knackered just like everything else they fucking own.
“A run of bad luck?” I say, “Does she call eczema and forgetting her sun cream a run of bad luck? Then again if you’ve got dry skin I suppose you don’t want sunburn in Saltburn.”
But the joke falls flat because he adds, “I’ve just lost me father.”
I’m about to quip that he should go to Missing Persons but rein myself in and say I’m sorry for his loss.
“Cancer,” he says, “He’d been poorly for ages but you can never prepare for a kick in the bollocks.”
“Indeed,” I say, and add that my name is Mark.
“Steve,” he says, “This trip’s supposed to give me a bit of a break. We’re here for three days like.”
“Good move,” I say, “to help cope with grief. Bit of sea air and sun and quality time with your family.”
“In principal,” he replies, “but we’ve only just got here and she’s already giving me earache.”
So anyway I get chatting to Steve about what it’s like to lose a parent, explaining I’ve been there twice, and my own run of bad luck was that I lost my job at the same time and that’s why I’ve finished up living on a campervan but life goes on. As he empathises in his lugubrious way, he reminds me of an old mate, also from Birmingham, who could have the world at his feet yet complain about it conspiring to trip him up. But lurking somewhere within Steve’s misery is a sense of humour, and we end up having a bit of a laugh, and he even proposes meeting up for a pint that night once he’s got the babies down. Somewhat doubtful, I agree, suggesting The Marine across the road.
“Steve!” Tracy spits, “Pardon me for interrupting your fucking bromance but are you going to help with this fucking pushchair or not!?”
And with a roll of his eyes my hapless new friend rejoins his family, telling me he’ll see me later and thanking me for the sun cream.
“Good bloke you are mate.”
It is really a snatched conversation in the grand scheme of things, but as I take a long clifftop walk, gazing down on the calming sea and Saltburn’s sands, I think about what makes the English English. I think of Steve, eczema, life, death, and how unwittingly rich and indomitable we characters are. Steve wouldn’t show up for that pint, he would spend time with his family because Tracy would deem that best; in his grief he needed them more than a complete fucking stranger and nomad, even if he was kind enough to give them a tube of fucking sun cream. I think of all these things. But what really makes me chuckle is that I feel so sorry for Steve. Not because he’s lost his father, more because he’s married to fucking Tracy.
Edited extract from Adventures in the Ottermobile.