I once wrote a poem, twenty-something years ago and I called it “Shadows on Llandudno Beach” it was my only poem because when I showed it to someone they said…
Surprisingly I wasn’t completely devastated by their criticism and this was simply down to the fact that I disagreed.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and whilst my poem may well have been “terrible” I worked hard with those words and like everything I write, it came from my soul so to me those words were beautiful and that’s all there is to it.
When I was eighteen, I applied to go to university in Bangor. They had a creative writing degree that I desperately wanted to be part of but in a nutshell, it didn’t work out and I went to York St John instead.
I remember mum driving me and my brother all the way to Bangor to see what the town was like and after that she said…
“Let’s go to Llandudno on the way back.”
I remember we parked the car and as soon as I opened the door the sea wind hit my face and all I could hear were the seagulls diving in all directions and the water washing over the rocks at the bottom of the beach.
That day in 1999 I ate chips, I had an ice cream and I got pooped on by a seagull which really annoyed me because I was wearing a brown suede jacket and it was my favourite. But I also fell in love with Llandudno and I told myself that one day, when I was old and grey and a successful author I would open up my own B&B and I would live there surrounded by the wind and water and poopy seagulls and I would be happy.
In the summer of 2000 after our A level results and we were just a few weeks away from the next chapter of our lives my friend and I decided to have a day out. She’d never been to Llandudno and I missed it so we took a little coach ride from Bolton to Llandudno and there was no mistaking it, we were the youngest people on there, we were surrounded by beige army but it didn’t matter because we knew where we wanted to be.
That day was perfect. We walked along the pier, ate chips, drank tea in an old fashioned tea shop, we shared a bag of candy floss and we walked along the beach and picked out rocks. My friend was an artist so we dug out some of the larger rocks and made holes so our bums were more comfortable and she sketched the landscape while I wrote…
“…Shadows on Llandudno Beach.”
That poem was about my grandma. Whatever I wrote my grandma always read it and she always said she loved my words and one day I would be just like Danielle Steele – credit where it’s due, Ms Steele is a highly successful author so I was never going to deny that compliment. My grandma died in 1998 and everything I wrote after she died was for her, every short story had her presence in it, the smells, the taste the sounds were all related to the parts of her that I missed.
In 2000 on Llandudno beach as I was looking out at the sea in front of me I knew I was about to take on a whole new life experience and I had to somehow put my pain on the shelf and move forward.
That one poem was my goodbye to my pain and a hello to a better life.
Back in 2000 camera phones and selfies were unheard of. I don’t even think I had a mobile phone at that point, all I had was a Nikon camera with a winding film barrel that had a maximum of thirty pictures and you needed a degree in engineering to load it successfully.
We had no idea how to do a selfie so to document our trip we took turns in taking pictures of each other on the pier and on the beach and even then this was the height of excellency because some of our other friends didn’t even have a camera.
When I flick through the remaining pictures I have of that trip there’s one of me standing awkwardly on the pier. I look at my eighteen-year-old self, thinner, better hair, better eyesight, no stoma and completely unaware of anything to do with any kind of mental illness. I remember thinking how grown up I was, I was on a day trip with my friend and I was about to move away from home to university and that was the best thing because I could escape from all the difficult bits in my life at home and move forward. I knew I was running away; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. I thought that taking myself out of an equation was the answer to all of my problems, kind of like closing your eyes and saying…
“…if I can’t see you, you can’t see me.”
I had no idea what was laid out ahead of me. I had no idea that the pain in my writing was going to get a hundred times more painful and I was completely unaware that if you start running from one thing, you have to run faster to get away from the next.
That day in 2000 the only thing important to me was finding a music shop I had been to the year before and how could I eat my chips without getting pooped by a seagull again?
I started my new job last year at the end of September and in that time I’ve only had a few days off here and there. I’ve always said I don’t like having time off if I’m not going anywhere. A holiday to me is not sitting at home, it’s leaving the town and going to a new one. It’s leaving the god damn country and your feet getting lost in sand; it’s talking to someone in a different language and telling them you have no idea what they’re saying…
Well, we can’t really do that at the moment can we? We can’t just pack a bag and hop on an Easy Jet flight and sit and drink Sangria in the sun and not worry about checking the pockets of our coats for the million masks we seem to be accumulating. I was holding out in hope that circumstances would change and this would be allowed so I could book two weeks off work and head into the sunshine but I’m still waiting for that.
I didn’t realise that not having any considerable time off work would cause any problems. Things were difficult at work for a lot of people but I maintained the fact that I was not affected by anything that was going on…
“…strong as an ox me.”
I forgot that stress takes all forms and actually I was bothered by other factors and it wasn’t until the last minute when I found myself on the phone to my psychiatrist and he’s dishing out Zopiclone – to help me sleep because I seem to have forgotten how to do it – that I realised I needed to take some time out and practice that…
…thing the world seems to have adopted.
I’ve ever been one for self-care, I’ve always looked at it as a bit of a hippy dippy mindfulness drivelly idea and gone down the…
“…suck it up and just get on with it…”
…route but…well I’m wrong aren’t I? Yes I am. We all need a bit of self-care and mine took the form of…
…an overnight trip to Llandudno with Mum.
I’ve never known what actual self-care is supposed to look like. I know it’s things like…
- Going for a walk
- Pampering yourself
- Being in touch with your friends and family
- Maybe it’s being by yourself
- Eating but not overeating
- Watching TV
- Being away from social media
I’ve reached the point now where “sucking it up” isn’t working and I have just less than a week off work to bring myself up from the hole that my unconscious seems to be digging.
So when we arrived in Llandudno, the wind whipped my hair around my face and the air smelt salty with just a hint of seaweed and the beach famously littered with rocks and stones, I knew instantly what my kind of self-care was going to look like.
Our hotel The Marine, was on the front of the promenade, it looked grand but the inside reminded me of that song by The Eagles, Hotel California…
“…you can check out any time you like,
but you can never leave…”
It was worn, beaten, the breakfast was misleading and the shower filled up with water so high around my feet that it was like a paddling pool in there before I could slide the door open and escape.
We were on the second floor and we had a seagull pay us a visit on the windowsill, we named him Seymour. We trawled the length of the beach looking for interesting stones to add to a collection that is growing in number but lacking in purpose. I found a crab shell and popped it on the end of my finger and made it say…
…to mum. On the pier we looked at all the weird and wonderful stalls of complete trash but….what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
I took a picture of the infamous Zoltar and realised that unless you’ve watched the 1988 film “Big” you will never understand the fascination.
We sat down on a bench and looked at the queue going into the amusement arcade and then we tried to spot the exact point that I stood in twenty-one years ago so I could recreate the moment and the memory.
The new picture tells a thousand stories. In 2021 I have less hair and what I do have is skipping being grey and just turning white. I have varifocals now, an ostomy bag, Bipolar Disorder, crap kidneys, a dodgy Thyroid and a whole heap of life experiences I could have lived without. Standing in that spot reminded me that this had once been my happy place, this was where I was really free.
For our evening meal we went for a Chinese, I googled…
“…best Chinese in Llandudno”
…a restaurant popped up and it made no indication that we needed to book so we just rocked up – like you never do these days – and requested a table. The nice lady dressed in a skimpy black number and black patent leather knee high boots and barked at us…
“Will you be done by seven o clock?!”
It was ten past six so we nodded and suddenly she whips out a thermometer shaped like a pistol and points it at my forehead like a highly trained assassin in a Bond film and shoots… my temperature is fine, I am allowed to eat.
I was allowed to eat but I should have been less adventurous and more predictable because instead of ordering my usual chicken curry or the satay chicken I went for the Char Siu Pork. I didn’t know what this was, I thought it was the contents of a Char Siu Bao but I was wrong. It tasted like chopped pork in gravy on a bed of bean sprouts I can even touch because Wilomena will kill me!
So when the lady asked how was my Char Siu Pork I freaked out a little bit because I’ve never been asked specifically if my specific meal was good or not? And I just thought…
“…is this a test? What do I say?”
…I could have said, I should have said…
“…yeah yeah it was great. It tasted just like a marinated pig in bucket of beef Bisto…”
But I told her it was nice, it was lovely. It wasn’t lovely, but what was lovely was having a walk through the town while the entire United Kingdom was getting ready for one single football match. We passed by an antiques shop that had three monkeys dressed as spacemen, a nail bar with my best friend’s name on the front so I took a picture for her because she’s about to have a baby and she can’t really move.
Then I turned around there was a giant statue of Alice in Wonderland but she looked incredibly constipated because at the back of her she had a gigantic house stuck up her bottom!
That night I slept the whole night through, no sleeping tablet, no distraction, I just slept (right after Love Island).
It turns out, my kind of self-care is sea air, picking up rocks and eating pork soaked in gravy.
My kind of self-care is laughter, texting a friend in the ad-break of Love Island and writing my never ending story on a slightly lumpy bed with a seagull tapping his beak at the window.
My kind of self-care is a change of scenery and going back to Llandudno reminded me of the person I was. The little eighteen-year-old who was already unhappy but had no idea how bad things were going to get.
When I sat on the beach looking out at the sea again, twenty-one years later, wiser than I could ever have imagined, I didn’t need to write anything; all I needed to do was get rid of the troublesome things that have been filtering in recently.
So I’m practicing self-care, by getting rid of the…
…shadows on Llandudno beach…
Dedicated to Doris Mullineux. My biggest literary fan, I hope this makes you proud xxx