The seagull has landed


3. The seagull has landed

Just as I was celebrating a successful transfer from the supposed centre of civilisation (London) to the edge of nowhere (Eastbourne), the doorbell rang. It makes about as much noise as Big Ben (and will be muted with a shotgun, if I can borrow one).

It was yet another sensationally friendly neighbour, an older man of the dapper persuasion, who brought me the contact details of a reliable electrician and plumber. The fellow bore a welcome card from a couple of gents who live in the apartment immediately below mine, making about eight such cards from everyone I’ve ever met and some other people. A lovely woman called, believe it or not, B. Cool, sent me a book from Canada. She had knitted its cover and I’ll always treasure it. You can’t have too many knitted books, I always say.

After my new pal from downstairs left — “Tuh-tarr,” he said on the way out — I was alone for the first time in East Borneo. Paulatim sed firmiter, my old school motto (slowly but surely) had turned the trick. My dream had come true. To the victor had gone the spoils.

Not to boast (much), my new location is sensational. The English Channel, la Manche, dead ahead; the Downs to the rear; giant rooms and all mod cons in between. Couldn’t wrap my head around it, so made the bed in case an urgent lying-down scenario might occur.

Several wrestling matches later, I’d set up an office, made the bed, found the emergency tobacco supplies within the 100-box motherlode of junk that is my personal effects; and bought a pizza. Surprisingly, it was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten, a statement at once absurd and true.

As the evening wore on, I unpacked a little of this and searched for a little of that. Night fell. The magic that is East Borneo then revealed itself. The Grand Parade, the series of walkways hard on the pebble beach across the road from my pad, was lit up for its full length with strings of lights.

As I sat wondering what to do, from the Bandstand 200 yards away emerged the sound of a brass band concert. Popular classics, I think they’re called. I sauntered out onto (ahem) one of the balconies and listened for a while. Inter alia, they played Alan Freeman’s theme music (“Hey there, pop pickers”) and a couple of James Bond movie theme songs.

The band was pretty good, but it was more than that. It was all about the timelessness of the seaside, the magic relaxation and sense of liberty that the big water brings, the satisfaction that attends achievement and my developing sense of arch smugness.

The band began the 1812 Overture, a personal favourite. I wandered onto the balcony to listen to the final minutes of the work. At that very moment, a firework display began, the noise of the pyrotechnics appearing in the role of cannon. All this, just for me, and I hadn’t even told them I was moving down here.

I began to suspect, as a friend had advised, that I might be living in the permanent wow.

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