When you live in a city, you sometimes find yourself wondering where all the old people are. Well, I finally found them. They’re all in Rhos On Sea. Drinking tea in the shopping centre. Sitting in bus stops, not waiting for buses. Playing the accordion and signing ole-timey war songs. Perched on plastic chairs on the promenade eating ice creams. Lounging on benches looking out at the sea. Walking hand in hand along the beachfront. Staring at lurid headlines on the front pages of the tabloids in Morrissons. Nearly running me and Hercules over in large automobiles. All day, every day.
I noticed an old couple the other day as I was wheeling Hercules out of the drive in the cheap and convenient airport pushchair that replaced his old
Hummer Quinny Buzz. They were shuffling along, he looming Lurch-like, leaning lugubriously into a stroller (I think that’s what they call them. Sort of metal frame contraption with wheels). His tiny wife trudging alongside him grimly. Eyes fixed straight ahead, they moved slowly, oh so slowly, towards the seafront. I looked down at Hercules, him at the start, and them, them at the end, and thought how cruel life is, to give everything when it can’t be understood then take it all away when finally it can.
We headed supermarketward, pretty seaside Rhos giving way to the identikit British town familiarity of New Colwyn, nodding at bleary eyed old drunks sucking down Superkings outside the Weatherspoons, once an elegant cinema, wide open for business at 9:00 am. Bulbous smoking explosions of red veins and resignation slopping out of checkered collars, shaking like leaf debris in the cool morning breeze.
We crossed the road. A car was coming towards us in the distance. Faintly I heard the sound of its horn.
The early drunks’ sober old schoolchums were filing into the town centre, gathering around the emergent market stalls, browsing the giant bags
of sweets an dogfood and fake Beats By Dre and the canvas prints of bootleg Batman mashups, trickling into the myriad charity shops to rummage through things their friends gave away, or their friends children gave away when their friends died. Colwyn Bay has more charity shops than it does anything, pubs, banks, bus stops, smackheads. Every other shop on the high street is a charity shop, and the rest are pound shops if they’re not a Bargain Booze or a Pawn Shop or a mobile phone shop advertising no-credit check handsets made by exotic sounding brands. Or The Bloody Manshop, that sells men’s shirts and coats in a kaleidoscope of beige and grey and sick and magnolia, and has been having a closing down sale since we first came here four months ago.
In Morrissons old men hovered around the newspaper rack, peering at typically cheery and inpirational Red Top headlines, before picking up The Daily Mail and wandering off.
An excited old couple approached us by the £1 croissants bin, resplendent in matching biscuit coloured sweaters. “Hiya,” said Hercules, happily.
“Did you see us, at the lights, we could have killed you,” gushed the male part of the arrangement. “At the lights,” agreed the lady side, peering out from under his left elbow giddily. “We put the brakes on. Could have killed you. And the little one. Didn’t you see us?”
“Hiya,” said Hercules.
I said I saw them, yes, and I was pretty sure they were very far away at the time, perhaps I was experiencing time in slow motion, that happens sometimes, but thank you for not killing us, sorry for any concern. I gave them both half a hug each.
“No harm done,” said the man, who looked a little like Ron Swanson’s dad, I realised, “we’re all safe now.”
“Bye,” said Hercules, scrunching his hands in their general direction, five minutes after they’d wandered off up the cheese isle.
There’s a railway bridge by our house. Hercules likes to shout when we go under it, playing with the reverb, listening to the echo. “HIYA! HIYA! HIYA!”
The old couple from earlier were in front of us, he worrying the roof with his head, leaning into his stroller, she at his hips.
“HIYA! said Hercules.
They turned, and she smiled. I’d never seen her smile before. “Hello young man,” she said. “Those are lovely shoes you have.”
“HIYA!” agreed Hercules, merrily. His shoes were very cool. They looked like blue crocodiles.
We passed them, under the bridge, as a train rumbled overhead. Hercules loves the train. We see it out the kitchen window every day. “BUP!” he shouts, pointing. “TRAIN,” I’ll say. “TRAIN.” “Bup,” he agrees sagely.
There was horrible sound, a sort of dry crack, and I turned around and the tall old man was laid out on the floor across his tiny wife, his stroller tumbling into the road, their arms dangling off the side of the pavement. “You stupid, stupid,” she screamed. “Stupid, stupid old man!” She lay thrashing beneath his weight, cursing him, as I parked Hercules and ran to them. With some effort I pulled the man to his knees. He seemed to weigh as much as car. He felt like metal girders swaddled with cloth. His eyes were brimming, violent bright blue fish holes in Eskimo Town. Incomprehensible high pitched protestations fell from his paper lips as his wife lay on the pavement, finger aimed at him like a crossbow, “Stupid! Stupid old Man!” He looked as crushed, as utterly defeated and humiliated as I’ve ever seen a fellow, there in my arms, on his knees, almost up to my neck, this
great tall man, still handsome, shit, I thought, he probably used to box, probably fought in a war, saw radios and TVs get invented and men walk on the moon, now he’s on his knees under a trainbridge in the early days of the 21st Century unable to move, drowning in the contempt of his wife.
He stayed like that, on his knees, up to my neck, in my arms. I didn’t know what to do. Why wouldn’t he stand up? Then I remembered the stroller, out in the road. I felt like the worst person in the word. Somehow, I managed to get him to his feet, and keep him up there as I retrieved the stroller and leant them both against the wall. He looked at me blankly then down at his wife, still cursing her “fool” husband. I offered her my hands and started to pull her up, then suddenly what felt like fifty people appeared from out of nowhere, arms all around her, lifting her up, like a pop star at a festival.
The old man leant against the wall, shaking softly. Blood spilled from a tear in his paper cheek. The townsfolk gathered around them, a warm embrace of genuine and friendly concern.
“You OK fella?” “You alright luv?” “You’ll need stitches.” “Needa lift to the hospital?” “Let me get my car.” “”You need to phone anyone?”
“Well done mate,” one said to me.
“You’re a good lad,” said the little lady, smiling again. “Thank you. Go to your boy.”
“Hiya,” said Hercules.