When I was 9 or 10, I went to Blackpool for the day with my family. There’s nothing unusual about this, as we went a couple of times a year, but this time I did a Very Bad Thing and nobody ever punished me for it.
As we walked along the promenade, carefully avoiding the trams so as not to become the next Alan Bradley, looking at the various vendors of seaside tat and frozen treats, we stopped to queue up and buy some chips or rock or something. I don’t remember exactly what, but the point was I was young and bored and at the seaside and children should not be young and bored at the seaside.
I wandered a little way back while the rest of my family queued up, and went behind a stall selling hilarious Kiss Me Quick hats and even more hilarious “Blackpool at Night” postcards. Climbing on the railing, I looked down onto the beach and over to the sea itself. Because it’s Blackpool, very few people were on the beach, although a handful were sunbathing on deckchairs and sun loungers, and even fewer were in the sea (which as we all know, is 75% raw sewage, 25% acid around that part of the coast). Because I was a child, I kicked a few pebbles down the sea defences, which were actually a steep incline made out of very large pebbles cemented together. The small pebbles bounced randomly and pleasingly down the slope, ricocheting off the large pebbles in all directions.
After I’d done this a few times, I spotted one of the large pebbles at the top of the sea wall had come loose from the cement. You can probably see where this is going, but at the time, I clearly didn’t.
This stone was about the size of, and vaguely shaped like, a rugby ball, but being made of solid flint (or whatever the local stone of choice is up there) was incredibly heavy, especially for my weak boy-muscles. Somehow, I managed to manoeuvre it into position – not too close to the nearby steps, but down a part of the wall that I’d discovered was particularly “bouncy” when test-running with the smaller pebbles. I kicked it, and off it went.
It probably took about five seconds to reach the bottom, but once it had left my foot everything went into slow motion as it suddenly dawned on me what was going to happen.
Unlike the other pebbles, which pinged their way harmlessly down the bumpy surface, this monster of a rock seemed determined. When it struck a sticking out boulder for the first time, it went airborne. With each bounce, it gained momentum and height. Bad Things were going to happen.
What I’d realised, is that due to the speed and directness of its travel, the rock was heading straight for a group of holidaymakers sunning themselves. There was no chance of a change of direction like the other pebbles had done frequently, and this was big, and heavy, and fast.
The group consisted of a man and a woman, each on deckchairs and probably in their late 40s or early 50s, reading newspapers. An older woman was in another deckchair with a hat over her face, and a young boy of about my age was digging a hole (he’s probably dead now, if he was touching that Blackpool sand). The final, and as it turned out most important, member of the group was a slim young woman, maybe 16 or 18, lying on her back on a sun lounger. She was wearing a tiny bikini and I briefly wondered if she’d had an argument with her dad regarding it. A family lined up like pins at the bowling alley.
The rock hit the sand a good 10 metres or more away from them. There’s no way it could bounce having hit the sand. None of the small pebbles did and I’d seen golf on the telly and when the ball hits the bunker, it stops dead. I was saved! Except the rock did bounce. A couple of metres up in the air, and still seemed to be gaining speed. It hit the sand again and threw up a load of it on impact. Surely it’d stop now? Rocks crash into the Moon all the damn time and don’t bounce, right? It bounced, leaving a crater, but instead of another high bounce, the ovoid nature of it made it change speed and trajectory – faster and lower.
Right onto the stomach of the young girl lying down.
She folded in half at the middle. Even though I was quite some distance away, I heard the thud as it landed on her and the gasp as she received it. Time sped back up again, and in an instant her whole family – bar her – were standing up and looking in my direction. As I was behind a stall, I was the only person standing anywhere near that part of the wall. It couldn’t be anyone else. I looked at them. They looked back. I mouthed “Sorry!” and the dad of the group started to run towards the steps nearby that led from the beach to the prom. I didn’t realise why at first, but then my brain caught up and I realised I was in real trouble.
I did the only thing I could. I rushed into a seaside tat stall a little further down the road and hid behind some massive Bermuda shorts that were on a rail. Peeking out I saw the man go past, and then return. He didn’t see me.
When I rejoined my family in the rock/chips/hat queue, I’d taken my t-shirt off “because I was too hot” in the hope I’d be less recognisable. I’d read a Gyles Brandreth book for kids about how to be a spy, and in the absence of a felt tip pen to draw on a moustashe and no talc to colour my hair, it was all I could think of. Later that day we had to walk back along that section of the promenade and I was certain I’d be seen by the family, but they’d gone – presumably to hospital.
I even watched the news for a few days in case she’d died or something. I don’t think she did. I mean, she seemed OK, right? And the rock wasn’t that big? And I didn’t see an ambulance.
Anyway, if you’re reading, mystery Blackpool woman who is now nearing 50, I’d expect, and still possibly bent in the middle, I’m sorry.
(Featured image is from here, is unmodified, and used under this licence)