The best way to see Helmstone is by seagull – if you’re a pixie, don’t have a drone, have no interest in drones, or actually, you DO know someone with a drone but you wouldn’t feel happy throwing your leg over anything with rotors – although the seagull doesn’t seem much better, having a huge beak and a pretty terrifying kind of appetite. But then, I’ve no idea about seaside pixies. They may well have a good relationship with seagulls. Unlike town pixies, who have a thing for pigeons but a terrible allergy to crows. But I digress. The point is, you’re an incredibly cute little authorial device, you’re able and sufficiently motivated to ride a seagull, and you’re all set to give us a tour of this wonderful seaside town that, from the point of anonymity, but entirely unconvincingly, I’ll be calling Helmstone.
Also – I should say – because I want to start the tour from out at sea, for artistic reasons, I’ll be assuming you’re friends with a fisherman, who maybe rescued you from the crappy canoe you made out of coke cans, and you owe him big time for that, and he’s pretty kind anyway, even though economically he’s not doing so great, and there are official letters waiting at home he’s VERY reluctant to open. But whatever – he hooks you from the water a couple of miles off Helmstone, and after some fantastically witty dialogue that I haven’t got time to go into now, he agrees to let you ride the tame seagull who often hangs around his boat, and who’s looking a little jealously at you, so you can take a tour of the town that will benefit the readers and give them some local colour. And no doubt the fisherman’s hoping that maybe when you’re done you’ll come back and do some interviews and talk shows with him, and make him enough money to carry on doing the thing he loves best, which seems to be sinking empty lobster pots into the English Channel, and hauling them up still empty twelve hours later.
The fisherman – let’s call him Steve, although personally I’m not at all convinced by that, but I don’t want to waste any more time thinking up a better name, because ‘Steve’ doesn’t feature at all in the book except for this dreadful prologue, which I hope you’ve skipped, but there we are – Steve helps you onto the bird’s back, which is waiting at the front of Steve’s crappy little smack, flicking its wings nervously, wondering what the old guy’s planning now, and maybe it’s time to find another boat to hang around. Steve fits the seagull with a hilariously inept canvas saddle and reins made out of dental floss – something the seagull REALLY doesn’t want in its beak, but Steve insists, because it’ll give you some measure of control. And he gives you a cute little flying hat, and a snug little fur jacket he made out of the pelt of a rat, for God’s sake, which you hate putting on, but you don’t want to upset the guy, because he’s doing his best, and anyway, this book will never get started if you don’t agree to wear the horrible fucking rat jacket.
And he says farewell my brave little aeronaut, quite patronisingly, and throws you into the air. And for a second you’re terrified the seagull is planning to flip you over its head and swallow you whole, either because it’s hungry, or because it’s a seagull, and in the rat jacket you look exactly like a rat, which seagulls have long-standing issues with. But let’s just say the seagull comes to terms with it, finds its wings, and actually starts to enjoy having a flying buddy. And the two of you soar away into the sky, circling once overhead to wave at Steve down below, who’s inadvisably standing up his smack, waving his cap, which he loses overboard, and then follows with a splash. And you can’t help laughing, despite everything the poor guy’s done for you, because you’re a cheap little pixie who really doesn’t deserve anything good.
But there you go.
Fly low over the waves, lightly, through the gobs and spits of foam, and watch as the city of Helmstone slides up into view, acquiring definition as you skim towards it, a strip of beach, red brick arches, iron walkways, hotels, conference centres, traffic on the coast road. Rise up over the pier. Rise up along the mackerel lines of the old fuckers at the end, up over the theatre and the hurling seats on the end of crane arms fairground rides, squabbling with the other gulls that scavenge the boarded length of it, high over the heads of the winter crowds there, and follow the boards to the pebble margined land. Snick over the pointy top of the old iron clock; over the beach and the giant blue Slush puppy dog and the crazy golf, the chip stands, the EFL kids throwing pebbles into the sea; bank down and round, faster now, with more purpose, to skim the traffic stalled by the aquarium, up towards the Victorian one way system; go graciously by the hand of a green and bilious Queen, her celebratory gardens, the council workers prodding in bulbs for the spring; come in low along the cycle paths, the bus lanes, the pot-holed roads; flash along past the tourist tick lists, the anonymous business frontages, past the fake Tudor pub, the computer-designed flats, the Georgian terraces and wrought-iron balconies, leave in your wake the traffic stalled by the skate park, the converted municipal buildings, mews apartments and student halls; pull up over the bendy-buses queuing at the lights, blocking the junction; blast away up the hill towards the edge of the great half cup that forms this seaside town, easing off on the seagull’s reins as you reach the top, banking into the entrance of the old workhouse they made into a hospital; fly up the drive; glide to a stop on the window ledge of the first floor; catch your breath – and when you’re ready, let the seagull tap once on the window with its beak.