Last Weekend


Last weekend was rather odd. On Saturday, my step-mother-in-law revealed that her 83-year-old brother had recently tried to become a porn actor, while on Sunday, we narrowly missed a mysterious chemical cloud, during a trip to the beach. I’m not sure which was the biggest shock.

The porn incident was certainly a surprise, as the gentleman in question was a very respectable, somewhat dour Scot, who had spent his whole life working in insurance. What possessed him, at the age of 83, to sign up with an agency that promised to find roles in the ‘adult entertainment’ industry is something of a mystery. I’d almost salute him for raging against the dying of the light, but sadly his actions had consequences for his family.

Like many men of his age, Alistair had learned to use the internet, but was unaware of the finer points of user history, spam, ad blockers and viruses. As a result, whenever his wife logged on to book tickets for a concert, pop-ups would suddenly appear featuring ladies and gentlemen doing unspeakable things to each other. The laptop was sent off to be repaired on more than one occasion, but the problem persisted.

Nobody suspected Alistair.

Next, money started to disappear from the joint bank account – four-figure sums that couldn’t easily be explained. These were the fees that the agency required in order to find two compatible women who would share the billing. The address of the company was fake.

At this point, the details become hazy, as Alistair still hasn’t told the whole story, but it would appear that he arranged to meet a woman in London and by an extraordinary bad stroke of luck (for him at least), was spotted in Victoria Station by his daughter.

Alistair’s daughter was delighted to see him and asked him what he was doing in London. To her dismay, he seemed annoyed that she’d found him and muttered something about going to an insurance conference. For a man who’d retired two decades earlier, it was an improbable story. Did they even have insurance conferences on Saturdays?

As the truth gradually emerged, the family joined forces and managed to stop any further assignations or withdrawals of money. The children told themseleves that Alistair’s uncharacteristic actions were probably a symptom of dementia and if that’s the story they need to tell themselves, I quite understand, but in every other respect he is fully compos mentis.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that there is no fool like an old fool.

The chemical cloud incident was also baffling. My wife and I took our younger son to a beach near the Seven Sisters and intended to spend the whole afternoon there, but he kept complaining that he felt tired and wanted to go home.

It was a really beautiful, late summer afternoon – comfortably hot, but with a cooling sea breeze. I had no intention of leaving early and would have happily stayed until the evening, but there is only so long that you can ignore someone who isn’t enjoying themselves. After an hour, we agreed to go back.

At the time, I felt rather hard done by, but later learned that we’d narrowly missed an incident that resulted in six miles of coastline being evacuated, as a mysterious chemical cloud came in from the sea.  People who had been happily sunbathing, swimming and building sandcastles, suddenly found themselves suffering from stinging eyes, nausea and breathing difficulties.


Unsure of what was happening, the emergency services responded in full force. Paramedics appeared in breathing masks, while the police began to evacuate the area. The nearest hospital prepared its A&E department for a sudden influx of patients.

It was like a John Wyndham story, albeit one with less lethal consequences – slightly stinging eyes and feeling a bit off colour isn’t quite the stuff of a classic science fiction story (although its mundanity is suitably British). But it was alarming that a cloud of gas could appear out of nowhere. Where had it come from?

The gas was quickly identified as chlorine, but the origin remained uncertain. A factory in Northern France seemed the most plausible explanation, but the wind patterns made this improbable. Others fancifully suggested a terrorist attack launched from the sea, or even toxic algae. One week on, we’re none the wiser.

I’d always seen the British beach as a safe place or, if you prefer, a safe space. A contradictory environment that was both unchanging and transient – time and tide. No longer.

From now on, I will have an eye out for deadly clouds, malevolent algae, krakens and, most terrifying of all, libidinous 83-year-old men.


  1. Toffeeapple

    My word, you have not had an easy time, have you? I hope that the elderly chap will soon come to his senses and that equilibrium will be restored to his household.
    As to the toxic cloud – what on earth could have happened? I hope that this weekend is less traumatic.


  2. Steerforth

    I’m afraid to go out. Even a trip to Tesco now promises all sorts of hidden threats. But I have to confess that we’ve all derived a great deal of amusement from the porn incident, while feeling very sorry for his long-suffering family. Even his sister sees the funny side and took great delight in showing us his profile picture, which she found on a dating site. He’s put a photo of himself lying on a beach. It’s a nice picture, but it was taken 30 years ago. It’s extraordinary how some people can go on deceiving themselves and denying the immutable truth of age.


  3. Annabel (gaskella)

    My wager is on pool chemical fly-tipping for the cloud – getting rid of chemical waste is expensive. Your other story is both sad and hilarious!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Oh my goodness! I know it’s cruel, but I haven’t stopped laughing at the silly ageing uncle – I hope someone’s talked some sense into him now (and the mind boggles just skirting round the issue of what kind of viewer would want to watch an 83 year old in a porn film….) As for the nasty cloud, I bet you’re *really* glad you came home early. For once, a moaning child turned out to be useful!


  5. Dale

    A very funny story about your in-law, but not funny at all for his loved ones who have to deal with him and his “ambitions”.

    I am baffled by that cloud. As a swimming pool owner, and regular purchaser of chlorine, I can’t imagine the quantity of chlorine it would take to be so toxic over such a wide area. This is a massive spill, or as Annabel suggests, illegal dump of industrial quantities of chemical. It would have killed off big quantities of wildlife if it was a sea dump. Let’s hope the French factory idea is closer to the truth.


    • Steerforth

      What bothers me most is the fact that after a week, there’s still no satisfactory explanation – the experts are baffled. This is no longer a news story, but I will keep digging.


  6. Kid

    Very sad and very funny in equal measure. Perhaps it was a long-cherished ambition of his, although it strikes me as an odd aspiration – for anybody. I once had an uncle who was a flasher. When he got to 65 he was going to retire, but his pals told him to stick it out for another year. (Joke.)


    • Steerforth

      Boom boom!

      The porn thing is a mystery – it seems an odd time of life to start doing something like that. I would have assumed that I was too old at 43, let alone 83. And why would anyone want to humiliate themselves and embarrass their loved ones? It just shows what strange things lurk in the dark recesses of the psyche.


  7. Bonnie in NC

    Hey, I was cleaning out my inbox and hey! A missive from Steerforth! An Easter egg! Thanks! That cloud was pretty spooky. Hope you write again soon, Bonnie from NC


    • Steerforth

      Sorry for the late reply Joan. I’ve been out of circulation for a while, moving house – a far more arduous and lengthy process than I’d anticipated. Hope all’s well with you.


      • Joan Kyler

        Well, then, we’re in the same boat, or should I say the same moving van! My husband and I have one foot in a new house and one in the old one. We’re trying to paint and have some updating done on the house we bought in October and, at the same time, trying to clean and touch up the old one, getting read to put it on the market. Now that I know what’s going on in your life, I understand. I just wanted you to know you’re blog posts and photographs are missed. Good luck with your move!


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