The Irritations of Modern Life 54: Day-trippers

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MAYBE IT'S a mad spontaneous gesture brought on by the insufferable heat of midsummer in the city. One minute we're calling a sickie, the next we're on the express train to Brighton with a mate.

Perhaps it's planned like a military operation, in some misguided attempt to lure the kids away from their PlayStations for at least one day of the school holidays. Wind-breaks, blankets, sports equipment and a mountain of sandwiches are crammed into the car, along with the children and the hyperactive dog, before we head to the coast.

And every summer, the result is the same; an unedifying mess of sweaty bodies, soggy sarnies and vomit. And that's before we've even reached our destination.

Having spent the morning sweltering in a mile-long tail-back or in an over-crowded train stuck at East Croydon, we finally get "to see the sea" and join the stampede heading for the seafront. In theory, a party atmosphere could prevail as stag parties fall in with hen parties at the bars, old folk keep each other company around the bandstand and all families form a ghetto near the public loos and ice-cream van.

In reality, two lager-fuelled groups of lads launch into a fight, for the hell of it, on the pier, trip over a family dog, and collapse on a double buggy. The kids are unharmed but the pushchair's a write-off. Granny wars are raging over deckchair rentals, and an old bloke keels over on a zebra crossing, bringing town-centre traffic to a standstill, blocking the ambulance's path.

As the afternoon draws on, all parties surrender to the heat, strewn along the shoreline like basted chickens. While seagulls flap overhead in search of discarded doughnuts, adults sleep and hyperactive children, high on orange squash and 99 cones, head out to sea in their dinghies.

With teatime approaching it's all over. The masses vacate the beaches, inshore rescue teams fetch the kids back, and the lads continue their feuding in the pubs before eventually staggering to the station for the last train "out of here".

Surveying the damage, the locals can't help feeling they've been had. Their taxes fund the upkeep of the toilets, the pier and the rubbish collection. My, what a lot of crap has been left. The cash machines are empty and their cars are parked miles away because the day-trippers nicked all the parking spaces.

"This is hardly a meaningful relationship," they sigh. When the Beatles sang: "She was a day-tripper", they were describing the kind of girl who is on for a one-night stand but isn't interested in anything more. Feeling used and abused, the locals know exactly what the Beatles meant.