by Kate Smith
We are taking my Great Aunt to see the most photographed area of outstanding natural beauty in West Sussex. The car smells of PE kit, even with the windows down. We drive through tiny villages. Some have a postbox and a church, or a pub and a chemist’s shop, or a school and a postbox, but none have more than two of these things. All the villages have speed bumps. My Aunt winces every time we go over one, even though my father drives in slow motion. She grips the sides of her seat as if her arms are spasming with volts of electricity. My brother gets The Look for laughing and The LOOK for farting. I almost get the Look for laughing at my brother farting.
We arrive and there are sixteen cars and a mini-bus squeezed into the car park which isn’t a proper car park. We park illegally, you might say, rammed up to the boot of another car, but my father says it’s not illegal if you have a disabled passenger with you and my mother says to the sky for Christ’s sake, Alex, she’s not disabled, she’s old. My Aunt says no, it’s not illegal, it’s just selfish. There is a sign in the car park which says You Are Entering The Most Photographed Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty In West Sussex. Please Respect This Space. My brother says to me you should see the second most photographed area of outstanding natural beauty in West Sussex. She’s a minger.
We queue to take a photograph from the viewpoint which was marked on the little map next to the sign in the car park. They didn’t really need the map. There is just the viewpoint and the area and a hut. There are lots of families queuing. The queue smells of white chocolate and children. There are men with tripods and bits and pieces that attach to the front of their cameras. Paraphernalia, my father calls it, laughing as if paraphernalia is silly. But you can tell he’d like a little bit of paraphernalia for himself. Japanese tourists are taking photographs of themselves amazed to be standing this close to the most photographed area of outstanding natural beauty in West Sussex.
‘These people are not seeing an area of outstanding natural beauty,’ my Aunts shouts, out of nowhere, to no-one. ‘They are seeing a photograph. A photograph of a photograph you could say. They see what the sign tells them to see. Look at them!’ She points to a nervous couple. ‘Tell me what’s beautiful about it!’ The couple quickly glance behind them and at my mother for help. ‘You can’t. Because you can no longer see it for what it is. Can you? You can’t separate its description from its actual – thing.’ My Aunt has run out of words. This is the most I have ever heard her say.
‘Come and have a look at the postcards,’ my mother says. ‘In the hut.’ You can buy postcards in the hut depicting the view from the viewpoint. You can also buy tea, coffee, hot chocolate and a selection of hot and cold snacks subject to availability. I queue with my Aunt and my mother for tea. My brother asks me to see if they do Coke, or if not, Fanta. If they don’t have either of those he’ll have tea but I actually have to ask as sometimes they’re there but they’re not on display. My Aunt picks a stray hair from my shoulder with her sharp beak fingers. She takes a big phlegmy breath. ‘What you see out there is everything that’s wrong in the World,’ she says. My mother and I say OK at the same time, but we make it sound like two very different words.
Kate Smith has just started an online MA in Creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. By day she’s a superhero. She never reveals what she does by night.