The ghostly stock figures populating the hoarding that obscures the construction site have been enjoying the balmy weather in their two-dimensional world for months now. The site, bordered on one side by the main road and on the other by the railway line, was at one stage a cement factory. Now a deep chasm of obliteration, it is littered with diligent diggers and busy bulldozers burrowing into the sandy, pinkish earth like termites on Mars.
They're a pretty terrifying-looking bunch, rocking a distinctly Stepford-wife vibe of pristine dentistry
It seems like decades since the dusty old industrial plant that once occupied the space was operative. The location has also been home to a car salesroom and a garden centre, businesses that have relocated or drifted out with the tide.
On the outskirts of the village and constrained between the tight elbows of transport infrastructure, it’s hard to imagine the development will ever accede to the breezy Nirvana depicted on the billboards. But what do I know about the dark arts of property development, where one man’s sow’s ear is another man’s bulging silk purse?
Anyway, the dormant factory has been thoroughly eradicated and the old warehouses erased, to be replaced, unsurprisingly, by luxury flats. The units (and at the end of this gargantuan build there’ll be more than 500 of them) are apparently for rent only.
While not being permitted to buy into the fantasy world so lovingly depicted on the shiny boards, one can (for the meagre monthly sum of your firstborn, three strong heifers and a brace of golden-plumed pheasants) rent a slice of the photoshopped action.
The hoarding depicts an aspirational development of five-storey luxury apartment blocks set against glowing seas, among pink sunsets and golden afternoons. These images are populated by shiny Perspex men, women and children frozen in poses of quotidian bliss in the sallow light. They’re a pretty terrifying-looking bunch, rocking a distinctly Stepford-wife vibe of pristine dentistry and nicely ironed chinos.
Maybe it’s all the terrifying talk of limbo that I imbibed as a wide-eyed child at the knees of our wimpled educators, but the sight of this paralysed world seems to carry a threat that if you screw up badly enough in your tiny life, you too might be banished to eternity on a hoarding as a prettified extra, your image impaled for eternity on a shimmering civic plaza.
Yep, perhaps us limbo dancers are destined to smile lovingly at a plasticised spouse on a balcony of imperishability, with a rictus grin pasted across our blandly acceptable countenances. Our dark destiny could be to remain forever halted, mid-tendon-stretch, in a landscaped park where handsome couples linger and sugar-free children are trapped, freeze-framed in the stilled breeze.
Might it be, indeed, that limbo is a place of infinite silence where crisply shirted, besuited businessmen, jackets casually slung across their gym-toned arms, saunter through the quicksand of the communal garden?
Or possibly the great big billboard king in the sky will cast you as a special extra in the inclusive let’s-be-alert-to-the-demographic section. There, two men on a balcony, one sporting a rose-coloured sweater draped debonairly over a tender shoulder, smile at the clouds, while, on another balcony, two women with naturally curly hair gaze seaward. In yet another image, a single black face in a jaunty group of friends is caught in the aspic of a purposeful stride.
Recently, on my way home with a small bag of fish that I’d bought on the harbour, I stopped to look at the construction site and the glossy images that adorn it and wondered who, in reality, will live there in two-bedroomed bliss. Who will borrow this dream where it never rains, where there’s no traffic on the road or rolling stock chundering past, and where order, symmetry and life-enhancing retail opportunities prevail?
Who will actually populate this fabricated world? A cohort, I suppose, of folk with solid and consistent earnings, who will buy into the lifestyle for as long as their working lives continue to play out under a compliant corporate sun.
I’m not unaware of my own privilege in saying all this. I’ve been lucky to have lived for the past 20 years in a home of my own within walking distance of the same sea. Barring some cataclysmic social change, however, my children surely won’t be sexagenarians tottering home to their own apartments with their bags of rainbow-backed mackerel.
There will be, I fear, markedly few who get to live like these silent silver-spooned souls in the unknown and uncertain limbo of our future.