A bit like Victor Meldrew, I’d rather do almost anything than drive to the seaside on a sunny Bank Holiday. Nevertheless, that’s precisely what I decided to do on Monday in company with a couple of feisty and fun friends. The day was splendid and memorable in many ways, not least for a mini adventure which unfolded part way through the day and threatened to spoil the whole.
After collecting my two friends separately en route, we arrived in the splendid seaside town early because the parking is stressy at the best of times, but especially so on a sunny weekend. For many of us Londoners, Whitstable is perhaps our nearest beach and its certainly our nicest. But your day can be ruined without being able to find a parking space which is always a risk; parking fairies work overtime on such days. It was mooted – by me, I think – that if a parking space was not forthcoming we would simply turn the car around and drive straight back to London.
We had our hearts set on fish & chips and we were headed for the thrice-cooked chips at Pearson’s but, as luck would have it, we stumbled on a place outside the Fisherman’s Huts, which form part of the Hotel Intercontinental, where we could sit on stools at the sea wall and enjoy our lunch al fresco. We were aiming for an early lunch, to avoid queues and crowds, and we were lucky on both counts. Despite the juicing diet I have been on since January, fish & chips were ordered up along with a bottle of cider, much of which is made in the song to which I allude in my title. All good so far.
So onto our second agenda. I have a friend who is staycationing in Whitstable this year in her beach hut. And she was posting a daily photo on Facebook called the Ice Cream Diaries and it looked such fun I wanted to be a part of that. So I messaged her via FB that I might be in town on Monday. I took my iPad with me on the trip with a view to contacting her via FB on that. Duff plan. Mobile comms are apparently s**t in Whitstable, I couldn’t even get a signal. So we sat on the front stoop of someone else’s beach hut and pondered our fate.
One of my sparky friends suggested I call her Claire which I pooh poohed since I am phone phobic and knew I didn’t have her phone number in my dodgy elderly mobile. “What about on that iPad? Surely you must have contacts on there?”. Why yes, to my amazement, I did. But after trying and failing to reach Claire on my mobile, we turned to use Sharon’s. No good. Mobile signal so poor that Claire referred us, in a recorded message, from one phone number to another but we couldn’t get through on that one either, no signal. Back to the drawing board. How to find Claire in Whitstable with no contact number, no signal and no idea where her hut was?
We went back to the boiling hot car to re-group and think. We’d had lunch early and if we couldn’t find Claire, what were we going to do with the rest of our sunny day off? More urgently, what were we to do with the pressure on us in the car park where many wanted our space? At that precise moment, as if by magic, Claire returned the missed call she’d received from a complete stranger (Sharon) and then came to rescue us on her bike. What service! We followed her back to Annette’s house where Annette immediately invited us in for a cold drink and a pee, both invitations being very acceptable by that point. Here we could rest and re-hydrate in the shade.
Well, women can talk; this should come as no surprise. And by then we were five women and two small girls. But I still had two things on my To Do list – to visit the beach hut and to be part of the Ice Cream Diaries. So after several sociable hours we eventually set off in the late afternoon with the intention of ticking both off my Bank Holiday list. At my suggestion, most of us were encouraged to leave our handbags behind. Why would we want to walk to the beach hut in 27 degrees lugging a handbag each? Logical, right?
So the posse struck out for points sandy and shingly. There was an advance party of four, including the children, and Sharon and I were bringing up the rear with Annette. It all seemed innocent enough. The advance party jumped out at us from behind some parked cars. LOL…family fun in the bank holiday sunshine. Didn’t we have a lovely time? All going swimmingly, we round the next bend and chance upon a yard sale. By now the two parties are separate though we can still see the advance group up ahead. Sharon and I are hanging around, relaxed and talking, not paying attention to anything except the lovely sunny afternoon and our mutual company and Annette wants to shop at the yard sale so she suggests we go on ahead which we meekly do without thought. This is when it all starts to unravel.
Soon Sharon and I realise we cannot see the advance party anymore and we have no idea where we are going. Thinking “how hard can it be to find a beach hut?” we go up onto the sea wall and scope out all visible huts for a couple of hundred yards in each direction. Nothing. Nada. Zip. And by then no sign of our gang in the advance party, or the hut, or Annette behind us.
Now I am hot and cross and I cannot believe I have put myself in such a ridiculous and powerless situation. No idea where I am. No idea where I am going. No ability to communicate with those who do know. No money to buy my way out of the problem. No keys to the house to go back and sit down and wait for the others to return. No map to find my way to anywhere. I am really grumpy and in a terminal fix about it. I cannot get past the very angry thoughts in my head. I am beginning to dig my heels in.
And next I lose my patience, cheeriness having cleared off sometime since. I am beginning to get burned by the sun from which I am unprotected. I am hot and tired and thirsty again. And my footwear is not suitable for walking on stones. And our journey is now twice as long as everyone else’s since we are making detours to try and find them. This is no longer fun though Sharon is doing her best to compensate for my take on the situ.
Happily, Annette hoves into view and chances across our path albeit at a distance. We catch up with her and explain our predicament and she points out we are nearly at the hut and so we three continue to proceed in that direction. As we approach said hut, where the advance party must have been for – oh, at least three quarters of an hour, sitting in comfy deckchairs, looking at the sea, cups of tea in hand – there’s a puddle. A big one. The dimensions and situation of said puddle are such that I cannot walk around it nor, in the footwear I have on, through it. This is The Last Straw. Frankly I’d already gone above and beyond in quest of the bloody beach hut.
The mental narrative I am running even before I see the puddle is, again channelling Victor Meldrew – “I cannot believe it”. I simply cannot believe how I have put myself – PUT MYSELF – in this ridiculous, powerless situation. I simply do not have at my disposal the tools I need to sort this out, and I voluntarily chose that for myself and suggested that everyone else did the same too. And by this point I am losing all desire to see the unmentionable hut. No wonder I always elect myself team leader. No one else in this entire world has the skills or qualities… droning on and on this narrative is, unhelpfully.
At this point I say to Annette and Sharon that they may go on ahead, but I am going back to the house. Annette gives me the house keys and Sharon opts to come with me. I think she is being kind. I don’t want to ruin her day and say so, but she insists. I am mad as hell, telling Annette to say to Claire, only half joking, “F**k the hut!”. Fortunately I know Claire is robust and has a fabulous sense of humour, where right at that red hot second I do not.
As Sharon and I walk back to the house, missing the turning, and as we sit on walls and talk and realise – again – we have no idea how to get back to the house either, and meeting strangers who are also lost but at least have a map, we are still plodding towards our temporary home in Whitstable on our fruitless, pointless, destinationless journey when I can hear the rest of them coming up behind me and… LAUGHING!
No-one seems to understand. Of course not, why would they? They’ve had a marvellous time, achieving their goal with nary a thought or even a backward glance for Sharon and me, lost in no-man’s land. I say to my best friend “weren’t you worried about me?” as I would have been about her had the situation been reversed and, even as I ask, I can see that the thought never even crossed her mind. Lesson No 2. A mite of self pity may even have begun to manifest at this point. I’m not proud to report this.
But whilst I had the good grace to laugh at myself even while this adventure was unfolding, the really scary thing was that this was a metaphor. This is what I have done in one large and important respect in my real life. This is what was really making me cross. I have abdicated responsibility for one huge and vital project to a person who perhaps is proving unworthy of my trust to lead it and, again, I did it voluntarily and with insufficient forethought and planning and now the pigeons are coming home to roost – and then some.
It was that which caused the GSOH failure, really. Our sunny holiday misadventure was a metaphor for my real life where there too I had chosen put myself in what is proving to be an impossible situation. Bank Holiday fun and frolics gone wrong and imitating and reflecting my accidentally poor real life choices back to me, with plenty of time to consider the error of my ways on the uncomfortable and hot trudge, round and round in circles with no resolution, a bit like a maze.
Sharon and I contemplated this on our stony stumble back to Annette’s, stopping often to rest, to contemplate and to discuss another vital and fascinating item on our mutual agenda, multi-tasking as ever, which also wasn’t helping. No wonder so many have to call out the emergency services when they get into trouble. Look how easy it is in a strange place, without the facilities or emergency supplies you need, at the mercy of the elements, where even bright people do stupid things.
So what happened in the end, Gentle Reader? Claire went to fetch the ice cream, a double scoop for me, thanks. It was absolutely 100% delicious and it healed all wounds, as you can see. We had a lovely day out, all things considered, and a brave adventure and all’s well that ended well.
I recovered quickly, having learned my lessons or at least become aware of them. Happy outcomes can still occur even when all hope has apparently been lost. All you have to do, Judith, is trust.
Let’s just hope this happy ending to my failed quest to see the beach hut is also a metaphor for my real life drama which is drawing to a pointy head even as I write up this tale. And let’s just hope also that one day I will eventually get to see Claire’s beach hut, assuming that bloody puddle ever dries up.