Jessica Farrington was determined to stay ahead of the game. She knew that Tarquin’s Lent Term project would be to create a shoebox seascape: his older sister Tamara had been given the same homework in Mrs Canon’s class two years ago. Tamara’s project hadn’t been as good as it should have been; however, this time, Jessica an advantage and wouldn’t be hampered by the same inadequacies and inefficiencies she had endured the first time round : for example, the shells she had ordered online from Mauritius had been confiscated by customs : the Aquarium gift shop closed at 6pm on a Sunday and the dimensions of a shoe box were apparently limited to the size of a cardboard container in which a single pair of shoes could be purchased... and carried to the car !
Tamara’s project had been unfairly penalised and Jessica’s letter to the Governors’ had not arrived in time to prevent a photograph of Molly Dunne’s battered wellington boot box - littered with ‘fishing’ net still attached to a segment of satsuma – featuring in the April edition of the St Botolph’s Primary School Newsletter.
However, planning and preparation were key: so, Jessica had booked a family staycation for the last weekend of the Easter holidays in a Beach Hut, in Thanet, East Kent. The whole family had arrived in Broadstairs a little over an hour ago.
The huts stood side by side on the sand at the foot of the cliffs on Viking Bay. Like a long line of battle-weary soldiers, squaring up to the sea, they leant against each other without touching ... bleached by broken sunshine, dehydrated by relentless rain, scratched and scorched by an emulsion of salt and sand.
Jessica and the children were waiting on the partially submerged decking in front of Hut No 9 – her husband and three customers from the Sea View Café were still trying to reverse the XC90 off the pier; she remained adamant that width and weight restrictions didn’t apply to domestic vehicles. If her ‘insignificant other’ was still annoyed later, she could point out that it wouldn’t have happened if he had remembered to find and pre-book them a parking space.
Jessica tried to distract the children with fun games – but they were limited on all this dirty sand and her maternal reserves were running dangerously low for another round of iSpy : on top of this, they kept demanding to know why mummy wouldn’t open the door to let them in. The hut key was on the same fob as the car keys – and she was struggling to formulate an explanation which entirely vindicated her of this oversight – whilst simultaneously suppressing her concerns that the solution to all her problems may now be on the bottom of the English Channel.
To calm herself, she began constructing the photo she would put on Facebook on Sunday evening; she placed a bistro set on the decking, the children on a red gingham rug next to a crenelated sandcastle adorned with paper union jacks .... and either a glass of pinot grigio or a mug of hot chocolate in her hand, depending on how cold it remained when the sun came out...
When her husband finally arrived, he smelt of coffee but she decided not to protest until after she had advised him that one of the wheels from his favourite suitcase was wedged between two planks in the ‘easy access’ walkway ... and the remainder of his belongings were with a helpful deckchair vendor half a mile back the way he had just come ! After removing the padlock, the hut unfolded like an envelope : a large rectangular flap, the width of the whole hut – and hinged along its top edge – lifted up to reveal two doors which opened at right angles to take the weight of the flap above it, making an open porch over the sandy decking.
Inside, the tongue and groove walls were painted vanilla mini-milk : the floor supported two sun-cream polished, caramel-brown seats from a ford fiesta and an upturned milk crate with bits of old boat nailed to its top : every timber stud – horizontal and upright – from the floor to the ceiling – and into the apex – was adorned with a hook, a nail, a coat hanger, a length of plastic washing line : deck chairs, lilos, buckets, spades, lollipop sticks and floppy sun hats hugged the walls beneath criss cross nylon strings.
Jessica could only look at her phone - thank heavens for small mercies - she had 4G in this god-forsaken place ; she was used to ambiguity in legal documents but the property description had not prepared her for this. The necessary photographs were taken – including one of the padlock - she knew what people like this could be like - and promised the children a meal at Bill’s when they got home. As she settled back into the driving seat, her phone pinged with an email from St Botolphs : “your child’s project for this term is to design and build a moonscape in a muffin tin ! “