Jake and The Beach Hut
Jake thinks this winter’s really changed him. He’s just been out for his last walk round here as he’s off tonight. It’s always been his favourite route. He went from Tankerton up through Herne Bay and out to the towers at Reculver. It’s a beautiful day and the place is packed. He’s been doing this all winter and hardly seen another soul on the route. It’s May 3rd - the first spring bank holiday of the year and the weather is beautiful.
On the way back this teenage girl walking alongside him says to her folks in her nasal estuary English “I’ve looked for the nearest Starbucks on my phone and it’s in Canterbury.”
“That’s a shame,”whines her Mum.
“No it’s not,” says Jake. “They don’t pay their taxes and you shouldn’t buy their coffee.”
“But I love it,” says the Mum.
The Dad, who dresses and walks like he’s a bit of a hard nut, turns but he sees that look in Jake’s eyes and he knows. He’s not going to take him on. “If we thought like that,” he said, “we’d never do nothing. No Amazon, no Google, nothing.”
“Think about what you said,” replied Jake. “I think you’ll find you’re wrong.”
And he strode on by. He was amazed at himself. This wasn’t like him. After all he hadn’t paid a penny in tax himself in all of his life.
He’d come here in October. October 20th to be precise. Jake knew this as he’d been to see the Hammers beat Southampton 4-1. They’d lost their last home game to the dreaded Gooners so he was feeling good.
He was just going into Rosie’s for his usual post match pint or six when Terry walked out. Terry didn’t even look at him, he just whispered out the corner of his mouth as he passed ‘Mad ‘arry’s after you’ and marched on by.
Jake didn’t need a second clue. He legged it as fast as his little spindly legs would take him. He couldn’t go home. ‘Arry would have that staked out. He just had to get away. He’d worked with ‘Arry in the past. He cut first and asked second.
Jake knew exactly why ‘Arry was after him. ‘Arry was Larry’s boy and Larry had asked Jake to hold on to some dosh for him. The word went out ten days ago that all was clear and Larry wanted his dosh back. Jake was on his way when he met this bloke in a pub who gave him such a good tip that he went and put the load on it. It wasn’t such a good tip. Ever since Jake had been meaning to do a bit of work, get the dosh together and give it back to Larry but a dose of the flu and some general pissing about had put the kybosh on that plan. He’d lined up some houses in Chigwell that were ripe for a late night visit but he’d left it too late.
As he ran he spotted a fellow Hammer, on his own, on the way back from the match, getting into his car. He opened the door, dragged the bloke out and driven off fast. He couldn’t head for Essex. Everyone knew someone in Essex. So he’d headed for Kent. No one knew no one in Kent. He’d have liked to go home and pick up some stuff and his passport and stash but ‘Arry would have that staked out so he just drove. In Canterbury he ditched the car. Torched it. You couldn’t be too careful. It was easy enough to pick up another. He drove out to the coast. He hadn’t a clue where he was. This was not his territory. Just through the little town of Whitstable he pulled the car over and walked down the grassy bank to the sea. It was raining, it was dark and he had to think. He spotted row after row of fancy beach huts. He broke into one. It was dead simple. Second row back, it had little chintz curtains in the windows and a small covered sit out balcony. Inside he found a comfortable sun lounger, a camping gas stove, a kettle and some tea bags. He’d spotted a tap outside so he got some water and made himself a brew. No milk, no sugar. It was hot and wet and it made him feel better.
He needed to get rid of this motor. So once he drank his drink he drove it to the other side of town and for the second time that night, set light to a car. He walked back along the beach path and just kept going until he saw his hut. There were towels inside, so he dried himself down, wrapped himself in every other towel he could find and went to sleep.
He had twenty quid in his pocket so he was able to get some supplies in the morning.
He’d been here ever since. Sure, he knocked over a few places to get some cash but he’d not done it in Whitstable. He walked out to Herne Bay – never shit on your own door step, his Dad had always told him.
He’d bought a gas heater and few pots and pans from George’s Mini Market. He stuffed up the cracks round the windows and his hut was a little paradise. He didn’t make himself obvious. He didn’t set the light at night. He snuck out in the morning and didn’t go home ‘till late. On a fine day he walked, he read the paper and he went to the Old Neptune on the sea front. On a bad day he just read the paper and went to the Old Neptune on the sea front.
He got to meet the locals. They thought they were a bit hard and he didn’t disillusion them. Harvey (who the fuck’s called Harvey, he’d thought) used to give him a bit of work every now and then. Nothing legal, all on the black. Suited him fine. Harvey ran tobacco in from France on his boat every now and then and Jake would distribute it round for him. Easy cash and easy smokes. That and the burglary kept him going fine.
It was in the Old Neptune that he met Alicia. She was one of those middle aged, floaty, arty birds who talked bollocks earnestly. Jake could sense a shag at twenty metres. He was her bit of rough, her ‘naughty boy’ and it meant he got to sleep in a bed two or three times a week. He told her he’d had a bit of trouble and he was kipping on a mate’s sofa. She thought he meant he’d had a breakdown. It hadn’t even occurred to him.
Alicia was an artist. She was part of the avant garde scene in Whitstable. “I’m not a pretty, pretty painter,” she’d say. It made him laugh but he didn’t show it. She’d hunt out road kill and perform what she called ‘amateur taxidermy’ upon it. It demonstrated man’s inhumanity to animals, she told him. He thought it was horrible and it smelled but a bed’s a bed, a cooked breakfast is a cooked breakfast and a shag’s a shag.
At weekends she’d go up to Hampstead to ‘look after her folks’. She always came back with cash in her purse. ‘Mummy’s so appreciative’ she’d say.
That’s why he could meet Wendy. She bowled into the Nep one Friday evening in late November. A pretty little thing with an accent that could cut glass. She downed five large g and t’s and told Harvey in a loud voice that ‘Nige can’t make it this weekend.’ Harvey whispered to Jake that he doubted if Nige could ever make it and the whole row of blokes laughed.
Wendy had four more large g and ts and it fell to Jake to walk her home. She could hardly stand so he put his arm round her waist to keep her upright. They went up to two houses with Wendy suddenly deciding that this wasn’t the one before they got to hers. Jake took her keys out of her bag for her and made sure she well inside, safe and sound. She tried to snog him but it was really just a wet slip of lips over his face. That was too much even for Jake. So he put her to bed, checked out her body as he removed her clothes and slept in the other room – just to make sure she was OK in the night.
He brought her tea in the morning. She took one look at it and said “Coffee, darling. Fresh. The cafetiere’s in the middle cupboard.”
He’d learned her ways and enjoyed her disparate tastes. He discovered that anything goes in the bedroom – and he found out that when she said anything she meant anything. Girls round his way were eager enough but it was wham, bam, thank you mam they wanted and if you asked for anything more then you were labelled a perv.
He used to read the Mirror or the Sun in the Nep but Alicia insisted on the Guardian. She’d make him read it and then discuss the comments section with him. Most of it was utter bollocks but as he read on day by day he found things that made sense to him and he began to form opinions. It meant that when the pub talk moved out of banter and into the serious stuff he was able to contribute with authority. He liked that.
But now it was time to move on. The owners would be back to use the hut this weekend he reckoned. It was too dangerous to stop on. He’d taken up doing some art of his own. He nicked a bunch of the oyster shells from the recycled heap outside the posh restaurant in the middle of Whitstable and late at night he’d made a massive shell shape on the Tankerton slope. People stopped and admired it. He liked that too.
He’d painted the inside of the hut. Unfortunately he’d taken his and Wendy’s more unusual sessions as his template and he wasn’t sure the owner of the chintz curtains would appreciate it. It was too obvious that someone had been living there so he’d left a note thanking them very much, saying he had been homeless and cold and they’d given him a refuge – so he’d painted a picture for them. He hoped they’d like it.
He walked past for one last time on the way back from his walk. Outside his hut a little grey haired lady was sobbing in her husband’s arms. He feared he’d shocked her too much but he heard her say “That poor man, he must be in a terrible mess. Fancy spending the winter living in here. It must have been terrible.”
He wanted to go over and tell her it’d been lovely but it didn’t seem like common sense.
He walked on down to the Nep, picking up his small bag of accumulated gear, and met Harvey at the bar. “One for the road.” They downed their pints and their whisky chasers and waded down to the boat. The tide was right for France. Jake reckoned that, just like they say in the song, that after his stay in Whitstable, if he could make it there, he could make it anywhere and France sounded like a new challenge. Even if they did speak frog.