Thursday meant our away-day.
We left at 10.45, after Jim had carried 6 bags of coal into the garden and I had completed my dawn walk. Our bums hit the car seats at the same time and we both breathed sighs of relief that we were actually sitting down.
Off we went, Nigel at the ready. Traffic lights, roadworks, men in high viz jackets, everywhere slowed us down, and before you could say ‘which way is Hastings?’ we were heading in completely the wrong direction. One hour and 12 minutes away from Whitstable.
Last night we watched ‘The Landscape Artist of the Year’. The chosen location was Whitstable on the north-east Kent coast where The Swale River flows into the Thames Estuary providing gently lapping water. Our destination, however, was not Whitsable but Tankerton where a huge restaurant called Jo Jo’s sits overlooking the beach. An airy room, wooden tables, a geezer from Macclesfield serving us big portions and an air of conviviality hanging over us diners.
We’d been invited to lunch by one of my oldest friends. In 1965 she was 17, I was 16; we met when she was at art school with my brother. We wore arty clothes, PVC Macs and ‘A’ line floral dresses. We went to jumble sales in Mill Hill and attended parties thrown by our gay mates who played Edwin Starr on the record player and took photos of us with our Mary Quant haircuts. My artistic friend and her husband live near Whitstable, we don’t, but her and her old man are worth the schlep.
We arrived half an hour before lunch so we could have a walk. Down a steep path, beach huts nestled together like a Brazilian favela, the breeze blowing. We walked the coastal path as a strip of blue sky shoved the grey out to sea. Wind turbines turned in the distance as the strip of blue got wider. One beach hut was painted sky blue with fluffy white clouds. A Pink and white hut painted like an ice cream. The huts are numbered, from 1-6 were all some kind of blue and 15 and 16 had names. ‘The Mad Hutter’ said one. It was 1950’s without the gloom. The idea of sitting, wrapped in a beach towel whilst having a cuppa on your own porch, chatting to nut brown Englishers as they stored canoes under their little wooden houses was as nostalgic as having a ‘Tizer’ whilst watching the dogs and their walkers pad past. Friendly folk nodding and smiling at each other. Our thirty minutes of gentle perambulation before lunch felt like we doing the Spanish ‘Paseo’ which is ‘a leisurely usually evening stroll’
Lunch lasted two hours or so; calamari and mackerel paté, sardines and arancini balls, little crunchy potatoes and a feta cheese salad; hummus and delicious warm smoky bread; everybody dipping and tasting. To finish we had sticky toffee pudding – which we all shared, a lovely coffee and then the exchanging of Christmas presents, because unlike Boris we hadn’t socialised for nearly eighteen months.
Four of us round a big table swapping food and hugging. Then Tony said,
‘Barry Crier died’
‘Yeah, it cost more than it was worth to fix it.’
Tony looked bewildered and not a little irritated.
‘I don’t think you heard what I said.”
The old git smiled
‘Why what did you say?.’
‘Barry Crier died’
‘Oh!’ said the aging ‘oosbind. ‘I thought you said, ‘I hear your car’s died.’
And that’s why lunches take much longer when everybody is hard of hearing.
Our conversation, though, was appropriate for our generation.
We shared photos on our phones, left a tip and departed. More hugging commenced, ‘let’s not leave it so long’, we all agreed. In two years we will have known each other 60 fucking years.
We drove home down the M20, the A20 and when we hit Tunbridge Wells the grey clouds had a piping of solid gold around them from a low-lying sun.
Now, I know it wasn’t Hastings. Sometimes Hastings has to take a back seat, especially when your friends picks up the tab. But Hastings will happen – next week p’raps?