Doomed from the Start
Someone had an idea for a documentary to be shown on the television. The plan was for a typical English family of five to take a holiday at the seaside and do whatever they wished. To start with that was not to the scriptwriter’s fancy. He or she had other plans; they had to do something and keep to a schedule.
So the plot was hatched. The location was to be Blackpool in midsummer and the family was to come from Manchester. The producer sent someone out to view the location and rent a chalet on the seashore with the promise that it opened straight onto the sands. Alas the person came back with the news that such a place was nowhere to be found and more to the point would be very expensive at the peak of the holiday season and any rent-able property had been booked months before.
Secondly the sands were huge and the throngs of sun seekers immense and other than making sandcastles, paddling and donkey rides, nothing. So the location was scrapped for another tourist site with plenty of sand.
Where? Manchester studios phoned around the country up north to no avail so eventually sent the script down to London, they in turn phoned the Sussex information centre, there a bright spark knew of the very place. Camber.
The enquiry team had set out to find an area of sand and ended up three hundred miles away from Manchester. Camber he assured them had so much sand that it piled itself up into hills known as sand dunes. Yes, an awful lot of filming took place there and were assured that all their needs could easily be satisfied.
Rye as the nearest town got the phone call and confirmed it had sand. Rye’s Tourist Information Bureau also informed them that they had the very man to contact with any questions or queries they had.
They phoned my home and it was arranged to meet in the Castle Pub in the village at three the next day.
A young couple completely green to the sea introduced themselves. The hunt for a property led to my mate’s house whose garden opened right onto the shore and sea.
A visit was made and they were overjoyed to find the ocean only one hundred feet from the door with no obstructions for miles. My mate was in Spain where he had a holiday home, a phone call earlier that week from his caretaker, had informed him that his dream home overlooking the straights of Gibraltar was riddled with the dreaded termite and in urgent need of attention before the roof collapsed, the little buggers had eaten every scrap of wood in the house’s structure. He had left immediately so his home was up for rent. The film crew were delighted and took a short lease. When was this to take place I asked, this coming weekend they said?
Christ! That only gave us five days to gather all the things the family would need to fulfil the short agenda they were to be given. First they had to go to sea and catch their breakfast; next was a sight seeing trip around the nearby town, then shrimping with large nets to be supplied by me, along with the baskets and scoops to gather the catch up out of the net. Then they were to cook the shrimps and have a barbecue on the beach after the wife had been to the local shop and bought certain items they thought they might need.
How this crowd had got the job without knowing the tide went in and out, not up and down beats me! The director could not agree to the diary of events being altered in any way. He wanted to stick to the script.
“That” I told him, “was out of the question.” The fishing trip for a start could not go ahead unless a boat was booked in advance to turn up on the day, a Saturday of all days, when fishermen had the only day off work and the hope of finding one to take a load of trippers and a film crew to sea catching fish was pushing it too far and anyway the tide was wrong first thing in the morning; they would find the harbour dried out. The tide for that chosen day was not until the afternoon. So forget the morning trip, visit the town first! No way would he move. A lot of work had gone into this programme already; to change now so close to the day was unforgivable but later had to when I introduced him to the only man willing to give his day off to take them to sea. He explained that no boat along those shores had wheels; all had to float on water and that was not due till around eleven o clock. No matter if his producer had scheduled breakfast then fishing, that was out.
So town, then the fishing trip was agreed. The only snag was the day the hands were shaken to seal the deal, the sun had shone from a cloudless sky and the air was still. The producer was told it was a deal so long as the weather permitted but to him that meant nothing. He could ‘film in rain if need be’. My mate turned away and shook his head. The man had no idea of sea and wind. Once before he had met a London chap who had invested a load of money in expensive eel traps to set on the sand to catch eels. He had brought a lot of fish into the market with his first day’s try. Now the wind had increased to a gale and my mate had said to him.
“You have been lucky that this wind did not come in the night while your traps were in the sea.”
He informed my mate that wind did not bother him; his nets were safe from it under the water. The poor fool did not realise that the wind not only made the water rise up in mountains, but also stirred the bottom up and his nets were ripped and lost. As the tide went out the pounding of the sea destroyed them.
Those people making the film had no notion of the sea and tides; they had only visited for holidays the Mediterranean where the sea had only gone up and down in the harbours a few inches. Consequently when they arrived to film a week later they found the sea not one hundred feet away as told and as seen the week before, but a whole thousand yards away across very wet sand, the panic button was hit and a swift phone call to me.
“What has happened to the sea? We have heard a lot about global warming but a thousand yards in one week!”
I laughed. “That’s nothing,” I said. It can go a lot further,” and their gasp on the other end of the phone begged the question,
“Has it done this before?”
“Every day,” I said, “twice in fact.” They where stunned. “It’s only the tides,” I said.”
“But they go up and down.”
“Not here they don’t,” I said. “We have proper tides; these go in and out.
With the lack of water sorted out it was time to get down to business. The family was to be a very English affair on holiday and they were going to film it as it happened, as a sort of documentary with no prompting. They were to be given a shortlist of activities to perform and left to their own devices. The timescale was just this one weekend
I had supplied the gear; and it was to be left in the garage at the rented house for the family to find, I was to mysteriously appear with my net shrimping along the front of their home. The family were supposed to make a connection that what lay rolled up in the garage was what I pushing beneath the water.
My assembled net bore no resemblance to theirs, ten feet long and spread out on the bottom bar and attached to the top spreader bar. The long handle was the only thing visible to them when I was knee deep in the sea. Three pieces of wood eight feet long hidden under the net wrapped around and tied up with string was all they had to go by. I had told the film crew that I would put the nets together for the family and lay them against the outside wall as if left there to dry as we often did. No, the family had to work that out for themselves! They, along with the film crew, had no idea.
The Saturday had arrived to a fine start then around midday the wind started to pick up from the south-west, a recipe for disaster. The eldest of the five children and the father boarded the boat for the fishing trip to catch a supper of mackerel (at last the director saw sense,) The water in the exposed bay was what we call ‘dusty,’ with a lot of spray coming aboard. The fishing was hopeless, the film crew complained that the boot would not stay still; the actors were all sea sick, and no fish. So with that out of the way it was time to return home to the house on the shore.
I received a message that they would like to see me three hours earlier than planned, so I duly arrived at three pm, only to be told that as the fishing trip had not worked out as planned, I was to don my gear and set to go shrimping now. This, I explained, was much too early; the plan had been that I took to the water at six pm three hours away. The tide was only just starting to expose the sand; there was no hope, I told them, of catching shrimps until one hour before low tide and I had warned them even then, there was no certainty that the shrimp would co-operate and be there. That did not matter; the film crew wished for me to be seen by the family shrimping, to do that I had to be close up to the window. If it was left three hours the tide would be in the distant, the script said, ‘to include shrimping past window,’ they hoped that my presence wading by the window pushing a net would somehow make them ‘think shrimps’ and go in the garage to find the three rolled up nets that we had put there for them and realise that the three rolls of net wrapped around three pieces of wood was what I was pushing. Nothing was less obvious in my mind. Theirs were nets rolled up to six inches thick; my assembled one was twelve feet wide with a ten-foot handle that I pushed in front of me in knee depth water, nothing like the eight feet rolls on the garage floor!
The film crew went into a huddle for a pow wow, the result of which was to film the woman doing the shopping first. She was recorded leaving the house with the smallest child and turning along the pavement for the shop ahead. The film crew then jumped into cars and set of to film the woman arriving and shopping.
We waited behind drinking tea and talking, then as every one was getting worried that the trip had took so long the film crew pulled up with the frightful news that the woman had disappeared and not shown at the shop, in a distant of only two hundred yards she had vanished.
Ten minutes later the push chair and mum appeared back home with a bag of groceries, she had met another mother who was a local and gone into her garden to look at the flowers and like women had got talking and forgotten the time. The film crew had missed their chance of her arriving and shopping it was now time to shrimp. The poor woman had been told to act normally. Now that the tide was going out, the visualized image of me with net was but a blurred smudge on the tide line six hundred yards away from the window. They would need good eyesight and the net itself was under water.
The wind increased as I pushed up and down in front of the house and the sea got rougher. The sun that had glinted on the water as I went west now hid behind a large ominous black cloud that was making its business to progress against the wind.
The signs did not look promising for the day to stay dry. After an hour I noticed a group of people making their way out to me carrying baskets and the rolled up nets. A prompt from the film crew had pointed the nets and me out to them and a large black person made his way out to me with his trousers rolled up to his knees and getting rather wet.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Are you shrimping as we are making a film and have to go shrimping. Do you know how to get the nets together?” I explained to him the principle and he left. I carried on shrimping only to notice the family retiring back up the beach. In the course of two hours I had only nineteen shrimps and a crash of thunder with forks of lightning told me it was time to head for the beach, bugger the filming they weren’t paying that well. The last place one wants to be is the tallest thing for miles out on the sand in a violent thunderstorm. As I left the water the camera crew approached.
“Please don’t stop.” “The family have told us it is too wet and complicated to shrimp so we wish to film you. You don’t mind do you?”
“Yes I most certainly do,” I said. “Not now. Can’t you see what’s coming?” The sky was black and sheet and fork lightning was flashing everywhere. Rain was sure to follow; the wind had picked up to gale force and I told them to run for it.
The sound recording chap did not realise that the thirty-foot carbon fibre pole he was carrying over his shoulder with something like a fluffy teddy bear on the end was a most inviting target for a bolt of electricity that has no respect for anyone or anything. I suggested he drag the contraption to land rather than wave it around in the air!
A thunderous clap of thunder hurried them on their way up to the house with him and his lightning conductor over his shoulder inviting a rapid change to his life.
On the beach the family were preparing to have a barbeque. I made for the safety of my car when the heavens opened up. The fire in the front garden gave off a load of sizzles, and steam then the struggle to burn with the water that now fell from the black cloud above and the family sought shelter indoors.
I offered the few shrimps that I had landed to the family and told them how to cook them by boiling them in salty water. One look at the creatures with flapping legs and jumping around sent them rapidly back inside the room they had come from. No way were they going to touch them! All the shrimps they had ever seen were peeled in packets frozen, so I thought it had been a good job they never wet a net! The whole show had been a disaster from conception to end!