‘May I take a picture of your snake?’ I asked the tattooed man with a python around his neck, regretting it as the words left my mouth. He nodded. ‘What’s it called?’ ‘There’s two,’ he replied, gruffly. So there were! Two pythons comfortably coiled, glistening in the sunshine.
It was the hottest early May bank holiday since the day was introduced in 1978, and the Kent coast was in full swing. The sea looked murky, the sand muddy and there was not a palm tree in sight but that did little to dent our enjoyment. You can’t beat an English beach day.
On the scorching bank holiday in question, half of south London seemed to have disgorged onto Whitstable. Stalls, vans and boat clubs were doing a roaring trade in oysters, lobster rolls, pots of winkles, fried eggs in a bun, and ice cream cones.
We walked along the Saxon Shore Way. Families were settling in. Couples were sitting, eyes closed, chins up, basking in the sun. Of course everyone was going pink, in shorts, strapless dresses, off-the-shoulder tops, a mishmash. This isn’t the Amalfi coast — anything goes. And it might be the only opportunity! Drink it all in. We could all do with the vitamin D.
At Herne Bay, in between queues for wood-fired pizzas and Cornettos, a businesslike woman in brilliant red clown shoes and yellow trousers was twisting purple balloons into sausage dogs for a Punch and Judy show. Had we stepped back into the 1950s?
A few children were hustled onto the mat laid out in front of the traditional tall yellow-and-red-striped theatre. But most were interested in crabbing, slinging green nets over the pier edge and winching them back up. Overhead, a purple squid kite with long fluorescent tendrils fluttered. Then the jet skis got going, roaring across the horizon.
My boyfriend, Rob, who cannot resist a stretch of water — no matter the temperature — braved a swim. He stood thigh deep for quite some time. Then he was off, quickly disappearing from view as I tried to concentrate on my book.
It took him an hour’s stride back along the coast path to properly warm up again. By that time, the tide was in and the mood festive. Drinks were being poured on balconies, barbecues were smoking, plastic flutes being raised. We saw a group of runners who had passed us earlier, leaning against a wall outside the pub drinking celebratory pints. Good for them. Yes, the English seaside is barmy, but it’s brilliant.