Safety In Numbers

Entry by: Tabitha D.

4th August 2016
Rising tide.

Summer, 1980; I'm seven and sitting in a two-room concrete box that was once a WWII look-out post atop a cliff on the Isle of Sheppey.

The cliff, and with it, the look-out post, has slumped onto the beach thanks to the ravages of erosion blighting this stretch of North Kent coastline.

There are seven of us sitting in the box, awaiting the incoming tide. Safety in ever-decreasing numbers as the waves begin to lap at the structure and creep in over the threshold - which sits at an incline of around thirty degrees because of the soft, sucking clay forming this part of the beach, implacably dragging the box deeper and deeper.

The game is to await the tide according to our height. Those with the longest legs may leave first, the second the frigid waters of the North Sea make contact with their toes.

Lap, lap, lap.... Jenny screams. She's two years older than me, stringy and bordering on malnutrition, but still a giant in comparison to the rest of us.

'See ya'! She cries, beating a hasty, scrambling retreat.

Time ticks out, my heart is beating faster than the seconds. I'm terrified. I'm also the shortest.

Luke and Tim are next to go, hooting and hollering as they slip and slide on the seaweed strewn concrete. I shoot a petrified look at Georgina sitting next to me. She grins, unconcerned. Braver than any boy with her pudding basin haircut and gap-toothed confidence.

Four left.

The grey water gurgles and gulps as it finds its way into crevices and holes in the box. I can hear the larger swells hitting the viewing slit cut into the leading edge of the structure, the edge which sits at the lowest point.

From my vantage point opposite the doorway between the two rooms of the box, I see water begin to spill over the lip of the viewing slit in the next room. Sick fascination begins to build in my guts and I imagine being trapped in here for real, the rising waters momentarily decreased only by that which fills my body as I scream for help that will be too late in arriving.

I'm shaking as if freezing, but sweating with beads of perspiration forming and running down into the collar of my clay-splattered tennis dress.

Michelle is the next to run.

Now it's just me, Georgina and Alfie.

None of us speak. We're all too intent on stretching our legs before us to the maximum extent. The rule is that no-one's bum must pass the line of seaweed laid out by Jenny and Luke.

But, both Jenny and Luke have already gone, I think, in a flash of inspiration. We could just move the seaweed line closer to the water right now, dip our toes in a be gone.

My thoughts are interrupted by George's triumphant shout. She exits and I catch a glimpse of fear in her face.

Now it's just me and Alfie. I can see the strain on his features as he desperately inches his toes closer to the water line.

'Any minute now', he whispers.

Suddenly, I'm alone. The booming echo of the waves no longer slapping, but forcefully punching themselves through the viewing slit, water now pouring into the lower room, filling it completely.

More afraid than I have ever been in my entire life as the surge threatens to engulf me, I feel the ice-cold touch I've been longing for; salt-water cooled by old, cold concrete, and I dive, head-first through the open doorway and into the blazing heat of a summer's day.

At the foot of the cliff, the other six are waiting, cheering my bravery. The world swims in front of my eyes and for a second I think I'm going to throw up.

I take a deep breath, shake my head to clear the vision of my inert, water-filled body hitting against the ceiling of the box. I've done it, and my place is assured as the heroine of Warden Springs Caravan Park.

Together, we begin the equally dangerous ascent up the crumbling clay cliff face, back to SPAM sandwiches and safety.