I was staring across the sand as I ambled along the parade. Although the weather was fine, it was early in the season and the beach was almost deserted. A young couple were attempting to fly a kite for the benefit of their two children. The youngsters looked indifferent as they sat huddled together in their twin buggy. Two elderly women were inspecting a pool of water which had collected in one of the depressions in the sand by the breakwater.
The group which caught my attention was three teenagers and an older woman, presumably their mum. They were playing that French game, similar to our bowls, except you lob the ball instead of rolling it. Boules, I believe it's called. Mum was a woman of, I think the polite term is ‘ample proportions'. She reminded me of those red-faced women on the comic postcards I had just been browsing down in the seafront café.
I stopped near one of those Victorian promenade shelters. The ones with a roof and slatted benches which face all four points of the compass. The boys had all loosened off a couple of shots but I could see they each still had another ball -sorry, boule -remaining. At this point mum decided to walk out to the Jack or whatever it’s called in this game (le Jacques?) and take a closer look at the lie of the boules. The thought occurred to me that, when I was about those kids' age, it would be too big a temptation to resist, seeing my mum enter the target area. I wouldn't have intended any harm, of course, but a mischievous lob in her vicinity would have been enough to satisfy my impish sense of humour. With her back towards her offspring she bent down to get a closer look. That was tempting fate even further I thought.
Just then I spotted a man coming along the prom towards me. He had also witnessed the scene and was obviously of the same opinion as myself. Unfortunately he couldn't resist making his thoughts known and he shouted out over the parapet.
"Dun't bend over luv! It's too big a target! Yow'll mek it too easy for 'em!"
He looked at me and winked.
"She'll need to do a boil wash tomorrow!" he added.
I chuckled at his rustic drollness and returned my attention to the family. The wind must have been offshore because his rude jibes had clearly carried and, unsurprisingly, they had not been appreciated. The two bigger lads had begun running up the beach towards us followed by mum, who was amazingly agile for one so plump. I remember observing that those boys were older and bigger than I first thought and they looked as if they meant business. I turned back to the man to gauge his reaction but he had disappeared. I then realised that he had ducked behind the shelter. It occurred to me that this was not an ideal hiding place and that he would shortly be discovered. It soon became apparent, however, that I had not fully grasped the situation. The three irate group members were still calling and pointing up towards me. Then it dawned. They believed me to be the guy with the wisecracks. At first I wasn't too alarmed. Surely I could explain the situation and all would be resolved. Then I took another look at their bearing and considered the options of discretion and valour. Prudence vastly outweighed courage and so a hasty retreat was called for.
I sprinted along the prom, back the way I came. This was my first mistake as I had to run past the steps which led up from the beach. The first youth was already halfway up as I ran past the top. I'm not a young man and have never been very athletic but it is surprising what you can achieve when the suggestion of a severe beating is likely. I glanced over my shoulder to see the pair emerge from behind the seawall. I was heartened to see that there was a fair distance between us. My next problem, though, was 'Where do I go from here?'.
By now I had reached the recreation area where gardens and fountains vied with putting greens and other leisure activities. Reasoning that they couldn't do me much harm in front of witnesses, I decided to try to lose my pursuers amongst the other holiday makers. I skipped behind a hedge and found myself alongside the municipal bowling green where several games were going on. I ran along the path which bordered the playing area, trying to avoid the onlookers and casual observers. When I had reached the halfway mark I looked ahead and realised to my horror that one of the youths had managed to circle round and get ahead of me. He was waiting at the end of the path. I stopped and turned around to see his brother approaching from the other direction with menace.
There was nothing else for it. I stepped smartly onto the neatly trimmed grass and made swiftly and directly for the other side. Leaping over balls and sidestepping players, I had almost reached the edge of the green when a stray Jack found its way underneath my feet and I careered straight into a bunch of elderly ladies. Picking myself up and taking a split second to check that no-one was seriously hurt I continued my escape, now chased by one or two of the bowls players. Although I felt that I was running - if not for my life - then at least for my personal safety, the irony of both Boules and Bowls players being in hot pursuit was not lost on me.
By now my body was in areas it had not been in since primary school. All available oxygen that I could draw into my gasping lungs was going in to feeding my leg muscles, thus starving my brain of the stuff essential for logical thinking. So, left to make their own decisions, my legs just carried on in a straight line. By now I was in the middle of the ornamental gardens, leaving a trail of broken stems and trampled blooms behind me. Fortunately my flailing limbs had the presence of mind to skirt around the goldfish pond. Unfortunately they hadn't allowed for any obstacle to be hidden on the other side of the low wall and hadn't the strength to hurdle the wheelbarrow which a council worker had thoughtlessly parked there. I rapped my shins on the edge of the infernal receptacle and sent it and its contents in all directions. I managed to stay on my feet, though, and kept going. One quick glimpse behind me revealed a rake-bearing gardener had now joined the posse.
Having learned nothing from their wheelbarrow experience, my legs continued their policy of "straight ahead and damn the consequences". My eyes, which were streaming tears and stinging from the sweat pouring down my forehead, could just about make out the Novelty Rock Emporium across the road. My diminishing powers of reasoning seemed to believe that this would be a safe haven. There was only the Crazy Golf Course between me and sanctuary.
By now, legs had got the hang of the side-step and I negotiated my way around windmills, ramps, mushrooms and all the other paraphernalia that make up this bizarre game. As I came to the perimeter of the playing area I narrowly avoided running into a small child that had wandered across my path. Alas, this resulted in putting me on a collision course with mummy and daddy who were pushing the empty baby-buggy. I managed to spare the parents but shunted the pushchair into a miniature lighthouse.
Undaunted, I reached the pavement and fixed both eyes on my intended destination. Then the sign in the window came into focus - CLOSED. My spirits plummeted but I was too high on adrenalin to give up now. I took a sharp right back towards the beach with a whole gaggle of pursuers right behind me. My brain had gone completely couch potato now and, for some reason, the Benny Hill theme tune began running through my head. I reached the prom and saw a set of steps leading down to the beach in front of me. I plunged down three at a time and leapt the final few feet into the soft sand. I collapsed to my knees and was about to get to my feet when a pair of white trainers and black slacks appeared a few inches in front of my face. I looked up to see big momma from the Boules game standing over me. She took me by the shoulders and two huge arms hauled me upright. I tried to regain my breath but she was dusting the sand from my clothes and knocking it back out of me in the process.
'It wasn't me,' I finally gasped. 'It was another bloke. Shouting all those rude comments at you. It wasn't me. I was just looking. He shouted and then he hid. I ran because he hid and I thought you wouldn't believe me and those lads looked very angry and I didn't want any trouble. Please believe me.'
My brain was still refusing to get off its backside and it was mouth's turn to make me look a complete idiot.
'Yes, I know,' she said.
'Yes,' she continued. "I found him cowering in that hut thing. I could tell it was him from his accent when he tried denying it all."
'What did you do to him?'
'Nothing much I could do, apart from give him a fright. I don't think he'll be doing that again in a hurry.'
By now the mob had gathered around us and, after some explanation by the lady (notice how she's now gone up in status?) and some grovelling from me, all was resolved.
I strolled along the beach with the woman and her two sons, back to where they had left the youngest guarding the boules.
'I'm sensitive about my size,' the woman grumbled. 'And I hate it when people are so rude.'
'I would never dream of ridiculing another person's physical appearance,' I lied.
We reached the spot where the young man was waiting patiently. The boules were still lying where they had left them.
'I'm afraid we haven't time to finish our game, boys,' she said. 'It's time to pack up and go home.'
As she bent down to gather up the equipment there was a sharp ripping sound. I gazed around to see that the seam of her trousers had finally relinquished the effort of holding them together and allowed the two halves to part company, revealing an off-white coloured undergarment that could have doubled up as a chair cover. The five of us looked at each other in embarrassment, not knowing what to say. The man's comments about the state of tomorrow's laundry came into my head (thanks, brain - brilliant time to get off the sofa). I tried to lock the store cupboard where my laughing gear is kept but - too late. Just before the door closed, a guffaw and a couple of chortles squeezed out. I put my hand to my mouth and waited for the reaction. It looked as if I was going to get my whipping after all. There was a silence which lasted for just a few seconds but which seemed like an age and then something wonderful happened. The whole family collapsed into hysterics. All five of us were gripped in fits of laughter which rendered us helpless.
The family were still cackling away as I drifted off back to my digs. I made a mental note to give my brain a severe reprimand when we got home.
About the author
Keith Havers' short stories are frequently published in various popular magazines. He is a member of Trowell Writers' Club and Nottingham Writers' Club. He works as an invigilator for vocational exams at a local college. In his spare time he enjoys cycling and spending time with his two grandchildren.