My own battle of Hastings. (For my beautiful niece Sarah.)

During my evening job last week, Thomas the supervisor who is from Poland, opened up a discussion about the subtle nuances of the English language. When is the word could usually used and what does it really mean. Whilst trying to explain the grammatical correct time and place for the usage of this word. I suddenly remembered an incident with my sister, which basically knocked my explanation on the head.

Just after my mum and dad died my sister moved to Hastings. I thought it was an odd place to move, I mean there is no work down that way. But in all honesty things were not good in the household, so a fresh start was probably the intention.

I used to go down regularly to take my niece Sarah and my two nephews, Andrew and Joshua out.

I liked Hastings. I am from a working class family so Hastings had all the memories of a day trip out. Driving down in my dad’s taxi, winkles, whelks and the old town where all the smugglers would have had a pint after stripping the sinking ship of it wares as it slowly disappeared under the waves of the angry sea. It would not give up its secrets too easily. I loved the fact that the town was seedy and run down. That it didn’t really wake up until gone 12.00.

So at least once a month I would head down to Hastings and 9 times out of 10, I would force my sister’s three children out into the fresh south coast air. We would walk from St Leonard’s into Hastings, what ever the weather. I loved walking the coastal pathway. Sometimes depending on the season the sea would whip itself into such frenzy that foam would float onto land. Covering cars and trees like snow. It reminded me of when I worked at the school for the blind, dancing the waltz through soap suds with a blind resident who had messed the washing machine up. There was a foot of bubbles but he couldn’t see that, he was listening to the radio and the waltz being played. And so I was made to waltz through the bubbles with the soft refrain of music, he was good dancer.

I used to walk the kids down towards the bright lights of Hastings. I would hand a certain amount of money to each of them and I would sit outside the London Trader, my pub, my sisters was the Dolphin.

It was my kind of place, full of bikers, Goths and rockers and from there I could watch the three children enter and exit the amusement arcade called the Flamingo. They would, with what I now realise was obscene speed, spend the money I handed over, and they would run across and beg more money from me.

Occasionally they would return to show me their winnings. It was never Sarah, always Joshua. Sarah was born 13th October on a Friday. Need I say more? Joshua was born under a silver cloud! And Andrew well he was the guy that could achieve anything he wanted to.

So this particular weekend I parked up and headed towards the Victorian mansion where my sister now lived. Stain glass windows and sweeping stair cases. Huge rooms and leaking roofs and a draft that swept through from the sea like a mischievous ghost. And yes I encountered the ghost, but I kept quite about him because he lived in Joshua’s room, right up in the top of the house.

On this particular night we decided we would take a drive towards North Beach, my sister had found a fabulous pub that we could go to on Sunday for roast lunch before I headed back to Surrey.

We had the usual argument of who would sit in the front. I always said Andrew as the oldest got the trip out and on the way back Joshua or Sarah could have the front seat. We climbed in to my car and headed out from Hatisings. We drove past North Beach and that’s when ,Lord help my sister, kicked in.

There is a stretch of road where the beach is so close and the marshes bleed towards the road on the other side.

We drove singing along with the refrains of the God father. I was a fan of Patrizio Buanne – the Italian Stallion, I called him. Quite often I would drive through Hastings, windows down with Patrizio’s dulcet tones blaring out into the fast fading light. Joshua’s friends would often text him to tell him his crazy Aunt was in town.

And then she said it…..

“You can drive on this beach.” Yes I know what you are all thinking, but she is older then me. This is the problem being the youngest, no matter what, no matter how many years go by, you still have a begrudging reverence for your older sister.

“Can we really?” I replied.

“Oh yes.” she enthused.

So I veered off the road and drove across the shingle beach. Brilliant , until I stopped. And then I heard, Lord help the sister…”who is so daft to actually do what their older sibling tells them to.

We were stuck. I had a Peugeot 206 gti, it was front heavy. And so no amount of me whizzing my wheels around was going to move me from the beach that you could drive on.

A few cars drove past, but didn’t stop. It’s a solitary stretch of road and a car stuck on a beach wasn’t sufficient enough for anyone to stop and help. And of course suddenly no mobile reception.

By now Sarah was complaining and even the usually affable Joshua had an unhappy look on his face. The only one who seemed not the slightest bit concerned was Andrew.

A storm was whipping up, coming in across the channel and I suddenly pondered on how high the tide could get. Was my car safe if we just left it until tomorrow morning? But a line of seaweed and flotsam confirmed to me that the tide would engulf my car and it would probably drift out to sea.

I had the picture in my head of me ringing up work and telling my boss I wouldn’t be in work on Monday morning because my car was stuck on a beach somewhere North of Hastings. Fortunately a miracle happened of sorts.

A car stopped with four big burly men. They assessed the situation and decided they would need to go and get their truck. Assuring us all that they would be back.

Emily Thornberry would have loved those guys, for they were true working class English men. I had my doubts they would return, but return they did. Not a white van but a huge monster of a 4 x 4. And with lightening speed they had got my car off the beach. I offered them money for a drink, they politely refused.

“Why were you on the beach like that love?” one of the men asked.

“My sister told me I could drive on it.” I sheepishly replied.

There was a roar of laughter. “No worries, he is my older brother;” he whacked the guy next to him on his very big arms, “ I would have fallen for the same trick as well, twenty years ago.”

The salt of the earth guys drove off and we began to clamber back in the car. For some reason no one wanted to sit with me in the front. “One of you has to sit in the front; four of you can’t sit in the back.”

My sister quickly got in the back, Joshua was next and then for once without an argument it was Andrew who was left to sit with a now rather annoyed Aunty Lena.

“Why did you say I could drive on that beach?” I turned round to my sister.

“You can drive on that beach. I never said you could drive off it though.”

And there you have it in a nutshell. My interpretation of could and my sisters interpretation of could.

We drove back through Hastings, Patrizio was now singing about a big pizza pie hitting you in the eye. And the world shining like you have had too much wine. I parked the car by my sister’s house.

“Come on”, I said, “we will have a quick drink in the local – your mum and I can share a bottle of wine.”

By this time a natural phenomenon had occurred on the sea front. The ocean had disgorged hundreds of star fish onto the land. It was the first time I had seen this happen here in England. I attempted to pick the still quivering bodies up to throw back, but Joshua stopped me, “It’s no good Aunty the sea has given up on them. It will only spit them back out again.”

“Given up on them or given them up?”

“Same thing isn’t it?”

“No Joshua it means two completely different things.”

The pub was busy and it took a while for me to get served, but by the time we had the drinks, Sarah and Joshua had saved us a seat by the corner.

I placed the bottle of wine down and one glass onto the table. My sister eyed the solitary glass. Her face slowly developed a scowl.

“I thought you said we could share a bottle of wine.”

“Yes I did say we could, but I didn’t actually say we would.” I grinned. Relished the look on her face for a few moments and then produced the second glass from out of my bag.

And so Thomas as you can see the word could covers a multitude of sins. None of which can be explained that easily. And when misinterpreted can land you in quite silly situations.

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