“All right, cock? I like a bit of Chinese nosh, so when I saw your sign I came right away.”
The sun beat the beach like a boxer and tourists’ baking shoulders, boobs and backsides were red from punishment, sweaty in surrender and out for the count. A long line of panting sun-lotioners snarkled in the shaded direction, towards iced fizz and iced creams. Opposite, in the red corner:
A tatty flag, advertising ‘Jock Turpin’s Oriental Banquet’, failed to flutter in the missing breeze. Beside green skips that overflowed their filth on to the sand and next to the pissed on concrete of the beach toilets, a furnace burned hot and hearty. Behind a trestle table made of driftwood plank, a clammy, red faced chef glared through the heat haze.
“Oy, cock! You do Chinese nosh, do you?”
“You want to nosh on mah cock, do you?” The chef, behind the kiln, brandished his spatula. Spittles of fat spattered his bare chest and singed hair.
“No, mate!” Ray took a step backwards. He stared at the threadbare kilt the chef was wearing, hiding thick, hairy thighs.
“That’s OK, but it’ll cost you a wee bit extra. Give us a tick then follow me behind the shit-house.”
“No! I came for some Chinese takeaway. I’m starving, mate.”
“Oh, takeaway is it? No worries. Wait there. I’ll just put mah tackle back in mah kecks.” The chef turned his back and did some sub-kilt adjustment, then wiped his fingers on his chest before grabbing his spatula. “What d’ye fancy?”
“Got a menu, mate?”
“Aye.” The chef stared at the sand. He paused, then looked back at the bloke “No. No, I havnae. That was a wee joke.”
“Aye. Not very funny, though.”
“Well what’s on offer, mate? Sweet and sour? Ribs? Chow Mein?” Ray was starting to burn from the sun and the inferno in front of the chef.
“No. We’ve got seaweed. Special offer. Buy one lump, get more free. I calls it mah ‘free weed’. It’s very tasty. A Chinese speciality cooked here for you, while you wait. How much d’ye want? A wee bit or a lot?”
“None. Fuck’s sake, mate, seaweed? I knew I should’ve gone for an ice lolly and some chips. I said to Bill, ‘Oh look, a Chinese takeaway on the beach, that’s my most favourite food.’ He told me straight, ‘Piss off, Ray,’ he said, ‘who puts a bloody Chinese in the middle of a beach? Only a nutter, that’s who.’ He was right.”
Ray was torn between going back to his mates and waiting for an outcome. He surveyed the queue of sweating bodies snaking towards the shop, away across the sand. “I mean, Not much of a banquet, is it? Seaweed?”
“Aye. That was a joke as well. Ray, is it? Wait a minute, Ray.” The chef picked up a battered metal cone megaphone from behind one of the skips and bellowed through it. “Hernandez! Hernandez! Get yersel’ here, yah bastard!”
The tatty flag fluttered a little and Ray read it. Then his eyes moved over the kilt. “Jock Turpin. Are you Scottish, then?”
“No, no, no. I come frae
Belgium. Mah father was a
highwayman.” Turpin screamed again. “Hernandez!” Then he turned back to Ray.
“He’s an immigrant, the lazy wee twat.”
“Oh, I see, mate, one of them, eh? I voted Brexit.”
“Aye, ye did, did you? Well, his ma and dad were born in
Andover, so they were.
I’ll kick his arse if he disnae get here soon.”
A small man, with dark, sallow features, panted hard as he approached them, scoring the sand with the filthy sack he dragged behind him. He made the trestle table and tipped the contents at the feet of the chef.
Out tumbled a tangle of damp, stinking bladderwrack. It festered between Ray and the flames. Several creatures scurried from within the heap and made towards shade, but as they did, Hernandez picked up a shovel and smashed them repeatedly with an air of sadness. “The seaweed I have, master,” he hissed, “these creatures, good eating, you want?”
“Fuck off, yah bastard, we’re not shite-hawks. Here, Ray? How much weed d’ye want?”
“Oh, no. Dinnae say that. Hernandez has gone to all this trouble for you. I’ll give you some for a couple of pound. In any case, if you don’t eat some, I’ll have to lash Hernandez twenty times about the scrotum. That’s the law now we’re out of
Turpin shovelled a large amount of damp weed on top of the flames and thick
grey smoke billowed skywards. “D’ye want limpets with it?”
“No thanks, mate. I’ll just have it as it comes.”
“It comes with limpets.”
“Is that a joke, too?” Ray looked hopeful.
“No. They’re a bastard to pick out. They stick to the rocks.”
The bladderwrack flamed, crisped and blackened. The chef reached for a polystyrene tray, a wooden chip fork and shovelled a generous portion inside. “Two pounds.”
“I don’t want it. It’s got pebbles in it.”
Jock Turpin blinked thoughtfully. He reached for a salt shaker and some vinegar and applied the contents liberally to the smouldering tray. “There yah go. Two pounds and seventy five.”
“No. I’ve changed me mind, mate.”
“Hernandez! Get behind that shit-house, bend over and prepare yerself for the scrotum crop!”
Hernandez’ walnut face blinked and his lips quivered. “No, master. I beg of you. I bring good seaweed. Chinese delicacy. Just as the gentleman wishes. Plenty good nutrition. Plenty good limpets.”
Ray had heard enough. “All right, all right, pass it here, for Gawd’s sake.” He glowered at the weeping Hernandez and passed some loose change across the table, taking the carton and fork. Gingerly he raised it to his mouth and shovelled some in. His scowl changed to a look of interest, then surprise as he chewed. “Hmm. It’s all right this, though, isn’t it?”
“Wait!” shouted Turpin. “I’ve not put the brown powder on it. You cannae eat seaweed without the brown powder!” Turpin grabbed a different shaker with wider holes and shook some gritty dust over the top of the weed.
“Jesus Christ! Is that sand?” Ray spat his third mouthful out in disgust. “Bloody hell!’ His face contorted in pain as he gnawed grit.
“Aye, so it was. A
“Bring the customer some napkins, quick. Ah think he’s going to chuck.”
Hernandez scurried into the concrete block and returned with a well used roll of tanned toilet paper, “Here, master!”
But Ray was not to be consoled. He clutched his belly. His face contorted; he doubled at the waist, wailing, ‘Oh my God, my bladder! My bladder! You’ve brought on my irritable bowel syndrome!” Writhing in agony, he grabbed the paper and headed for the concrete interior of the toilet block.
There was an echoing scream. A loud splash. Silence.
The two men looked at each other for a moment. It might have been astonishment, it might have been conspiracy. Finally, Turpin spoke. “How much money did we make today, Hernandez, yah wee shite?”
“Four pounds, thirty two pence and two euros, master!”
“Quick, let’s leg it!”
“No. wait, master. We must cover up hole. Put planks back in shit-house. Police, they notice plenty good. They see into pit of turds and piss. They know much.”
“Aye, you’re right, Hernandez, yah cannae be too careful. Good thinking.”
“Thank you, master. Advise we use seaweed to conceal secret of pit?” Hernandez gestured at the remaining bladderwrack, knotted on the sand. Turpin nodded in agreement.
The sun still beat upon the sand, glaring at two men who hurried into the piss coloured white of the concrete block, laden with weed and dragging driftwood planks into the dark interior. It still watched as a bare chested, kilted figure and his diminutive companion scurried down the beach, away from the snaking ice cream queue and towards the bus stop chuckling. Perhaps it caught their words as they boarded.
“Four more pounds. Soon, Hernandez, we will have enough to return home. Brexit this shit-hole, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, master. I long for the