On the foreshore of the Thames, there’s a small tidal beach which reveals it’s sandy deposits for the benefit of Sunday trippers and delighted children. Here also sits a man of advanced years, maybe eighty or more, cross-legged on a beach mat. His Panama hat, dun-coloured linen jacket, florid face, white goatee beard and Malacca cane, suggest a character from a Monet painting. To this must be added the surprising contrast of his highly-coloured, patterned lycra shorts which cling around his sturdy thighs. The sunlight confirms the impressionism of the scene, but as the thin warmth of the late afternoon draws longer shadows, he prepares to go.
He collects the remains of his picnic into a neat parcel which he sets aside with his cane. Then he produces a large scoop from a plastic bag and proceeds to fill the bag with the sand around him. When he’s finally satisfied with his collection, he loads a hold-all with this and his Tupper-ware picnic lunchbox and rises majestically. Shaking his mat and rolling it under his arm he gathers his goods, plants his hat on his silvery head and strolls purposefully away from the beach.
What indeed could that purpose be and what will he do with the stolen sand?
He saunters off through the crowds to an old town house in a nearby street and disappears into the area of the basement flat. At home now, he goes to his living room and carefully empties the bag of sand in the far corner where there is already a considerable heap. Using a small rake, of the kind which is usually associated with a cat’s litter tray and which he’d found by the recycle bin, he proceeds to spread the new sand out to dry.
Pleased with his gains, he hastily fills the kettle for the coffee-maker and settles down in his chair to consider the progress of his project. All he needs now is a large snifter of his oak-aged Napoleon brandy and a quiet think. Claude surveys his handiwork with some considerable satisfaction – it is, after all nearly finished now. Three walls and the ceiling are painted in a glorious ‘post-card blue’ with a warm, muted gold band around the tall old skirting boards. A large potted palm graces the window side, obscuring the view of the ‘area’ and it’s attendant bins and rubbish, and a hugely colourful, striped sun umbrella camouflages the serving hatch and the kitchen door. Behind his chair the wall hosts one magnificent Agave plant and a collection of cacti of every shape and size, carefully arranged to look casually natural. Kicking off his flip flops, he leans back and closes his eyes, pondering how to add the final touch to his plan.
It’s not until a several hours later he becomes aware of the sound of water and yes, he can almost feel it lapping around his feet. Just as he’d been dreaming of the Mediterranean where he used to live all those years ago in his youth. This water though felt cold, unlike the Med, and dragging open his eyes he looked down to see that it was indeed lapping round his feet and by now it had reached his ankles. This wasn’t how he’d imagined it at all, could he still be dreaming? What time was it? Had he dozed off? What was happening? These questions flooded his consciousness, but it seems the faulty kitchen tap had finally ceased to turn off properly and was now flooding his flat.