So here we are, back at the beginning. Why am I called Whistable Tail? I was asked the other day. Well, it all began with a story, about the Street. “I didn’t know that” was the reply, and I thought, yes, I haven’t told the story for a long, long time, and so I shall now tell you the Whitstable Tail.
Yesterday as the rain almost concealed the sea from view, The Street began to appear. Some people say this is a naturally occurring shingle spit, and some have said it could be the remains of a Roman harbour. I can tell you it is neither. The truth was whispered to me one day by the sea, when I was watching for mermaids; but I cannot tell you who by. You wouldn’t believe me anyway.
The Street, that winding magical path that leads you out into the sea for a good quarter of a mile, tides lapping at either side, waves crossing in front of you as you walk, was built by a Boy.
Once upon a time you see, there was a boy with rather large feet. He lived in Whitstable, and all his family worked on the sea. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, all way way back across hundreds of years, were all fishermen. His mother, her sisters, and their aunts, could all dive and swim and pick up oysters – knowing those that were good to eat and those that would have a nice fat pearl. The family was at one with the water. They lived in and on the sea as though they were part of it. All of them, except for the Boy with the big feet.
Its not that he didn’t try. He just couldn’t swim. His feet stayed firmly on the ground. He could feel the tree roots grow, knew when the bulbs were starting to wake up, when the soil was ready to push the seeds into sprouting. But he didn’t understand the sea.
He spent hours and hours watching the sea. Sitting there, just round the corner from all the boats and fishing and swimming. He often felt as though he was being watched back, which surprisingly didn’t bother him. In the same way he knew the ground was alive, he knew the sea was alive. He loved the sea, and had no fear. But he couldn’t so much as dip in a toe.
One day as he sat watching the sea, keeping his feet out of the way of his working family, the sense of being watched back made he toes curl. His hat sprung up from the back of his head where his hair stood shock upright. He waited, expecting a touch at any moment. None came, but something had changed. He knew now it wasn’t the sea watching him, it was someone.
The family, always working though they were, noticed a change in the Boy. He spent even more time down at the shore, just around the corner. He walked with more of a bounce, and his feet did not seem anywhere near so heavy. He’d always been the most lovely of lads, amiable and helpful, but nowadays, well, he just shone with a happy glow. Funnily enough though, he wasn’t anywhere near so helpful. He was suddenly very very busy.
His brothers called to him to help launch their boat, but he didn’t come. His father called for him to help land the catch, but he didn’t come. They were not cross, just surprised. He said he was ‘building something’. And certainly he was covered in sand and mud, and barnacles – which was quite odd. They were attaching themselves to the edges of his prodigious extremities in little clusters. He was often followed around by a bunch of crabs and lobsters too. Equally muddy and sandy, they were dragging large swathes of seaweed about as though moving it from one place to another. The family saw all this, and thought how wonderful that the Boy was making friends, although it might lead to problems at dinner time.
Years passed, and life on the Whitstable coast continued as it had for the past hundred years or so, with little or no change. The Boy grew, and his feet stayed pretty much in the same proportion to his body they always had. The family saw less and less of him, but he was clearly very happy, and they were just so busy. He was no longer followed around by a raggle taggle band of sea creatures, they had all gone back to minding their own business, scrabbling around on their pereopods, and the family thought this was probably for the best.
A visitor to the town, in search of fine oysters, asked the busy family one day who were the people standing so far out in the sea, and what was that rocky road that had led them there. The family stopped working and exchanged the most fleeting of glances. The sound of pennies falling from great heights was a cheerful tinkle all along the beach. “Ahem, hurrumph, ahhhh – well”, said the Grand-Father, “its a naturally occurring shingle spit, which some people think could be the remains of a Roman harbour”.
The visitor commented on the fact that he’d never noticed it before. “Its only visible at low tide” said the Father. “Here, have these oysters for your tea, lovely fat ones, have them, as a gift”. The visitor, greedy for his tea and not quite believing his luck, scadaddled pretty damn quick.
The family put down the tools of their trade, and walked around the corner. Sure enough, there was the Boy, far out to sea, at the end of a huge winding stone and sand and seaweed street. And he was not alone. He was sitting talking to a girl. And they were holding hands, and looking into each others eyes. And he had his feet in the water, and she was resting her scaly green tail across them, tickling his toes with her fins.
Well, well, said the family. They all waved and cheered to the Boy and his Mermaid, and all smiled and hugged Great-Great-Grandfather, who had just arrived on the shore pushing Great-Great-Grandmother in a heavy old bathchair, just a whisp of aged fin showing from beneath her blanket wraps.
History has a funny old way of repeating itself.