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RDC News Make a point of visiting us weekly!        Tell a friend about us. Silver Surfer Articles Return to “Silver Surfers”  CONTENTS PAGE Page FIFTY THREE

Now as I am writing this particular piece coming out the other side of winter and looking forward to a downhill run to summer, I’ll pick up on the subject of beach huts.  Rochford doesn’t have beach huts of course because the little piece of flat bank alongside the Roche that I’ve heard referred to as ‘Rochford beach’ is hardly big enough to set up three deckchairs, let alone a beach hut or three, but go to Southend, east of the pier area and it’s a completely different thing. My wife and I were walking that beach not long back and we did take note of the huts that stretch from Southend, along Thorpe Bay frontage and along to Shoebury. There are, I suggest, two main classifications for beach huts. First there is beach or promenade.

On the beach they vary again, depending on the shelving of the beach, between ones whose door opens straight onto the beach and others who seem to be mini-skyscrapers and require you to navigate quite a number of steps to come down to the level of mere beach mortals. The promenade huts are interesting, a challenge to the idea that Brits like to keep themselves to themselves, for they open directly on to the promenade and so if you wish to put up a deck-chair immediately outside your front door on a sunny day, because it is a sunny day you will probably find a considerable number of people weaving around you as they wander the promenade. Privacy there is not!

The second classification is quality of maintenance. Huts vary from the utterly run down (where the owner obviously believes that rustic means dilapidated) to the super-glossed and stripped in bright colours. Some are a pure delight to behold while others……    These are the obvious classifications from simple observation but I suspect there may be a third classification: used and unused. Despite costing a small arm and a leg to own there are some huts that look like they are crying out for friendship and use. It would be interesting to conduct a survey on the amount of usage that the average beach hut gets.

As this is an article for Silver Surfers it usually has an historical dimension to it and in this case I would suggest that beach huts are one of the few enduring and unchanging features of life in our time. They were here sixty years ago and if you do a Google search and take in ‘bathing machines’ they go back some two hundred and fifty years, so they were certainly here when you and I were children.

Despite what the book says, whether beach huts are a uniquely British thing is questionable. I have managed to find photos of beach huts looking like ours in France, Australia and Sweden, but again a Google search for ‘Beach Huts around the World’ brings up some amazing pictures from Bora Bora, Goa, the Cook Islands and many more, but none of the “15 most beautiful beach huts of the world” look anything like our humble shed on the foreshore.

That’s what we relish, because we like sheds, pure and simple, a shed where we can potter on the beach, where perhaps we can store a couple of deck-chairs and who knows how much more, a base on the sand from which to watch the water and browse the boats. Incidentally I know there are those who object to the term ‘shed’ for a beach hut saying it is so much more but those are obviously people who know little about sheds and are definitely not connoisseurs. To call it a shed is in many circles to raise its prestige greatly! According to Wikipedia there are possibly about 20,000 beach huts in the UK. It also suggests they used to be used by ‘the toiling classes’ but with the average prices ranging between £7,000 and £35,000 and some being considerably more, I guess the ‘toiling classes’ have been well and truly ousted from them.

Although you never actually own the land on which they sit, I still wonder if they are part of that mind-set of ours that likes a certain number of square feet of real estate that we can call our own and over which we can say to others, ‘Stay away,’ as small as it may be in the case of a beach hut. This is my bit of beach where me and my family claim unique possession rights. Now caravans are another of the things in this book that make us quirky Brits but we’ll save them for another day. No doubt there may be the regular reader who is now thinking, “Well, he’ll never be able to finish this with quotes or humour.” Well…. You are right!  People obviously don’t talk about beach huts so there are no ‘famous quotes’ about them. Likewise whatever you do, don’t joke about beach huts, you’ll be the first person!

So, we might be tempted to wonder, why even bother to write about them here? The answer has got to be, because they exist and are part of the British psyche and so many people have them. Is my childhood full of them? No, I’ve seen them and taken them for granted. They are a bit like telephone boxes – just there, but unlike telephone boxes they are not going out of fashion, indeed quite the contrary. They may not feature in our own experience but they do in some people’s lives. I said I couldn’t find traditional quotes but here is a comment I came across from an owner of a beach hut:

“It does not even boast the comforts of a caravan. But I love it. I love it for its proximity to the sea, for the multitude of happy memories invested in it, and for its sheer, sturdy, no-nonsense Englishness. There is something about a beach hut that encapsulates the essence of our island nation’s stoicism. It stands, solid and unflinching, on the verge of the sea, impervious to the changing seasons: battered by winter storms, weathered by salty winds and blistered by rare days of unrelenting sunshine. We, in return, enjoy it in all weathers. Huddled in deck-chairs and rugged up, we sit in the lee of its sloping roof to watch the breakers crash over the pebbled beach in winter. On glorious summer days, we bask on the small patch of Tarmac in front of it that is designated our own, sipping wine from long-stemmed glasses.” Nice”!

And then from a gem of an article in the Guardian, ‘The joy of beach huts’, by Julie Myerson which conveys infinitely more than I can do:

Walking along the prom at Southwold now on a hot summer's day, I watch the people who get to play house in those little painted huts. Brewing tea. Reading books. Drying their feet. Standing in a dripping wet swimsuit on a sandy wooden floor and reaching for a sea-stiffened towel. Sitting in a deck-chair and eating slightly gritty sandwiches off perfectly chipped crockery. All of it under their own little wooden roof…. Don't beach huts tap straight into that old childhood longing for a pretend house? The ramshackle, Swiss Family Robinsonish space with just a few basic things – chair, kettle, plate, spoon (for who really needs anything else?). And where more romantic to site this Crusoe house than in the place where, having come to the end of all your journeys, you are forced by nature to stop. The edge. The end of the world. Right by the sea.  You aren't allowed to sleep the night in most beach huts, and that seems so unfair. As if there's some kill-joy grownup out there making the rules. But you can still do all the other things that are most fun about playing house. Boil water. Make tea. Wash up.”

So you may not have one but don’t these two quotes stir something of the great outdoors in you? You don’t own a beach hut? Well how about a garden shed? You’d be surprised at the romanticism that can be conjured up by a properly sited garden shed. Garden sheds are for the older generation, places for pottering and pondering, planning or procrastinating.

Let’s conclude by one final quote from that Guardian article: “maybe that's what the dream of a beach hut most pungently stands for. The possibility – and the implied freedom – of temporariness. The idea that we can escape from our real lives for even the briefest of times – just for a day – and set up camp somewhere else. By the sea. With almost nothing but ourselves and a windbreak and those we love.”

As I said, if you haven’t a beach hut, you can still achieve a lot with a garden shed. It’s never too late to start, and when you fully enter into the experience you’ll add to the definitions of your identity, “and I’m a beach hut owner” or, “and I am a fully experienced shed owner!”


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