Great Expectations : 1 : A Seaside Break

I woke up feeling cold. There was something sticking in my back and whatever was under my head was lumpy and creaky. While my eyelids were struggling to open I heard the noise of the sea. Today it was lazy and quiet. The waves bumped on the shore and the pebbles rolled about a bit. Then there was the sucking noise as the waves went back to line up for another try. Not like the days when it was angry and stormy and the wind howled and the water came in for towering crash after towering crash on to the promenade.

I remember getting a merit mark at school for writing about the ever-changing sea. It has always fascinated me. The teacher said I had a bright future and that the school had great expectations that I would take a brilliant degree in English at University.

Great Expectations. I remember the black and white film which we had seen on TV, when we used to watch as a family. It was so scary with the convict in the graveyard. I hated being so scared and having to pretend to be brave, so as not to get sent to bed. Then, much later, when I read the book I hated it all over again because of what an awful person Pip turned into, feeling superior and despising poor old Joe Gargery. I suppose this was because I felt a bit like that about my family. At school I was top of everything, good at games, popular and in demand. I began to feel a very superior person. But I always wanted to keep my family out of my school life.

My father worked in the local Parks Department and my mother was a care assistant in an old people’s home. They worked hard, were well thought of by everybody they worked with and by all our friends and neighbours. But they were not quite up to the level of the land-owners, solicitors, doctors and business-running parents of my class mates. No posh cars to collect me from school and no holidays in exotic places. Just the shameful Council lorry if dad was passing by at close of school, and Gran’s caravan at the seaside for a week in the summer.

But they all had great expectations of me, which they never tired of telling me and anyone else we happened to meet. “This is our Shirley. She goes to St Elfreda’s you know. Got a scholarship. She’s so bright and doing so well. We all have great expectations that she will go to Cambridge, or Oxford. The school thinks she will do very well at English.” I got so embarrassed. My brother and sister must have hated me. They went to the local school and did very well according to the standards expected there. But they knew they were going to leave school and get jobs. No great expectations for them.

Finally I could put if off no longer. I opened my eyes. The bright sunlight was filtering through the cracks in the wood plank walls. I tried to stretch, but there was not enough room. I was in the beach hut again. I was hungry. I was cold and I was desperate to go to the toilet. I struggled to see the fingers on my watch in the gloom. Would the public toilets be open yet or would I have to go round the back of the hut again? These places seem to think no-one wants to go between 5pm and 10am in the winter.

I scrabbled about and got out my mirror and brush and tidied up a bit. I had already found out that if you look clean and tidy, people are less suspicious when you wander round their shops, so it’s easier to lift stuff. I smiled a bit to myself. Who at St. Elfreda’s would talk about ‘lifting stuff’. All they ever had to do was ask Mummy or Daddy for £20 for ‘necessities’. They didn’t know how far £20 had to go in our family. They had no idea what I would give for an honest £20 note in my hand at this moment.

“What you got to smile about, doll?” The gruff voice came from beside me. I looked down at the huddled figure of Baz. “Just happy to be with you, Baz”, I lied glibly and squeezed his shoulder. I had had to learn fast what to say and when a lie would make life easier than the truth. Baz wanted no mention of my school, my family, or my home.  He had no home or family and didn’t seem to have been to school much since he was eleven and found he didn’t fit in to ‘Big School’. That’s what he had called it the only time he ever mentioned it. Since then it has been one of the many dangerous topics to be silent about if I want avoid his temper flaring up. Vile words and taunts at best, kicks and slaps at worst.

“OK. Show me how much. Go and get us some snap and don’t be all day.” I scrambled to obey. The first time he said it and I didn’t know what snap was, left me with a bruised face. Snap meant food. So my already extensive vocabulary increased by one word, but not by a word I would have much use for in my other life. There soon followed lots of other words, none of which I could ever repeat in my family, or to my friends. But so what? I didn’t plan to see any of them again soon. I was with Baz now and there was no going back.

“Fancy anything in particular, Babe?”

“No; just get on and be quick about it.”

I opened the door of the Beach Hut cautiously and peeped out. It was a cold, but sunny morning. I stepped out and turned to close the door carefully, trying to cover up the fact that Baz had broken the lock a few nights ago.

I turned and took a few steps before I realised that I was not alone. The heavy hand fell on my shoulder and there was a whispered “Got you” in my ear. I drew breath, but a hand clamped over my mouth and the grip moved from my shoulder to hold my arm and push it hard up my back. AGONY! I tried to twist to see who had got hold of me, but that only made things worse. Then I heard more footsteps and shouts and thuds as the police opened up the beach hut and dragged Baz out. He fought and shouted. Then he saw me and shouted what a stupid cow I was and how this was all my fault. He landed a few kicks on some of the policemen and then they smacked him with their batons and dragged him up the slope from the beach to where they had a couple of vans. Now I thought of them as ‘Pig Vans’. Baz went in to the back of one with a loud thump. But they did help me in to the other more gently.

“And that’s how I came to be here in Secure, Miss. Do you think I could have a bath and something to eat please?”

This story will continue next month.

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