Who’s there? Lovers, vampires… A body?
Little Piddling is a resort with ambitions.
But odd things keep happening in Little Piddling. Especially among its delectable beach huts.
Would you dare to walk along that beach after dark?
Six favourite authors let their hair down on the Piddling sand…
This is a great anthology with six novellas written by six best-selling authors. They – I – have gone a little out of their comfort zone to write something a little different. All except Lesley Cookman, who has given us a “Libby Sargeant” jaunt that takes her out of her usual Kent countryside. (For fans, there will be a new Libby later this year.)
One historical author has given us a charming vampire. Another has encountered a time traveller. Those beach huts have a lot of stories to tell.
Here’s the opening to mine…
ROSE slowed as she saw a road sign that read “Welcome to Little Piddling sur Mer“.
Despite the postcard and the website, she had still half believed that it was a comic opera fantasy, but she’d already driven through the narrow streets of Piddling Magna. It was real enough.
She pulled into a layby and climbed out of her van to take in the sea stretching out until it became one with the horizon. Below her, the town was tucked into the lee of the hill that stretched out to a headland.
Huddled around a sandy beach, empty this early and, what had not been evident on the website, a small island half a mile or so offshore that was topped with a picturesque ruin.
She had never, to her knowledge, been here before; like “Adlestrop” she would surely have remembered the name and yet that island chimed in her memory.
Maybe it had been used as a setting for an episode in one of those not-so-cosy crime series. The kind where the body count reaches massacre proportions before the detective finally has a lightbulb moment.
With its narrow streets, it had the old-fashioned charm to have been used in an outing for Poirot or Marple.
Or maybe it was simpler than that. The view from here was very like the retro cover of one of her grandmother’s childhood books that she’d devoured as a child.
She’d found it when she’d been clearing the bookshelves in her father’s house and unlike the rest, which had gone to a charity shop, she’d put it in her keeper box.
The one thing she could be sure of was that it hadn’t been on the postcard.
She’d been running a vacuum cleaner around the bedrooms, clearing away the last of the dust that had settled behind heavy old furniture that hadn’t been moved in years, when she’d spotted it stuck in the skirting board.
She’d plucked it out and wiped off the dust to reveal a row of brightly painted beach huts.
It was just an old holiday postcard but, as she’d looked at it, her heart had begun to beat a little faster and she’d had one of those goose-walked-over-your-grave moments.
Less to do with the postcard than the fact that it was the last time she’d ever be in her childhood home with all its memories, good and bad, she knew, but she’d turned the card over to see who it was from.
“Weather great. Katy can’t wait for her birthday. Jules.”
There was a single cross that looked like an afterthought.
Her name was Katherine Rosalind Redmayne, but she had always been called Rose. Rose Red when she was little. Cute when she was at primary school. No fun at all when the mean girls at High School had found out.
The card was addressed to her father, but not at this house which meant that it had been sent before she was born, but the postmark was smeared, the date undecipherable.
It must have fallen out of one of the boxes of photograph albums, cards, school reports, stored on top of the heavy walnut wardrobe that had been a fixture of her parents’ room for as long as she could remember.
She’d go through them in the dump, save, or pass on to her brother and sister, triage when she had more time.
Matt and Lisa had, of course, been “much too busy” to stay and give her a hand once they’d been through the house to grab what they wanted in the way of furniture, pictures or anything else of value.
Too busy to help with the funeral arrangements or any of the endless details that had followed their father’s death.
All they were interested in was their share of the house sale, accompanied by grumbles about how much she intended to rip them off for her expenses as executor. She’d been too weary to fight with them, would have let it go. Their father’s solicitor, realising how it was, had been firm on the subject at the Will reading, but a difficult time had been made a lot worse by their whingeing.
Heaven help her if she threw away some cherished piece of their history.
They wouldn’t want this old postcard, though, and she slipped it in the back pocket of her jeans, intending to drop it in the rubbish on her way out.
She found it there when, hours later, she’d stripped off dusty clothes before sinking into a hot bath.
The Beach Huts, Little Piddling sur Mer.
The name was ridiculous, but it made her smile, which after the last grim months was worth a great deal. Her father was famously allergic to the sea but it must have meant something to him and instead of tossing it into the wastepaper basket, she put it on her bedside table.
Later, limbs weary but her mind churning with the emotional fallout of the day, she picked it up and, seeking a distraction tapped Little Piddling sur Mer into her tablet’s browser.
She half expected a “not found” response; a place with a name like that belonged in a comic opera, but the town was real enough and a list of links immediately popped up.
There were the usual cricket, bowls, rugby clubs, a couple of pubs and restaurants with websites, a brewery, an arts festival, a group called The Piddling Players…
She clicked on the town’s official link and there it was on the header, the kind of seaside town that you saw in art deco posters. The golden era when families took the train to the seaside for two weeks holiday in the summer.
The photograph, taken from the sea, showed a curve of sand, and a tastefully preserved promenade that gave the impression of municipal gardens and afternoon tea rather than amusement arcades and hot dog stalls.
There was a pier, too, with a little theatre, and a slipway for a lifeboat station.
The town, intentionally or not, appeared to be aimed firmly at the nostalgia market and the row of colourful beach huts was very much part of that image.
She clicked on the link and, in a close-up photograph, she could see that some of them, the older ones, she thought, had been individually decorated and given names.
One, called Rassendyll Lodge had been trimmed to give it the look of a Bohemian hunting lodge. There was a Blenheim, an Arundel, a Chatsworth but in amongst the stately homes there were huts with candy stripes and some named after flowers. A pale blue Forget-Me-Not, and a Marguerite that had been painted yellow and decorated with large white Mary Quant daisies. Very nineteen-sixties.
But it was the pink hut that caught and held her attention. Not just because the roof ridge had been adorned with an exquisitely carved wooden garland of roses, but because it was called Rosa’s Retreat. And at that moment a retreat with her name on it sounded very appealing.
She was aware that there was a big demand for beach huts with some, in the most desirable places, fetching ridiculous sums.
A few of these were available to rent by the day, the week, the season. Some, including, Rosa’s Retreat were for sale and, without the stately home pretentions of her neighbours, at what seemed to be a very reasonable price.
There was a button to click for more details that seemed to pulse, inviting her touch.
You’ve had a rotten year, it seemed to be saying.
Your fitness fanatic Dad dropped dead while out running and you had to deal with the Coroner, arrange his funeral, sort out Probate and sell the house without any help from your shit of a partner.
On the contrary, while you were dealing with grief, overwhelmed with paperwork and working all hours in an effort to keep your clients happy, he was consoling himself for your lack of attention with extras from a woman at the gym.
You’ve got money coming from the house sale and there’s nothing to keep you in Maybridge. Your clients are all over the country, you can work from anywhere, so come and sit here, breath in the sea air, dip your toes in the sea, have an ice cream from the little kiosk on the front.
It would be a fresh start.
A beach hut is an investment…
“Nice try, Rosa, but why would I buy a beach hut in a town I’ve never heard of?”
Rolling her eyes, she shut down temptation. Talking out loud to a beach hut was a sure sign that she really did need a break.
Somewhere warm, she thought. On one of the Greek islands, maybe, with a what-happens-in-Santorini-stays-in-Santorini holiday fling.
Two days later, searching for a sock, she found the postcard under the bed.