A scene from a John le Carré

We went to Burnham-on-Sea the other day; we parked at the south end of the promenade and strolled a little way along the coastal path. We had come upon it unexpectedly, we hadn’t known it was there, and we would have explored it more except we were chased back to the car by menacing rain clouds.

As we had meandered along, I noticed there was a holiday park on the shore side of the trail, a holiday park with caravans and park homes; it was just across a mass of sedges, brambles, buckthorn and other small shrubs and there was obviously a stream running along the bottom of this rough space between the sea wall and the park fence. From where we stood it looked mysterious and secluded – no doubt from the other side it was just an ordinary holiday camp! I remembered a scene from a John le Carré book, somewhere in the north of Germany in an area of marshes and lakes, with houseboats, shacks and old caravans hidden and concealed among the trees in a remote wilderness…

There was no-one on the sandy shore, except one elderly man; he had parked his bike and was wandering along the tide line with a plastic bag and one of those grabbers, an extended rod with a pincer on the end to pick up stuff you don’t want to touch. Was he a good citizen picking up rubbish, plastic bottles, old cans, bottles, plastic bags, stuff… or was he a beachcomber looking for things of interest? At one point he picked up what looked like part of a tree and started banging it on a rock, as if to see whether it was rotten or not.

By the time we came back he had finished and was loading his booty, rubbish or treasure onto his bike rack, and was about to set off… I wonder if we went again if we would see him as well?

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