The seafront at Herne Bay was eerily quiet.
I was on the second day of a newly established rhythm, which includes starting work early in the morning and stopping mid-afternoon to go for a long bike ride. The day before, I’d taken the direct route to the sea: through Clowes Wood to a deserted Whitstable. This time I would follow a familiar loop through Thorndon Woods to Herne Bay, then along the coast and back from Whitstable to Canterbury via the Crab & Winkle Line. When I reached Herne Bay I had a sudden urge to drink a latte by the beach. I just needed to do something kind of ‘normal’. I was excited to find a petrol station open on the otherwise closed up High Street and there was a Costa coffee machine inside, so I happily prepared my latte and also bought a chocolate flapjack (I thought ‘let’s go mad’!).
I wandered down to the beach and found an empty bench (that wasn’t difficult; there was barely a soul on what is usually a bustling stretch of promenade by the pier). I sat and sipped my latte in the gorgeous sunshine and I looked out at the calm, blue sea. And then two young guys in shorts and T-shirts appeared nearby and began filming themselves doing some dance moves in unison which culminated in one of them doing a back flip onto the beach! They were laughing and enjoying themselves so much as they went through various takes, and it was lovely to watch. As I made to cycle off, I said to them “thanks for that”. And then I noticed the emblem on the T-shirt of Somersault Guy : Coventry City F.C. “Are you a Coventry fan?”, I asked (you don’t see many of those down in East Kent; and I can’t say I’m really one myself but it’s a kind of a link with the home town, and I knew they were having a great season, on course for a second promotion in three years, sitting on top of League 1 at the point where the leagues got frozen).
In answer to my question he said “no, I play for Coventry”. And then it clicked: “Oh, are you the guy who went to Simon Langton?” (the school in Canterbury that my children went to). He confirmed that he was. “Do you know Kieran and Sean Gilmore?”. “Yeah, I know Sean”, he said. We had a really nice conversation, and I remarked to him with a smile “so this is how you’re keeping in shape”! He must have been practising for his next goal celebration!
I told the story excitedly to Sean and Miran when I got home. Sean had played in the school team with Sam McCallum (left-back now for Coventry City) and told me how he “always hit the ball so cleanly”. And Miran said “Oh, they were doing a Tiktok dance”! It’s a new thing, apparently. A group of people do some dance moves in unison and post it on a Tiktok site (well, at least they were in the days when doing things in groups was socially acceptable behaviour!).
I was reminded of a comment made by a Spanish woman I met when walking in Spain on the Camino (now sadly closed to pilgrims). I’d got chatting with an elderly Spanish man called José whose wife of many years was from Newry originally and who, it turned out on further investigation, knew my Uncle Pat (when I’d told that to my mum she’d said “ah, sure the whole town knows Pat”!). I told the story to a woman I met the following day and she remarked “el mundo es un pañuelo”! The world is a handkerchief.
I’m very happy to say that, even in these strange and isolating times, it still is.
PS If you want to see Sam’s Tiktok dance then click here (and I have my wonderful daughter to thank for finding this): Dance