Will Self: PsychoGeography

That sinking feeling
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The Independent Online

Phew! What a scorcher. The sunlight lies shimmering on the plashing waters of the estuary like God's gold lamé stole. Indeed, on a day such as this, you could be forgiven for thinking that the deity was a glam-rock trannie who had donned his glad rags and was fully intent on raving, albeit in silence. For while all is beautiful - it is also quiet, preternaturally quiet. Not a boat passes, not a day-tripper guffaws. The Isle of Sheppey lies a couple of miles away, looking like Avalon.

The tide was in when we arrived, and we immediately took a dip. Now, sitting on the terrace of Janet and Peter's pale yellow, foursquare house, we tuck into a preposterously good lunch: a proper bouillabaisse, complete with rouille, croutons and fresh asparagus dripping with butter. The cutlery coruscates, and for those that indulge there is white wine like unto liquid crystals. Our cup runneth over - we are truly in bourgeois heaven.

We eat and eat, while the tide speedily draws back to expose a broad expanse of gloop. A 4x4 Jeep towing a jet ski on a trailer comes caroming down the shingle beach to our right, and sets off across the mud, only to become hopelessly bogged down after a couple of hundred yards. And I mean hopelessly: the wheels spin frantically, the engine whines, the mud churns and spurts. The £30,000-vehicle skitters, splutters and then burrows down, as if it were intent on a journey to the centre of the earth. Eventually it is, truly and irredeemably, stuck. Buried to its axles.

The occupants then debouch and stand there. They are naked save for white nylon football shorts. Even from this distance we can see they are young and scratching their cropped heads with feverish bemusement. If we were in bourgeois heaven before, now we're in some kind of nirvana of snobbish Schadenfreude. It's as if God the trannie were laying on this show specially for us, a tableaux vivante exhibiting the follies of Homo 4x4 on his first-ever trip off-road. Binoculars are called for so that we can better gloat. Quips are made. "Ooh look," someone cries, "the mobiles are out and they're calling for help!"

This goes on for quite a while: us, sitting up on the terrace, eating our rough, French peasant fish stew; while down on the beach the two, poor young men get themselves into more and more of a muddy pickle. Their shorts are pebble-dashed, their skin is reddening by the second. We know quite how glutinous the surface is, and try as they might - and they do - there's absolutely no likelihood of them being able to dig the car out. Still, it's a good nine hours before the tide comes in, so there's every chance that the amusing spectacle will sustain us throughout the afternoon.

Then something dreadful happens. One of our party voices the absurd notion that we might consider helping them. The hilarity begins to leak out of the situation like helium from a balloon. We can no longer sit there; we have been put on our altruistic mettle. Peter concedes: "I've got some old fencing and a bit of wood in the shed," and then we're off, flotching towards them. "There's just one thing I want to ask these guys," I vouchsafe to Peter, "and that's: 'What on earth persuaded you plonkers to think you could get to the sea this way?'" But sadly, once we draw near, it becomes only too clear what persuaded the young men, for they are, indeed, utter plonkers.

"You've certainly got yourself into a right mess here," I say to them as we lay the fencing under the front wheels of the Jeep. "That's not the half of it," says the pink fellow, "coz it's my dad's car."

"And here he is," moans his brother. There is Dad, coming down the shingle, his man breasts jiggling, his hard, round belly thrusting, his legs bandy, his arms pumping. He comes out over the mud like a human toy wound up with rage, takes one look at his errant sons and his sunken Jeep and bellows: "I am not very impressed!"

A Land Rover Defender is, by this time, down on the beach. Scenting a use for his preposterous vehicle, its driver has arrived like a hyena coveting carrion on the Serengeti. Peter and I trudge back to the terrace and observe the denouement. It still takes a further hour of skidding and slurping for the Jeep and the jet ski to be extracted, but by then we've lost interest. Because it's four in the afternoon by now, and although we hadn't consciously set out to do so, we've managed nevertheless, to completely miss England's World Cup match. Result - as I believe they say. E

Will Self's new novel 'The Book of Dave' is published in hardback by Viking, £17.99

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