I knelt down to scoop up a small crab. It was the same shade of brown as the mud and only visible by its scuttling pointed legs. Tiny holes bubbled and served as escape hatches for the luckier ones. I plopped the crab into my bucket to meet its friends who were nibbling on strips of smoky bacon.
It was slim pickings here in Leigh-on-Sea compared to back home. Walberswick lies across the River Blyth, and each year they proudly host The British Open Crabbing Championship. The winner of the largest crab caught with only a line and bait wins a t-shirt that declares, “I caught crabs.”
I had brought twenty of my colleagues from our London office to Leigh-on-Sea for a day out. It was sponsored by our firm and the idea was to mingle with those in different teams. To make the release of the crabs more exciting, we lined them up for a race. Unfortunately, they had a poor sense of direction and scattered every which way, so I had a hard time convincing everyone that my crab had won.
As I emptied the silt from my bucket, I looked out to sea. A dark cloud was claiming the horizon, but the sun still shone on our little patch for now. Nevertheless, I called the group and we began making our way back to the beach which was a few hundred yards away.
Our hunt for crabs had led us a fair distance away from the shore. On the way, my friend slipped and smeared mud all over her backside. She was wearing a white jacket. Luckily, she saw the funny side of it and I made a note to myself to try to expense the dry cleaning.
As we approached the jetty, I realised I had made a grave mistake. Where there was a small stream before, there now lay a river. The tide was coming in fast. None of us were in swimwear and most of us had just rolled up jeans since it was not especially warm, being British summertime before the heatwaves of recent years.
Knowing that I had to lead by example, I raised my belongings over my head and began to trudge through the water.
I had chosen the narrowest part and figured I’d be across in ten strides. The water was not deep at first. Suddenly, I found myself waist high. I continued to smile and wave at my colleagues as I waded to the other side. I was thoroughly soaked and my feet were sunk deep into the bank.
Not wanting to follow me, but having no choice as the mudflats were quickly disappearing, my colleagues began crossing. The taller of the group made it look easy and the water skimmed their knees. We began to cheer each other on as more members crossed unsteadily. The saltwater was cold, and the slimy mud was difficult to balance on.
The river was expanding at an alarming rate, and only half the team were safe. To encourage those who had not yet taken the plunge, we formed a chain to get the most precious belongings across safely. Cameras, handbags, formerly white coats, and of course, our Blackberry phones.
Finally, we were all across. I was relieved that I didn’t have to call the coastguard or worse, explain to our director that I’d lost a few of his employees. Even though we were all dripping wet and shivering with cold, there was a sense of excitement and camaraderie. Then one of my Italian coworkers realised he had kept both his phones in his pockets.
I was never allowed to organise a social event again.