The Biggest Sandcastle in the World by Paul Thain

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BBC Radio Giles Cooper Best Play Award 1981

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must not be Performed or Copied without the Author’s prior consent


Waves break, seagulls mew; dogs bark and in the distance we hear the sound of children playing

A cold wind blows

Fade back to the afternoon interior of a Tyneside Workingmenís Club

JIMMY .        (putting down his glass) Did I ever tell you about the most marvellous day of me life ? 

TOMMY. Naw ?

JIMMY. Iím being serious, now.

ARCHIE.  This should be good.

JIMMY. Aye, it is.  It was the first time I went on the ferry Ö

TOMMY. The ferry ?

JIMMY. The old ferry, not the fancy new one.  It was when I was a bairn, I mustíve been about five or six.  Me Mam was taking me to Whitley Bay, you see Ö Oh, it was bloody marvellous Ö

TOMMY. I like Whitley Bay.

JIMMY. Not Whitley Bay, man, the ferry. Iíd get meself lifted up soís I could look down into the engine-room.  All smoke and steam, it was Ö (chuckling) Ö I used to think it was on fire and that weíd all droon.  Anyroad, there was these two blokes down there, stripped to the waist, shovelling coal by the ton.  I tell you - the sweat of those two men would shove that ferry from one side of the Tyne to the other, mebbe a dozen times a shift.  But the engine itself - why man, Iíd never seen anything so powerful Ö


TOMMY. Havenít been to Whitely Bay for years.

ARCHIE. Is that it then ?

JIMMY. What ?

ARCHIE. Your story Ö

JIMMY. That was just the beginning, that was.  You see, after weíd had our fish n chips, we went and sat on the beach.  But the thing was, they were having this sandcastle building competition.  So while me Mam was having a quiet sleep, I got crackiní with me bucket aní spade.  Aní when I finished Ö why man, you shouldíve seen it - was I proud !

TOMMY. Did you win ?

JIMMY. Win what ?

TOMMY. The competition.  For your sandcastle.

JIMMY. Naw.  I was very nearly highly recommended, mind. 

ARCHIE. Oh aye ?

JIMMY. If it hadnít been for that dog peeing on me turret just before the judge arrived. Still, didnít matter, it was more the sense of achievement, you know ?

ARCHIE. Aye, I do.

TOMMY. Happy days, eh ?

JIMMY. (wistfully)  Aye.  Aye well, my round, I think.

ARCHIE. Save your money, man.

JIMMY. Whatís it for if not to spend ?

TOMMY. That redundancy moneyíll not last forever.

JIMMY. Iíll worry about that when it happens.  (standing)  Same again, is it ?

ARCHIE. Just hold your horses, man - weíve all afternoon yet.  You canít just sit and get half-cut everyday, Jimmy Ö

TOMMY. Archieís right.

JIMMY. Who asked you ?

ARCHIE. Surely there must be something more constructive than -

JIMMY. Like what ?  Like looking for a job ?

ARCHIE. Iím not talking about that.

JIMMY. The only constructive thing I want is a job.

ARCHIE (sighing)  How old are you, Jimmy ?

JIMMY. Fifty-one, just gone

ARCHIE. So face facts, man - none of sitting hereís likely to work again.

JIMMY. You never know - a mate oíTommyís got a start just the other week. 
Aní he was nearly as old as me. That right, Tommy ?

TOMMY. Aye, but he was skilled.

ARCHIE.  You see, Jimmy ...  there’s just no demand for plain muscle these days.  Not that you’ve got a lot of that left.

JIMMY.  Oh, you think, d’you?  Well, there’s still a good day’s work left in me Archie, make no mistake aboot that.  I could show you a thing or two, I could ...

ARCHIE.  You reckon, d’you?

JIMMY.  I do. 

ARCHIE. Well now Ö

JIMMY. Not much chance of putting it to the test though, is there?

ARCHIE.  Oh, I don’t know ... just ‘cos you’re not bein’ paid, doesn’t mean it’s not work.

TOMMY.  Watch it, Jimmy ... he’ll be havin’ you diggin’ his garden !

ARCHIE.  No, no ... Jimmy’s given me a far better idea than that.

JIMMY. Have I ?

ARCHIE. Yes, Jimmy, you have - not so much a competition ... more of a challenge.


Fade up kitchen sounds.  It is a few hours later.  There is a clatter of dishes.  ARCHIE is be]ping his wife, BETTY, with the washing-up.

BETTY.  You’re going ‘t’do what?

ARCHIE.  How many more times ... ?

BETTY.  You must be goin’ daft, or somethin’ . . .

ARCHIE.  Mebbe.

BETTY.  But, Archie ... you’re a grown man ... sandcastles is for bairns.

ARCHIE.  Not the one we’re going tíbuild,  it’ll be the greatest sandcastle you’ve ever seen.  The size of a hoose ... bigger even ...

BETTY.  Listen pet, I know how bored an’. . . an’. . . depressed you’ve been gettiní . . . but, well… don’t you think you should have a word wi’ Doctor Mallard ? He’s got some tablets that cheer you up.

ARCHIE.  I don’t want any bloody tablets.

BETTY.  Only Peggy was saying just the other day, her Brianís got some ... and the’ seem t’ work wonders.  He’s champion now - just sits quietly in his garden all day.

ARCHIE.  You can save your breath.  Me mind’s made up.  Don’t you see, love?  Iíve just got to have somethin’ to occupy meself.

BETTY.  I know you have, pet, and I know Iím always goin’ on about you findin’ an interest, but -

ARCHIE.  Betty, I know it seems -

BETTY.  But what’re people going t’ think ?

ARCHIE.  They can think what they like ... if a grown man can spend half his day chuckiní darts or watchin’ football, I don’t see what can be so potty aboot buildin’ a sandcastle.

BETTY.  Hmph!

A final crash of a plate.  Fade sound effects

Fade in the sounds of the beach.  It is early the following morning. Waves crash restlessly; a solitary gull cries in the distance.

ARCHIE.  Right, Jimmy.

JIMMY.  Shouldn’t we wait for Tommy?

ARCHIE.  Naw ... it’s too cold to hang aboot.  I want t’ get crackin’ .

JIMMY.  So ... how do we start?

ARCHIE.  Why, first we’ll mark oot a full-scale plan, like the architects do.  Leave your bucket wi’ me and d’you see that rock yonder ... ?

JIMMY.  Only just.

ARCHIE.  Aye, well ... walk towards it, an’ cut a line.  A straight line, mind with your spade ... I’ll tell you when t’stop.  Go on, then.

JIMMY.  What aboot the tide?  You sure we’re far enough up?

ARCHIE.  Course I am, just mind your line.

Throughout the following, JIMMY is moving further and further off, marking a line in the sand with a spade

JIMMY.  Well as long as you’re sure, only I can remember waves comin’ right up to the cliffs ...

ARCHIE . Only once in a blue moon.  That’s right, mind you keep it straight ...

JIMMY (off).  You know, our lass thinks Iím crackers ...

ARCHIE.  Aye ... mine too ...

JIMMY (off).  I reckon Tommy mightíve had second thoughts ...

ARCHIE.  He’ll turn up.  Got nowt else t’do, has he?

JIMMY (off).  Here.  How much further?

ARCHIE.  Till I tell you.

JIMMY (off).  Bloody hell, Archie Ö itís going to take up half the beach !

ARCHIE.  That’s the idea.  Right - you can stop there. Now turn a right-angle.

JIMMY (off).  You what?

ARCHIE.  A right angle. No, no the other way .. Good, now, I’ll cut a line with you, parallel like.  Just see you keep it straight - we don’t want a crooked perimeter.

JIMMY.  (marking a line in the sand with his spade.)  Heaven forbid.

ARCHIE.  This is where the battlements are goin’ t’go, you see ... with a turret at each corner.

JIMMY (off).  Right, Iím with you.

ARCHIE.  We’ll make the walls wi’the sand w’dig from the moat.  If we dig deep enough, the sand should be nice an’ damp, so’s w’ can shape it better ...

JIMMY (off) .... shape it ? What ?  Like sculpture ?

ARCHIE.  Nothing too fancy, mind ... but w’ can learn as w’ go along.

JIMMY (off).  Got it all worked oot, haven’t you?

ARCHIE.  Why, just the basic idea ... once weíve done the battlements, we’ll have ourselves a canny size courtyard, with a keep in the middle ...

JIMMY (off).  A what?

ARCHIE.  A keep.  Where the baron would live.

JIMMY (off).  Oh, I see.  I say, Archie ... ?

ARCHIE.  What now ?  Watch your line, man.

JIMMY (off).  Iím tryin’, Iím tryin’. . . What was I sayin’ now?  Oh, aye ... I don’t suppose w’ could get into any trouble for this?

ARCHIE.  What?  For building a sandcastle ?

JIMMY (off).  Aye, I know it’s a sandcastle, but it isn’t goin’ to be just any -

ARCHIE. Diven’t worry, man. (He stops the line.) Right.  That’ll do. Stop there.  Now run another right angle -

JIMMY. Oh, not another one!

ARCHIE. - soís you can meet up wi’me.

JIMMY (approaching as he cuts his line)  Here, there’s Tommy now.

ARCHIE.  Told you he’d turn up, didn’t I ? Careful wi’ that spade.  You’re goin’ a bit wonky ...

TOMMY approaches across the sand.

TOMMY.  Lovely morning’. , . Bit nippy, mind.

ARCHIE.  Bit o’ work’ll soon cure you o’ that.

JIMMY (closer) Mind where you’re standin’, Tommy.  That’s our perimeter.  For the battlements.

TOMMY.  Oh. . . sorry ...

ARCHIE.  Sleep in, did you?

TOMMY.  Naw , I didn’t as it happens, that’s where you’re wrong.  Iíve been doon t’ the library.

ARCHIE.  Oh, aye?

JIMMY.  Can’t you afford your own newspaper, then?

TOMMY. No need for sarcasm, Jimmy.  Just so happens I was doin’ some . . . er ... research . . .

ARCHIE.  Research?

TOMMY.  On sandcastles.  You know - the best way to go aboot it ...

ARCHIE ... And ?

TOMMY.  Well, bit disappointin’ really ... They didn’t seem to have much at all.  In fact, they had nothin’ . . .

ARCHIE.  You sound surprised.

TOMMY.  There was plenty on proper castles, mind.  You know ones made o’ stone.  But, nevertheless, they were very helpful. Nice young lass ... even looked up the Guinness Book O’ Records, but there was nowt there, either ...

JIMMY What?  Nothin ?  Nothin’ at all ?  You mean there’s no world record?

TOMMY.  Mustn’t be…

JIMMY But don’t you see ?  Can’t you see, Archie?  We could go doon in history. This is our chance, man - world record holders,  just think o’ that.

ARCHIE.  Aye well, don’t get too excited, Jimmy - we’ve hardly started yet. 

TOMMY. It’s goin’ t’ be a canny size, mind.

JIMMY.  It certainly is ... the Biggest in the World !

ARCHIE.  Right, you two - let’s see what sort o’ workers you really are ...

Fade sound effects.

Fade up beach sounds.  It is a few hours later.  The mechanical chomp of a spade slicing through sand is counterpointed by the natural rhythm of the waves.  Two small children approach

FRED).  What y’ doin’, mister?

ARCHIE.  An’ who might you be?

FRED.  Me name’s Fred.

ARCHIE.  Is it now?  An’ does your friend have a name, Fred?

FRED.  Her name’s Joyce.  An’ she’s not me friend, she’s me sister.

ARCHIE.  I see.  Can’t she be both?

JOYCE.  Why you diggin’ such a big hole, mister?

ARCHIE.  Can you keep a secret?

FRED.  Aye.

ARCHIE.  An’ what aboot you, Joyce?

FRED.  She can an’ all ...

ARCHIE.  Well, listen here, then - do you know what pirates are ?

FRED.    Aye ... ?

ARCHIE.  Well, we’re three o’ them.  And d’you see that man standin’ on top that geet big pile o’ sand ... ?

FRED.  Aye.

ARCHIE.  Well, they call him Peg-leg Jimmy.  You might have heard o’ him ... ?

FRED.  Naw ...

JOYCE.  Are you havin’ us on, mister?

ARCHIE.  It’s true I tell you.  Hey ... ! Peg-leg Jimmy !

JIMMY (distant)  You what ... ?

ARCHIE.  Aye you, you daft bugger.  Come an’ drag yourself ower here . . . The thing is, you see, he’s got such a terrible memory even forgets his name sometimes.  But worse than that ... he’s forgotten where he buried our treasure.  And that’s what we’re looking for.

JIMMY (approaching) What’s all this aboot then?

JOYCE.  Show us your leg, mister.


ARCHIE.  Oh he won’t show it to anyone ... bit embarrassed he is. Aren’t you?

JIMMY.  Archie, would you mind tellin’ me -

ARCHIE. Your peg-leg, man.  Where that crocodile bit you ...

JIMMY .... crocodile ?  Oh ... Oh, aye that ...

ARCHIE.  Told you he had a terrible memory, didn’t I ?

FRED.  Where’s your ship then?

ARCHIE.  Oh, we left that in the river in case we were followed.

TOMMY (distant) Hey you two ! Am I expected t’ do all this work on me own ?

ARCHIE.  Diven’t fret, man.  Why don’t you make yourself useful an’ pour the tea - flask’s in me bag.

FRED.  Here, mister ... can we help you look for the treasure ...

ARCHIE.  Oh, not here you can’t ... Tommy the Tartar ower there, he’s our Captain, you see . . . an’ he might get a bit upset. I’ll tell you what, though ... between you aní me - I reckon Peg-leg might’ve buried it over there, behind that rock . . .

JIMMY.  Oh, aye ... I certainly could have done ...

ARCHIE.  Don’t say we said anythin’, mind.

FRED.  We won’t.

Sound effects as the children move off

JIMMY. (calling). An’ don’t forget . . . if you find it, we’ll want a share ...

TOMMY (approaching with mugs of tea)  Here you are lads ... bit stewed, Iím afraid .

JIMMY.  Always is oot of a flask.

TOMMY.  So what did them bairns want?

JIMMY.  Archie told them we were pirates ... lookin’ for buried treasure

TOMMY Oh, aye ... ?

They all chuckle.  Pause.

JIMMY.  Why A don’t know aboot you two, but Iím feelin’ a bit knackered

ARCHIE.  Aw you soon get used to it again.

TOMMY.  I remember when I was labouring’ on the buildin’ sites.  You’d always be laid-off just before Christmas ... you know, for a few months till the weather got better.  But the first day back ... My God, it was awful, you’d ache all over ...

ARCHIE.  Aye ... and then you’d worry yourself half t’death wondering’ when the job would end.

TOMMY.  Aye.

JIMMY.  Archie ... ?


JIMMY.  I was thinkiní aboot this drawbridge ...

ARCHIE.  Aw ... Jimmy, man - itís hardly practical ...

JIMMY.  Naw, naw ... Let me have me piece ... I realise we can’t make it go up an’ doon ... but if we were t’ lay driftwood across the moat, we could cover it wi’ sand ... and then we could have the water runnin’ all the way round ... like a proper moat ...

TOMMY.  Aye, why not ?  Good idea, Jimmy - in fact, I think A saw some planks further up the beach ...

Four or five unemployed TEENAGERS approach, led by MICK and HARRY.  They chant.

TEENAGERS.  How-way the lads. (clap-clap) How-way the lads. (clap-clap)

MICK.  What y’doin’, Grandad ?  Diggin’ yourself a grave?

HARRY.  You’d better hurry - you don’t look as if you’ve got long left.

JIMMY. You cheeky young monkey ...

ARCHIE.  Leave him, Jimmy ... He’s only a kid ...

HARRY.  Old enough, mister, old enough.

ARCHIE.  Are you now ?  So why don’t you act it, then?  Show a bit o’ respect.

MICK. ... bit o’ respect ?  For what ?  Three dirty old tramps ... ?

TOMMY. Dirty old tramps !

JIMMY.  You watch your mouth or Iíll warm your lug for you !

TOMMY.  These happen t’ be oor workin’ clothes ...

MICK. Workin’ clothes ?  You hear that lads ? I think they must all be waitin’ for Guy Fawkes Night.

The TEENAGERS laugh.

TOMMY.  An I think you must be sick o’ livin’. . .

MICK.  Oh… threats, threats ...  You’re gettin’ us really scared.

HARRY.  We just want to know what you’re doin’, that’s all.

JIMMY.  We’re buildin’ a sandcastle, right ?

MICK. Sandcastle !

ARCHIE.  Right.  You’ve been told.  Now bugger off.

HARRY.  Building a sandcastle ... !

MICK.  Hey, man, they’re a bunch o’loonies, straight from the funny farm.

JIMMY.  Right.  That does it.

HARRY. Oh - watch him, Mick ... he’s turningí violent.  Goin’ all red aboot the face, he is, heíll have a heart-attack !


JIMMY. Heart-attack ? Iíll bloody show you ! 

MICK.  Come on then, Grandad - show us how you did it in the old days.  Oh ... the old left hook, is it?  Come on then, come on, Iím not -

The smack of a punch to the face

MICK.  Ö ah Ö That hurt!
JIMMY Good.  An’ there’s another one where that came from an’ all.
TOMMY. It’s not worth it, Jimmy.

JIMMY. Go on ... Get the hell away, while you still can.

MICK (moving off)  You’ll regret that, mister ... loonies, bloody loonies.  They ought t’ have you locked up !  Loonies !  Bloody loonies !

HARRY (moving off like a monkey) ... ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh . . .

The TEENAGERS all join in, ad libbing, they go.  Pause.

TOMMY (sighing)  I don’t know what gets into kids these days, I don’t.

ARCHIE.  I seem to remember you were a bit of a lad yourself, Tommy.

TOMMY.  Aye, I know - but not like that, Archie.  Things have changed, man - an’ certainly not for the better either.

ARCHIE.  Aye, mebbe.  But it’s not all their fault, is it?  I mean, they’ve just got nowt t’ do wi’ themselves, same as us, only it’s worse really. I mean, don’t you remember how you felt when you got your first pay packet?

TOMMY.  Vividly, I was heartbroken - me Mam took most of it !

ARCHIE.  Aye, aní quite right too, but it helped you feel grown-up, didn’t it?  Feel a bit important.  An’ that’s what them kids haven’t got.

JIMMY.  Aye, well ... We’ll not get finished bletherin’ all day ...

TOMMY.  That turret oí yours is lookin’ good, Jimmy.

JIMMY.  I seem to have a talent for it ... I thought I might get meself a block o’ marble ... an’ a nice young nude model ... (he laughs)

ARCHIE.  Get your missus t’ pose for you.

JIMMY.  Dear me Archie ... Iíd need an awful lot o’ marble - about ten ton!

They all laugh. 

Fade sound effects.

[end of extract]

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