There are basking sharks in the upper layers of the water – prehistoric things, nightmare-mouthed and harmless. Plankton-eaters, the way all seeming monsters are. They fill the coastal waters in the summertime, rising up to trawl the krill blooms. Puckered with barnacles, blasé as window-shoppers, they can grow over a lifetime to twenty feet in length.
There are warning flags along the wrack line: sharks – swim at your own risk. The threat is actually minimal, basking sharks being liable to give you little more than a bump on the knee, but the effect of the signs is still an odd one. There are no barriers, the water is open, creating the sense of a curiously lackadaisical approach to public safety. Danger, but do what you want, we’re not the police.
Around the rock pools, paddleboarders nudge the backs of sharks with oars and suffer no retaliation. Mackerel fishers follow the oily cut of dorsal fins, heading home with lockboxes full of tiddlers, waxing mythical about the one that got away. Tall tales abound, swimmers reimagine close calls and teeth where none existed. A story that seems to crop up every year sees a woman snorkelling for sea glass swimming right down into the open mouth of a basker, where she has a good look at the contents of its stomach before coming out again, unscathed. Ridiculous, of course, but in truth about as likely as anything else.
On the beach, Alice turns the truck at the wooden groyne which marks the end of the so-called pleasure section and idles the engine, considering the view. The afternoon has been bad, toothy with chill, no one buying much.
‘Six Fabs and a Mint Cornetto,’ Min recites, checking seven items off on her fingers. ‘Slim pickings, Captain.’
‘It’s the weather,’ Alice replies, gesturing at the window to encompass the wanness of the day. ‘Who wants an ice cream in a funk like this?’
The afternoon is only an attempt at itself – fretful greyness, minnow stink of gutweed. Overhead, the vulture wheel of hunting gulls, a white-lipped, murderous sky. At the wheel, Alice squints towards the headland, the tidal band of beached sargassum running out before her like the rising of some long-backed creature from the sand. In the back, perched on some stacked boxes of Cadbury Flakes, Min kicks her leg reflexively against the wall. ‘Bummer,’ she nods, pulling a serious face but snorting when Alice glances back at her. ‘Bummerama. What are you staring at? Don’t act like you’re not impressed by my urban vernacular.’
‘You talk such shit.’
Alice finds she says this a lot, usually while smiling. Min laughs. Lit by the neon glow of the Polar slush machine, she is like something pulled from ice. Alice can imagine her, defrosted and on show in a museum – an artefact preserved for history, academics pointing to the places on her body where the cold has marked her, the diamond stud in her nose.
‘That girl is headed nowhere,’ Alice’s mother likes to say. Going over the house with a Hoover after Min leaves, ‘I don’t know why she has to be here every hour of the day.’
Her objections are routine: Min’s tacky nylon glamour, the street where she lives, the father who won’t get out of bed. Her hair is bleach-fried, wilting in natural light. In the presence of Alice’s mother, she has a nervous habit of fluffing it out like a mammal inflating its fur.
‘You’re such a clever girl,’ Alice’s mother will say whenever Min has just departed. ‘Can’t you find a cleverer sort of friend?’
At school Alice is streamed into all the hardest sets, and it seems that the friendships she is expected to cultivate are also the hardest and dullest, the ones that come with the most supplementary work. Last year, she had been involved in a punishing sort of best-friendship with a girl named Pam who had won several prizes for debating, and talked droningly about their relationship as though they were husband and wife. They had spent their Friday evenings locked in a revolve of interminable sleepovers, Pam insisting they watched movies of her choice and then talking over them. If Pam stayed over at Alice’s, she would mention all the things it was a shame they couldn’t do that evening: it was a shame Alice didn’t have Sky or a real computer, it was a shame Alice’s mother only made normal toast, unlike Pam’s mother, who made it French. By the end of term, Alice had started hanging around with Min after art class, and it was only via a protracted period of passive cruelty that Pam, waiting doggedly for Alice outside the science laboratories or at the back gates at four o’clock, had finally been shaken off. These days, Alice only sees her occasionally, hanging around with another girl named Karen, who is apparently a big deal in choir.
In the back of the truck, Min pushes herself upright, clambering forwards over the gearstick and into the passenger seat, giving Alice a chuck to the head as she goes. Her silver hair is straggled back into a ponytail, acid bunch behind her ears.
‘Cut our losses, I would,’ she says, chewing gum and planting her feet on the dashboard. ‘Take her on a victory lap and then get out of here.’
‘Victory how?’ Alice grumbles. ‘Six Fabs and a Mint Cornetto does not a victory make.’
‘Cheer up, honey pie,’ Min rubs her hands vigorously on her polyester shorts before leaning over to touch Alice’s cheek. A jolt of electricity. ‘Magic finger.’ Min laughs and Alice wriggles away from her, jerking the clutch into first.
The music starts automatically, the ice-cream jingle, ‘Que Sera Sera’ on imitation chimes. Gulls scatter as the truck eases forwards, trundling towards higher ground. The tourists, for the most part, tend to keep to the safety of the dunes, bracketed behind canvas windbreakers, hunkered grimly over sandwiches and picking sand from the spines of overambitious holiday books. Every year, the coastguard finds on average six copies of Anna Karenina abandoned on the flats between April and high summer. The council has plans for a small exhibition.
Alice aims the truck inland, a crunching movement rumbling through the fabric of her skirt. Plastic cups and discarded tennis balls everywhere, cigarette butts stamped down and forming shapes like lugworm burrows in the sand. Manoeuvring up towards the dunes, Alice notes a bright scrim of shiny paper – a crumpled Fab wrapper – and feels momentarily guilty. The back doors of the truck are panelled with warning signs, painted on by Min’s uncle in thick black bitumen: litter makes the future bitter; keep it nice, don’t drop your ice.
Wondering whether she ought to stop and scoop up the wrapper, Alice glances at Min, only to find her bunching up her chewing gum in a paper napkin, preparing to throw it out of the window.
‘Oh, don’t,’ Alice says, regretting it almost immediately – the mumsy tone. Min raises an eyebrow at her, though she does withdraw her hand from the open window, throwing the napkin instead in the cupholder beside the gearstick.
‘Fair enough,’ she nods, and while her tone is light Alice feels she can detect the faintest note of mockery. ‘Mustn’t be bitter with my litter.’
It can be like this, sometimes. A sudden quirk of the lip. Alice biting back the wrong words. Sitting together in History, passing notes until Alice writes something stupid or uncool, underlines the wrong thing, and Min crumples the note in her fist.
‘Fair enough’, this stock phrase, its cringing detachment. The sudden removal of camaraderie and Alice clawing after it.
Alice opens her mouth to speak, but Min is now gesturing ahead to a group of teenaged boys who have wandered down from the slate flats that border the bank of seagrass. They are flagging down the truck. ‘Thank fuck,’ she exclaims. ‘Passing trade. Pull up.’
Alice squints through the windscreen. The boys are their age or a little older. Of the group, three are in swimming trunks and two in wetsuits, all of them clutching preposterously at surfboards which collide as they approach the truck. The sea is still as pondwater.
‘What are they going to do,’ Alice grumbles as she brings the truck to a standstill. ‘Build a fort with those things?’
‘Who cares?’ Min is already clambering back over the gearstick into the back section, sliding up the serving window and leaning almost all the way out. ‘Well, aren’t you boys a sight for sore eyes?’
The boys cluster like geese. One of them, wet-lipped with a tongue piercing, asks Min what she’s doing selling ice cream on such a chilly day. What’s a nice girl like you doing in a truck like this. Min’s reply comes out static with the same electricity she discharged against Alice’s cheek.
‘Well, what are you doing buying ice cream on such a chilly day?’
Over her shoulder, Alice sees her friend as though beheaded; green shorts and a silver thread in her sweater, leaning elbows on the serving ledge, resting her chest on her folded hands. Her legs are coarse as soap and chicken-skinned with a two-day growth of hair. At the back of one knee she has a small tattoo, a Russian doll with its top removed and another, smaller face peeking out. Alice was with her when she got it, held her hand and watched the anxious sweat soak into the back of her T-shirt. I contain multitudes – the tattoo seems to say – or at least five or six. Afterwards, the two of them had gone for burgers, Min with her bandaged leg elevated and her foot on Alice’s knee. Smearing ketchup, sharing a lemonade, Min leaning over to lick a daub of mustard off Alice’s wrist. They had wandered up to the arcade at the end of the pier and Alice had spent all her money buying them games on the Mortal Kombat machine until Min had decided she was sick of playing because none of the female characters ever won.
Alice doesn’t realise she is scowling until she catches her expression in the rear-view mirror. The boy with the tongue piercing is talking, brassy glint of unprecious metal, and Min’s laugh is the same upside-down thing it always seems. He is asking whether the truck belongs to her and she is weaving him a series of stories: her family inheritance; driven it from one end of this country to the other; the things you see from a serving hatch, you wouldn’t believe.
‘She can’t drive,’ Alice wants to call over her shoulder. ‘Her uncle did his knee in playing five-a-side and she’s roped me into driving his truck because I passed my test.’
‘Because she knew I’d have nothing better to do,’ she also wants to call over her shoulder.
‘I don’t know what I want,’ the boy with the tongue piercing is saying now, in a voice which fairly communicates that what he wants is probably not included on the menu. The serving side of the truck is panelled with pictured offerings in frantic technicolor; Zooms and Magnums and Soleros, pre-packaged ice-cream sandwiches on which Alice has experimented, leaving them out on paper plates for hours, coming back slightly disconcerted to find that they have failed to melt.
At the window, Min hangs even more precariously outwards, shifting sideways in a way which suggests she might be pointing at some item on the menu.
‘Take your pick – little bit of what you fancy,’ she says in her Mae West leer.
‘How about you surprise me,’ the tongue-pierced boy replies, and his friends chortle in a weird tandem. There is a sudden, queasy rocking of the truck, as though several people have leant up against it at once.
‘Earl Grey and sardine ice cream it is,’ Min replies, and Alice grins despite herself. It is a sleepover game they play, dreaming up the most disgusting of possible flavour combinations: lemon curd and spare ribs, duck and Parma Violets, tinned pilchards and strawberry jam. A strange pretence at early teenhood, despite the fact that they are both nearly eighteen – nights spent sleeping top to tail in Alice’s bedroom and playing stupid games, inking outlines of the constellations on one another’s arms in biro, tweezing eyebrows and talking on and on about kissing, Min’s little moonstone teeth in the dark.
At the serving hatch, Min hooks one bony ankle over the other and Alice wills her to retract her head and wink at her, give some sign that they still share ownership of the joke she has just hurled unthinkingly away from them. But Min remains where she is and the joke sails away over the head of the boy whose fingers now appear on the edge of the hatch.
‘Whatever sounds good to you,’ he says. ‘What’s your name, anyway?’
Min draws back a little, though only to open up the chest freezer and root around inside.
‘You’re sweet, Minerva.’
Min snorts, kicking back one leg as though the knee has just been swiped out from under her.
‘Nah, you’re just all hot at the thought of ice cream.’
She hands something over – bright red wrapper – and there is a renewed sound of butting surfboards.
‘What’s this?’ the boy with the tongue piercing asks, an anticipatory tone which has no business being used for ice cream.
‘Your heart’s desire.’
‘Good going for two quid, yeah?’
Alice has no enthusiasm for boys, except as they appear in the abstract – the fictional approximations that people the books she reads, appealing only in silhouette and with the meat cut out of their middles. In reality, boys appear to her like plane trees in a photograph, sudden and ugly and always just in the centre of things, giving idiotic answers in class and telling boring stories about how drunk they got the night before. Exactly where this distaste springs from is unclear to her. She isn’t gay – she’s pretty sure. She’s tested it, stared at the women in her brother’s magazines. In truth, it is something she thinks about only seldom, usually as an afterthought to the late-night recollection of old humiliations – the time Toby Waters had been moved next to her as punishment for talking in English class and had told everybody afterwards that she smelled; the time she announced to a group of friends that her favourite character in Grease was Marty when everyone else was saying Danny; the way a girl in sixth form had once looked her over and told her, apropos of nothing, that she had a straight girl’s way of doing her hair.
She has only been kissed once, by the stock boy at the cafe where she worked for most of the previous summer; a nineteen-year-old with a shining ham of a face, who ate egg-salad sandwiches on his lunch breaks and sweated dark crescents into the armpits of his shirts. He had trapped her on the galley steps that led down to the meat freezer one day when she was running back to fetch something, bracketing her head against the wall and telling her how cute she was. His smell like egg and perspiration, soft sour note of Glacier Mints and his teeth too big and scraping against her own. She had let him do it, and afterwards slid into the meat freezer and stood there wondering what it was she had come to fetch.
Min likes boys, although always the wrong ones, too loud, bad-smelling or encumbered with long-term girlfriends. She is the kind of girl stitched together by brief liaisons – ‘Bad-news girl,’ Alice’s mother says in her hands-up church voice, ‘shakes herself out like sheets.’ In the wind-down days of the summer term just gone, Min had dragged Alice out almost every weekend to a seafront bar bizarrely named the Credenza, where they had flashed their fake IDs at an indifferent bouncer and danced until Min found a boy to kiss. On the dance floor, a chalk-smeared stretch of glittering malachite, they would shimmy to nineties music, Min’s hair lit up like a chemical spill by the disco lights. Most of the time the boys came easily, sloping over the way one approaches a dangerous dog, wary but still irrationally keen to touch. Occasionally, when the music was sluggish and the attention not forthcoming, Min would loop her arms around Alice’s shoulders and angle down through her hips, winking solemnly as she did so, a complicit little change of rhythm. This never failed. The boys were usually ones they knew from school, although sometimes there were tourists or boys from inland towns down for the weekend surf. Min would disappear with whoever approached first for half an hour to forty-five minutes, emerging always smeared and alone to find Alice drinking fizzy water, grabbing her hand and demanding that they leave. She would give these boys a phone number when they asked for it, though it would always be Alice’s number rather than her own.
‘It’s like you’re my protector,’ she would say, after Alice had spent another Saturday morning fending off calls from boys with names like Gus and Sam and Timbo, ‘fighting off the vagabonds who would do me wrong.’
By the end of term, Alice had perfected a fair approximation of Min’s voice, brushing off the boys who called her up less delicately than she would care to admit. It was a kiss – move on. I have herpes. I’m in love with the girl you saw me dancing with before.
At the serving hatch, Min is handing out Cornettos in a wide circle; clattering of surfboards like a racket of seagulls being fed.
‘Calm down,’ she says, clearly enjoying herself, ‘plenty to go round.’
‘Animals,’ the boy with the tongue piercing agrees, prompting a grumble of insult from his companions. ‘Grabbing at a girl like that.’
‘Grabbing I can handle,’ Min replies, and Alice finds herself rolling her eyes. The dispiriting sight of herself in the rear-view mirror, bad-tempered and raw with acne. She has never been very keen on the thought of herself as other people see her. The small lapine eyes, too far apart by several inches, the angry skin and colourless hair. Min likes to say she has a Georgian look to her, cutting black dots and stars out of sticky paper and patching her face with them. There you go, blemish-free and oh-so-stylish.
‘Who else’ve you got back there?’
The question is sudden, the boy with the tongue piercing bracing his fingers against the serving hatch as though about to climb inside. Min glances back at Alice.
‘Just my friend.’
‘Just your friend?’
‘Just my friend Alice.’
‘Is Alice as sweet as you?’
A laugh. A boy comes round to the passenger-side window, pressing his face to the glass. Another boy joining him, and another. Gawping aquarium faces. Alice hooks her legs under her and looks over her shoulder at Min, who has turned back to the hatch.
‘No, not as sweet as me.’
The boy with the tongue piercing laughs.
‘So it’s Sweet Mol –’
‘Sweet Minerva and Savoury Alice.’
‘That’s what they call us.’
The day is darkening, growing soft about its edges. A rise in the wind has resulted in a minor improvement of the water, the waves now rolling at a choppy half-speed that has surfers picking their uncertain way down from the dunes. The boys around the truck seem collectively to notice this, sudden loosened pressure as they peel back from the windows to stare out to sea. A minor commotion. One of them has knocked against another and dropped his Cornetto. From the back of the truck, Min gives a high little laugh, but the attention trained on her moments before is distracted.
The boys are suddenly fractious, eager to be off. The one with the tongue piercing pulls his fingers from the hatch and Alice twists in her seat.
‘He hasn’t paid,’ she says, not quite knowing if she means him to hear her. Min springs forwards through the hatch again.
‘Wait a minute, this isn’t a free dispensary – that’s fifteen quid in total, thank you very much!’ Her tone is irritatingly sweet, and the nonchalant reply only makes it worse.
‘No money – nowhere to keep it in this get-up.’
Min retracts her head, white hair bristling at the nape of her neck, and Alice briefly envisages herself muscling up from the driver’s seat and demanding the money.
‘Tell you what though,’ the boy with the tongue piercing continues, ‘once we’re done on the water we’re going to get cleaned up and go into town. I’ll have money then.’
‘Not a lot of use to me now, is it?’
‘No but it’ll keep until I buy you a drink.’
The wind is coming in from the headland, pushing the ocean current sideways. Along the beach, Alice can see little tumbleweeds of silt and litter being blown across the sands, as though the beach has been tipped upwards at one corner and is leaking to the left. This gradual slip is one that has been going on for some years, a perpendicular drift of sediment caused by the swash and backwash of water on the beach. The wooden groynes that punctate the sands were set up only recently as a defence against this redistribution, though every year it still seems that a little more of the beach trickles gently off the surface of the map.
The boys move off in a pack, handprint smears of ice cream visible at the edges of their surfboards. Behind her, Alice hears Min slide the serving hatch shut. She puts the truck into gear without thinking about it and jerks the vehicle forwards, and Min stumbles against the freezer as she does.
The red flags along the wrack line beat out as if in semaphore, furling and unfurling in the breeze. Alice idles the van, waiting for Min to clamber up into the passenger seat, which she does with another chuck to Alice’s chin. ‘Safety first, Captain,’ she says, ostentatiously drawing her seat belt across and grinning. She is happy again, though Alice’s mood has darkened.
A hard sugar smell of freezer burn – dark smell, sweetness on the turn. Min kicks her feet up onto the dashboard and Alice finds herself irritated by her peeling toenail polish.
She looks at Min’s arm, where the boy with the tongue piercing has scrawled a phone number. She wonders how he could have had a pen on him and claim to have nowhere to keep his change.
‘He didn’t pay,’ she says again, squinting unnecessarily out of the front windscreen as she moves the truck forwards, as though trying to see her way through fog. The automatic chimes have started up again with the motion of the engine; ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ this time.
Min takes up the ball of paper in which she had previously wadded her gum and drops it out of the open window.
‘We’ll get it back.’
‘What, when we go for a drink?’
Min leans her head forwards, fluffs out her hair.
‘Pretty sure it was just you he was inviting.’
‘Oh, Alice,’ Min sighs, a voice that affects a weary maternal timbre; Alice’s mother telling her to for God’s sake stop picking her spots. You’re only making it worse. ‘If that’s what you want to believe then I really can’t help you. People don’t issue exclusive invitations to drinks. He didn’t call me up to the country club. Come or don’t come, I don’t know. Whatever you like. No one’s going to care.’
The day is collapsing, soft deflation in the surface of the sky. Along the dunes, most of the tourists who have not already scuttled down to the sea are packing themselves away, hauling windbreakers inwards like sails to be stowed, throwing up the crusts of white-bread sandwiches to be caught mid-air by gulls.
‘Best pack it in now, anyway,’ Min is saying, and Alice finds herself scowling despite the logic of the statement. The ice-cream jingle has taken on a slightly unsettling tone with the threat of worsening weather – an eerie juxtaposition, the way wind chimes acquire a warning quality before a storm.
‘Six Fabs and a Mint Cornetto.’ Alice shrugs one shoulder, aiming the truck back up towards the concrete strip that leads into the upper car park. ‘Your uncle’s truck, your uncle’s takings, not mine.’
‘And fifteen quid’s worth of ice cream just then!’
‘Yes, well to my unique powers of salesmanship!’
‘Yes, well, all big business is run on the strength of IOUs.’
‘All right, crabby.’ Min leans back against the window, grinning slightly and moving one foot from the dashboard to prod at Alice’s arm. Alice shrugs her off but Min persists, giggling as she moves her foot to again prod Alice’s elbow, moving up in increments to tickle her shoulder, then her ear.
‘Stop it,’ Alice snaps without really expecting to, slapping at Min’s foot until she removes it, her smile fading.
‘Fair enough,’ she shrugs, sitting back and slinking her feet beneath her.
Along the dunes that teeter from the upper car park, a blanket of glasswort creeps down towards the path. It is a samphire, of sorts, a prickled matting plant that grows in saline conditions and can, if burnt, yield soda and potash. Min’s mother, on good days, sends her out to pull up handfuls of the stuff which she pickles in malted vinegar or renders into squat little soaps. These, in turn, she sells on Saturdays at coastal marketplaces, enlisting Min to lug them to and from the car, or to accost strangers and use her tight, acidic influence to persuade them to a purchase. Alice has accompanied Min once or twice on her harvesting trips, pulling up the sharp little branches more or less solo as Min sits higher up the flats and complains about her parents. ‘Let her get an assistant,’ she’ll say, watching Alice pulling weeds with little sense of irony. ‘Let him get out of bed every once in a while and help her. What am I doing all this for, hey?’
They had come down, once, at the very start of summer, tipsy after Min had got them forcibly ejected from the Credenza for yanking a bottle of Grolsch from behind the bar. They had managed to get away with the bottle and had skidded down the dunes in unsuitable shoes to drink it lying in the glasswort, each complaining at the spiny leaves creeping up beneath their skirts. Min, blue-lipsticked in a bluer twilight, had rambled on about a boy at the club who had ignored her, despite the fact that only two days previously she had allowed him to finger her behind the Hope and Anchor way out along the pier. Lying slightly sideways, Alice had stared down at the wooden groyne stretching out towards the water and had registered a curious sensation of slippage, a drifting down of all the bits and pieces of her body like a sloughing off of sand. Beside her, Min had smelled of beer and peanut brittle, a squeeze of Dior Poison from the big bottle Alice knew her mother kept in her desk.
‘Next week I’ll take you to a proper club,’ Min had said – something she was always saying. ‘We’ll go somewhere where the men are adults. I’ll buy you a martini in a proper glass.’
Her teeth had been unnaturally white, like pieces of the moon, and Alice had rolled her shoulders and said nothing.
‘I will,’ Min had said, apparently goaded by her silence. ‘We’ll do all sort of things this summer. Find you a boy for once. World’s our oyster.’
She had caught Alice’s wrist between her fingers in the casual, trickling way she liked to touch – slotting her arms around Alice’s neck or looping fingers over fingers, jewellery gestures, beading and bangling and always too loose.
‘World’s our oyster,’ she had repeated, and her lips had been electric blue and too bizarre to kiss.
Min had dragged her down to the water that night, Alice’s wrist still shackled between finger and thumb as they bolted down beyond the wrack line. At the edge of the water, Min kicked off her shoes but pulled Alice in without waiting for her to remove her own. She had lost them almost immediately, carried off with the first white heave of water the way so many things seemed subject to this endless sideways shift. In the dark the warning flags were grey, the clouds glassy and colour-blind. They had aimed for the headland, kicking, an unobtrusive blackened current. Alice had ducked her head and let her body rise, held up by clothes that tentacled around her ankles as Min dragged her further out.
There were sharks in the shallows – baskers, harmless. A few hundred feet from the shore, Alice had felt Min’s fingers release her and, grasping after her, had tipped her head beneath the water, caught her legs in the tangle of her dress and very suddenly sunk. Alice had found one there, only feet beneath her. They are vast things, baskers, whale-mouthed – filtering their food through a cavernous yawn of jaw not unlike the drum of a washing machine. A wave passing over her head, Alice had sunk further than expected, scrambling with the sudden weight of her clothes as the shark filled her frame of vision. The great mouth had seemed toothless, ribbed with bone, a mouth that she momentarily looked down, feeling briefly convinced, in her drowning confusion, that she could see everything from its guts and gullet to the small internal secret of its heart. The shark, for its part, had seemed unbothered by her presence, only tilting slightly to avoid her as she struggled, bumping by her the way one small boat might pass another in the night. Twisting sideways and thrashing her legs away from her dress, she briefly panicked, until a hand again enclosed her wrist and dragged her upwards, Min laughing in her face as she crested the surface, flinging arms in blind confusion round her neck.
‘I thought you’d gone,’ Alice had choked, and Min only rolled her eyes, treading water, her hair a glowstick crackle in the dark.
‘Where would I go?’ Min had deadpanned. ‘Pubs’ll be shut by now.’
Beneath her, Alice had felt the bump of fins beneath her feet and drew her legs up, briefly allowing Min to keep them both afloat. Some way off, before the shadow of the headland, the pier, ghostly in the way that all piers are, shimmered unobtrusively in sea-light.
Photograph © Alex Mustard