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Scorched Britons jerk their bodies upright, shake sand from puckered skin and crane their eyes towards a fixed position in the centre of the sun. It is time to commence The Clap.

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Downy limbs caked with grit and hearts swollen with pride, each beached form is transformed into something greater. The applause, diffuse and arrhythmic, is indistinguishable from the sound of foam sucking lilos and tinnies into the vast and unconquerable ocean.

Underneath the white noise of salted palms come new instruments. Someone's brought pans to the beach especially and is smashing them together with patriotic abandon. Another is going hard at a baking tray with a sandal. An octogenarian, stood astride two donkeys with pizza pans strapped to each hand like orchestral symbols, surveys the scene like a general preparing for war against the sea.

Some are hesitant, crouched, alert, but slow to clap. Some internal friction stays their hands until critical mass is achieved and survival instincts kick in. Once you're going, it's soothing, a blistering white noise that washes away any remnants of guilt and fear.

After all, this is all permitted by their patron saint, a disgraced-but-still-employed political advisor who the beach clappers hate but would cite as their direct inspiration if challenged by the police.

But the police do not come, not because they've failed to spot thousands of the most audible people in the UK, but because it's implausible they could stop it. After all, these people number in the hundreds and have plausible excuses. The police aren't equipped for those kinds of scenarios. Only when there are thousands of people legally protesting the murder of black people can they be adequately deployed.

The pink noise dies and the final claps reverberate across the seafront and out into the spray. The gentle hiss of foam and the chimes of the arcades swell back into life. Some of the more enthusiastic clappers quickly glance over their shoulders, hoping there might be a nurse or a paramedic nearby waiting to thank them. There's no-one. Not a key worker in sight. Could they even hear the clap? Do they build hospitals near the beach? They must. For drownings.

The ritual fades away. The world is the same, but the clappers are transformed. Free from guilt, free from sin, free from the social obligations that might minimise the death count of a global pandemic.

Who now could question their loyalty to their carers, their NHS, their beloved Britannia?

Under the shade of the pier, a coughing semi-retired owner of a small roofing firm removes his union jack cap to fan himself. He finds it increasingly difficult to breathe.

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