Elsie, hooked her beach bag further onto her shoulder as she looked behind her "Come on now, not far to go now."

Amy and Nick followed closely behind, between them carrying the freezer box containing a whole range of homemade tasty treats, The eldest of her sons, Vincent brought up the rear with a bulky bag containing a windbreaker, a few beach games and a very spacious picnic mat, and all of them had their own backpack on their backs containing anything from towels and suncream and in the case of Elsie a well thumbed edition of a book known for the fullbodied, quirky and flawed characters of 'Cheriton Lane'.

They turned the corner and finally the beach came into full view. They made their way to the wide slope leading them onto a quiet beach. Despite the protests from her very vocal sons, she was determined to set out early and make the most of the day.

As they set up their base, of a wind breaker and beach mats, Nick piped up.. "What's Dad doing today?"

"You know Dads working. He would have been here otherwise."

"Yes Vince but doing what?" Nick said while making a face at his brother.

Elsie smiled at Amy as she answered. Hes helping set up the summer schools. Someone had to pull out at the last minute and they've asked your Dad to help. If it goes well then they may give him more work. Come on lets get this sorted and you and Amy can go and get a couple more spades. We'll need them later on.

Amy and Nick had come back with supplies, a pink marbled bucket and spade for Amy and a wooden and red plastic shovel for Nick, smiling as he proudly showed his mother his new purchase.

After a couple of chapters for Elsie and some dips in the sea for Vince, Nick and Amy, the four of them were sat round together eating their sausage rolls, and scotch eggs and a platter of other tasty treats. Elsie looked over at her charges, paused and began to share her ideas for the afternoon.

Nick, Amy and Vince would have an hour and a half to create not just a sandcastle but a sand structure. What is was of, did not matter and anything found on the beach could be used for decoration. Elsie offered round the sweet treat tin as they all began to think about what they were going to make.

With there being only 3 competitors they had to work alone, with some occasional help if needed.

And so the challenge began. Amy began with a trek around the beach and over to the rock pools. Her ideas were not set in stone and she hoped she would get some inspiration from the bits she could find from around her. There was a pile of shells that she found, of varying sizes and some that were broken but in to big enough pieces to fashion something interesting. Some ideas ran through her head.

Nick found a range of different items to would help him with his plan. His model idea popped straight into his head, it wouldn't take long to be ready to go.

Vince had found several pieces of drift wood that he wanted to make use of and collected a mass of seaweed that had interesting bumps and shapes. He surveyed the area deep in thought.

Elsie sat back and watched as Vince, Nick and Amy began work on their sand 'castles'. Elsie let out a warm giggle as she watched Nick thunder in to his patch and furiously began digging up the edge of his model, a steely look of determination in his eyes.

She called over to him "Slow down Nick! You've got plenty of time my darling."

Vince turned round to see his little brother, smiled and shook his head before getting back to work. Vince's method was much more controlled and he took his time in marking out his work. It wasn't going to be great in stature but the design he had in mind was intricate. Amy also took her time looking down at the ground infront of her and thinking through her design. She held one of the shells she had collected in her hand, smoothing her fingers over the bumps and ridges as she planned out what she was going to do.

Amy took a deep breath, placed the shell on the sand behind her and began to dig.

30 minutes in, and the competition was well underway. The body of Nicks dream car was really beginning to take shape, Vince had a very recognisable base of a octopus from the deep sea, and Amy stood back and admired the work she had done so far on her Fairy castle. She had built up a rectangular base and had started adding the towers using her brand new bucket. Elsie had decided that while the three of them were busy, she would wander out and do some paddling. Elsie walked into the sea till the waves reached the very bottom of her shorts and once she had righted herself she took a relaxing breath and stood watching the rhythms of the waves as they lapped back and forth against her legs. She loved to spend time with the kids and the beach was her favourite place to tak e them to in the summer. It would of course have been lovely to have her husband Roger with them too but they would simply have to come back when he wasn't working. 'Oh such a hardship.' She smiled.

Elsie treaded back towards their camp to see the three sand 'castles' taking shape. 10 minutes to go and even if Vince thought it was a juvenile exercise, (as she suspected), he was showing no signs of it. He was highly focused on putting the final touches to his model. Suddenly there was a high pitched wail that made anyone in the vicinity swerve their head to see what the problem was. All eyes were on Amy as she slid to her knees and tried to catch a falling tower. Elsie rushed over to help, but it was no good. Its was too late for the tower. Realising just how upset his friend was Nick wasted no time in coming over and letting Amy wrap his arms around her into a hug. Vince just looked over at the model and then crouching down inspecting the damage closely, he returned to his own model. He spread his legs wide, planting his feet firmly in the sand either side of his octopus, before leaning down and easing up the top layer of seaweed to add to the little amount he had left aside unused. Vince made his way back over and very delicately began to drape the seaweed over the tower, making sure to not only cover the damage, but also to create an artistic rippling effect. Amy turned round from Nicks arms to watch Vince now punctuating the edge of the seaweed, with several very small but beautiful pieces of shell. Once finished he then stood up and back, mentally evaluating his work.

Elsie smiled at the three of them, "Go on, you've got a few more minutes to finish them off, but don't rush!"

After making sure that they had all had enough time to complete their models, Elsie put on a very serious and almost stern expression and began to circle round each model in turn. She took time to look at all the little details and patterns and just how cleverly each found item was used. Silent and deep in thought, an outwards appearance of sternness, meanwhile internally grappling with indecision. How would she choose? She took another lap round the models and called the three of them over to sit with her on the mat. Looking over at three pairs of eyes watching her, she spoke.

"It's a draw."

There was a sigh and a shrug of shoulders from Nick.

"I know! But they are all so good. Nick your car, I would quite happily drive, Amy I loved your idea of your fairy castle, and Vince, not only did you create an amazing creature from the depths, but you also helped Amy too. I'm proud of you."

Vince's cheeks reddened, Nick made a teasing face at him and a very grateful Amy beamed over at him.

"If we all won, cant we, all ,get a prize Mum?' Nick asked.

Elsie thought for a moment, "Well I was going to do a salad with new potatoes for tea, but how about we have that tomorrow now and we get some fish and chips on the way home instead? We can sit and eat them in the garden with some music and some of that fizzy drink you all seem to like so much nowadays. How does that sound?" There was affirmation from her two boys, but off Amys face Elsie continued. "Amy, your Aunt said she wouldn't mind if we ended up eating out, so I don't think he wlll mind if we eat al la carte at ours." Amy grinned wide, and Elsie added, "and im sure we could send Roger out for dinner for them both later on, and they can join us."

Vince spoke up, "Sounds really good Mum, but I knew there wouldn't be a winner."

"I know Vince, im sorry but I simply couldn't choose between the three of you. Im sorry."

Vince accepted her apology with a big grin and he, Nick and Amy began to excitedly wander round their models and began to point out all the details they had missed or wanted to know more about. Elsie stayed seated, and watched them chatting away to each other.

Amy and her aunt had moved in next door to Elsie King and her family less than a year ago, but as she watched Vince, Nick and Amy together, she realised she really couldn't choose between the three of them, she never would."