By Pem Charnley
He swims under the pleasure boat as it sails out of the estuary, the tourists leaning over the side to catch a glimpse of … what was that, a merboy? The games kids play, no fear, his torso mere feet from the propeller, the engine making that high pitched whine peculiar to water’s effect on sound. He dives to the bottom, his imagination powerful enough that this isn’t English coastal water but the blue shallows where pearls worth a fortune may lie undiscovered. Or if lucky, Elizabethan coins washed in on the tide from the wreck that lies a mile out where the older lads dive. If that local man can make a fortune on the discovery of treasure, then pieces of eight are there for the taking because it’s the holidays and dreams come true when school is out. Yes, school done for another academic year, the sun brighter, the sky bluer, the waters clearer.
And the years pass and suddenly the delights are no longer to be found underwater but in the sweet smelling Botanical Gardens and the tentative discoveries of the female body and she has the most exotic accent imaginable, all the way from London on a weekend break by the sea. And he can still hear those whispered gasps, those sweet nothings: Yer dirty li’l sod, did I say you could do that? But my smile and her smile become our first kiss together and there as we clumsily explore each other’s dental records with tongues, undying pubescent love is forged, marriage in the air, city and coastal upbringings melding into teenage lust and promises of elopement after exam results. I’ll bring home freshly caught salmon to our fishing shack and we’ll die old together before a log fire of wood gathered from the beach washed up by the North Atlantic storms, she in shawl, me in smock, love conquering the logic of teenage reality, an existence of beachcombing, fish suppers and each other. Until weeks later, the letters becoming distant, then non-existent, each of us exploring new territories, impatience and lust unable to endure a year’s wait for the sun again.
I think back to those holidays, each one so precious, the academic year putting learning curves on hold, equally important learning curves at least, where only in the infinite expanse of youth’s holiday are other vital truths learnt: that we should never stop looking for those pearls, gold coins at the bottom of the sea, never stop believing in the sweet fragrance of stolen romance under weeping willows. And as I now stand at my window, the county under a winter’s snow, as white as those pearls I searched for, I look at my daughter, only four, already hoping for a kiss under, not a willow, but mistletoe from the boy next door, soon to begin school in the new year, I hope she recognises the balance between lessons learnt in the classroom and those that can only be learnt outside.