In the Spar shop I overheard someone talking anxiously to the woman on the till about an approaching ‘hurricane’. I had thought the fast forwarding sky was looking a bit apocalyptic, so we hurried back to the caravan and put the radio on and waited for the news. The most important thing to have happened in the world in the past 24 hours, apparently, was the death of the ‘influential’ former Velvet Underground member Lou Reed, the man who characterised his style of musicianship as: ‘One chord is fine, two chords is pushing it, three chords and you’re into jazz.’
The gathering storm was the second item. Hurricane-force winds were a possibility rather than a certainty. A disappointment, this. If we are going to have ‘violent storm-force’ winds, we might as well pay a little extra and have the full hurricane, I say. Then we’ll at least have something to say on our Christmas cards to friends and family in Australia to compete with their drought and bushfires. Another surprising thing I learned from the news was that during the night the clocks had gone back.
‘We’re packing up and going home,’ I said to my grandson Oscar. He was immediately downcast. ‘Why?’ he said. ‘Lou Reed’s died, the clocks have gone back and there’s a storm on the way,’ I said. ‘I like storms, though,’ he said. ‘So do I, Oscar,’ I said. ‘But I have to go home, clear the gutters, get the garden furniture inside, change the clocks and light a candle.’ ‘Can I light it?’ he said. ‘You can,’ I said.
On the drive back, I felt sorry about depriving my grandson of a last afternoon building our customary Babylonian walls on the beach, and suggested instead a visit to the local swimming pool before going on home. I’d been meaning to take him for ages. He’s three-and-a-half years old and an assured paddler, but no swimmer. He hadn’t seen a swimming pool before, let alone been in one. But our splendid local leisure centre has a learner pool for small nippers right next to the main pool, and of an ideal depth for beginners of about Oscar’s height.
We emerged from the unisex changing rooms to find both learner pool and main pool still as millponds. There was not a single bather to ruffle the surface of either. The pool attendant slumped on his stepladder with his head bowed looked deep in contemplation or prayer. Either that or he had died of boredom and his death had so far gone unnoticed. One of the walls, from floor to ceiling, is glass. The tall, violently swaying beech trees outside contrasted starkly with the smooth blue surfaces of the water inside.
I stepped down into the learner pool and encouraged my grandson to do the same. He is a confident lad, less intimidated by the unknown than other children of his age. But he shrank back, afraid. I offered to take him in my arms and lower him in gently. He didn’t like that idea much, either. He eyed the water dubiously. I lolled on to my back with exorbitant, sensuous ease to show him that one can love the water. He wasn’t encouraged. I cajoled. I pleaded. I gave him an order. He ran up and down, a quick white elf, to satisfy himself that there were no easier or shallower ways in. Then he swung a leg in, then the other one, and gingerly lowered himself down into the water.
When his feet touched the bottom, the water came up to his neck. A great achievement. I showered him with congratulations. He clung to the side looking shocked by the unexpected cold. But if he thought his work was done and he could cling on there, resting on his laurels, teeth chattering, lips mauve, he was mistaken. The next stage of his journey to becoming a champion freestyle swimmer, I told him, was to release his grip on the side and move around.
For a quarter of an hour this was absolutely out of the question. And then without warning or preamble he let go and set out for uncharted waters. ‘See! See!’ he shouted exultantly. ‘I’m walking!’ I swam beside and ahead of him, a ship’s tender, cheering.
Meanwhile a man carrying a baby had stepped down into the pool. Apart from shop assistants, I hadn’t spoken to an adult for nearly two days. I greeted him extravagantly. ‘Where is everybody?’ he said, sitting down in the water. ‘Indoors with the curtains drawn, mourning,’ I said. ‘You’ve heard about Lou Reed?’ He had a sense of occasion, this bloke, because he immediately started to sing ‘Do do-do do-do do do-do do,’ and I joined in. ‘Look at me!’ shouted Oscar without daring to look round. ‘I’m walking!’
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