I remember it so clearly, warm sun, cool water, hot sand, shady rocks, small wiggly creatures scurrying in pools, light twinkling on the water for as far as I could see “and probably much, much further”. I remember ice cream dribbling down my arm onto my shorts, and when I turned, my eye caught by a sudden movement, down his trousers, too. He smiled, he laughed, “nothing to fret about, accidents happen, they’ll wash”. I remember the super-safe feeling of my hand in his paw, security for as far as I could see, “and definitely much, much further” he chuckled, twinkling at me like the water.
Always he wore long trousers, and proper shoes to the beach, not because he didn’t like paddling, just that’s who he was. Long sleeves rolled up, always a scarf-thingy round his neck – it was much later that I learned to call it a cravat, and his straw hat, “Panama” he’d remind me. It became a joke that lasted long after I knew and remembered. “Please may I tie your scarf-thingy, Grandpa? Oh please, please, please!”, and he pretended that he couldn’t hear me, pretended he couldn’t find it, started to do it himself and getting it wrong, wrong, wrong.
So full of joy, those early childhood days at the beach. My huge, cuddly protector full of fun. When the wind blew chilly, and I was very little, he sheltered me inside his crumpled jacket. When the sun grew too hot, he knotted his huge silk handkerchief on my head – the clean one from his top pocket, not the one in his trousers, silly! And I told their dog all about it when we got back, and Grandma made us sandwiches, nice ones with jam, and my heart was as full as full can be.
He started taking me to the beach long before I remember it for myself. Why is it that childhood summers were so full of joy and laughter and sunshine? It must have rained sometimes. Perhaps those days have merged with the winter ones when I sat on his knee in front of the real, proper fire and he read me what Grandma called “suitable” stories.
And I remember the last of those chilly afternoons. Grandpa asleep in his chair by the fire. Me with a book I was able to read for myself. And Grandma coming in, quiet as a mouse, with the big pan I couldn’t lift. And I remember the long swing of her arm as she banged it into the side of Grandpa’s head, and I remember the mess on the rug in front of the fire with all the blood and grey stuff and everything, and Grandpa just lying there and not complaining. I didn’t see either of them after that.
Annie Fiddy has been imagining things all her life. For the first time since leaving school a very long time ago, she has started to write them down. She lives in England, has three cats to support, and never quite gets round to doing the ironing.