It had the added appeal for the parents that until the day of the coach outing dawned, we could be kept more-or-less in order by the ever-hovering threat of being kept at home for naughtiness, while everyone else made faces at us from the back of the coach. A threat not to be borne. Even David, my second brother, always in scrapes, behaved himself more than usual.
I suppose there must have been thirty-odd people. Mostly kids, their mums, and a few dads.
I’d have been about nine or ten. I’d never been on a coach outing. Was I excited! That we were going to the seaside was the strawberry on top.
The day arrived. It was beautiful, clear blue skies, and the temperature already soaring by eight in the morning. My three siblings and I squabbled our way on board with the other kids, pushing and shoving, as we all wanted to knab the back seat. The bigger boys staked their superior claim, so that was that.
I didn’t care. I was going to the seaside. I would have sat anywhere, ever with the adults at the front.
Someone started a singsong. We sang to the halfway point, where we had a toilet break (this was back in the 60’s when coaches were more spartan than they are now). One of the dad’s suggested a quick visit to the pub. This wasn’t too popular with us kids, of course, as we saw the tide going out on our seaside adventure.
Bribery and Corruption
But the grown-ups bribed us with crisps and lemonade and disappeared with alacrity pub-wards. We must have played up, making a nuisance of ourselves, asking everyone who went in to tell the parents to hurry up. Anyway, they soon got fed-up of our whining every time the door was opened and being accosted about rowdy kids by strangers, because within half-an-hour we were back on the coach. Off again. The next stop would be Folkstone! Maybe that’s what gave me the idea to try bribery and corruption by my main suspect in Dead Before Morning, my #1 Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery!
You can’t eat yet
By this time, my two brothers were starving, and started riffling through mum’s neatly packed bags. This earned them a smack and a ‘Wait till we get there.’
My sister Maria and I sniggered as the greedy pair got a backhander. We, of course, were models of decorum (though I have a vague memory of being sick with excitement on the coach floor).
Are we nearly there?
The singsong started up again. Soon we were asking, ‘Are we nearly there?’ And this carried on for the next half-hour, till, finally, as we sighted the sea for the first time, we answered our own question, as we cried, ‘We’re here!’
We reach Folkstone
It was a gorgeous day. So often in England, a day that starts bright with promise will, by early afternoon, have turned into a damp squib, with grey skies blotting out the sun. But not today! Today the sky was still as deep a blue as it had been at eight in the morning. Sea gulls swooped, crying their seaside cry.
As mum unpacked the food. We all settled down and demolished in five minutes what it had taken mum an hour to pack the night before.
Let your lunch go down
Then, we were clamouring to get in the water. We were told to wait till our lunch had gone down. I couldn’t believe it. Why were all the adults, after promising us an enjoyable day at the seaside, putting so many obstacles in the way of our enjoyment? First it was the pub; then we must eat lunch; now it was, ‘wait till your lunch goes down!’ I’d have suspected a conspiracy, if I’d known such a word at ten.
Into the sea
But eventually mum announced that sufficient time had passed, and we were allowed into our swimsuits.
At last! We raced like lemmings over a cliff, eager to feel the lap of the water around our legs. It was icy, even on a scorching day; the water around Britain’s coast is always chilly. But we splashed each other, uncaring of the cold water and how it made our teeth chatter.
Twenty minutes later we came out of the water, looking for food. The sea air had even given Maria and I, normally picky eaters, hearty appetites.
The case of the disappearing grown-ups
Then one of the men in the party said a visit to a seaside watering hole was obligatory. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than, as one, all the adults disappeared pub-wards, pausing only to shout instructions to, ‘Behave yourselves.’
It was a scorching day and it wasn’t long before the cool water lured us again. Soon we were bobbing about in the waves, splashing one another, squealing when one of our bare feet landed on a sharp pebble, but thoroughly enjoying such freedom.
It didn’t last long. At least for me. Not many more minutes had gone by when a bigger wave swept in. As the youngest (and smallest), the wave knock me off my feet. Down I went, into a green world, strangely echoing, with distant shouts mingling with the whoosh of water in my ears.
Not waving but drowning
My flapping arms brought me to the surface again. The sky was still a brilliant blue. I opened my mouth to scream, but before I could emit as much as a squeak, it filled with water and down I went again into that green, green world, with its whooshing water making everything seem vaguely unreal.
Did my life flash before me?
I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ But drowning I found a curiously peaceful experience, so it didn’t unduly bother me. Weird. My life didn’t flash before me. But I wouldn’t turn ten until October, so there wasn’t much life to flash.
Going down for the third time
Peaceful or not, I was still, involuntarily, flapping my arms, and they brought me to the surface again. Again my mouth filled with seawater before I could scream or gulp in air. I was going down for the third (and presumably, the last) time, when somebody must have finally noticed that Geraldine was drowning, not waving.
They shouted for Tommy, the only boy in the party who could swim. Tommy hauled me out and dumped me like a sack of spuds on the beach, while I coughed, spluttered and said hello to my lunch.
My mum was sent for, not too pleased at being hauled from the pub, until somebody explained what had happened.
Just think-No Rafferty & Llewellyn British Mystery Series!
This is my main achievement in life. If I’d died before I reached the age of ten, I’d have nothing to show for my life apart from some running medals.
Don’t be too hard on her. Admittedly, it was irresponsible to leave four kids, none of whom could swim, on the beach, while the adults all went to the pub. But poor mum rarely escaped her child-rearing duties. Day after dutiful day, there she’d be, arguing with the neighbours when David got in trouble again, sitting in the hospital for ages while one of us got patched up after our latest mishap. Year after endless year. Looking back, I wonder how she stood it.
No more laughter
That was the end of my day at the seaside. I wasn’t allowed in the sea again all that hot summer afternoon. I couldn’t even make sandcastles as it was a pebbly beach. Instead I watched my siblings having fun. But the sea had lost its enchantment for me in any case. Nearly drowning will do that.
Mum booked swimming lessons–but only for me!
One thing stands out from that day (apart from my brush with death). My mum was around the swimming baths as soon as they opened the next day to arrange swimming lessons, presumably thanking the fates that she’d still got four kids.
But the swimming lessons were only for me. The other three, who couldn’t swim either – even David, my mum’s favourite – could drown!
Mum’s cock-eyed logic still makes me chuckle even today.
What about you? Have you had a brush with death, but lived to tell the tale? Do write and tell me, and, with your permission, I’ll feature the best of them on my blog.