Saturday, January 15, 2011

Strange Towels

I had a dangerous childhood. My dad tried to kill me twice. I mean, I was a horrible child, but that's a bit extreme. The first time was when I was about 9. I wanted to go conkering and he reluctantly agreed. Taking his sons out for 'quality' time wasn't really on dad's agenda. I'm not suggesting he was a bad father, he just came from an era where dads were so busy they had little time for frivolity; so taking me down Wilton to throw sticks up a tree was really something unusual.

Now my dad was a hulking great man. Somewhere between 6' 4" and 5" and built like a brick shit house rat. He was a gentle giant, but as strong as an ox. When average dads would be searching out handy sized stick to throw up conker trees, my dad was looking for half branches. He figured if he could throw something big up into the boughs then he'd save us some time - saving time and shortcuts were two of his 'things' and sadly I've inherited them; both badly. Anyhow, he finds this log that would keep a large family warm in an open fire for a month and launches it into the branches of this massive horse chestnut; unaware that his youngest son was now wandering into its direct path. it would hit the tree and then fall, probably crushing my skull and breaking my neck, back and legs...

"PHILLIP! DON'T MOVE!!" He bellowed at me. When my dad screamed something at you, you took notice, if you didn't you were apt to feel his wrath. So, as if playing statues, I stood dead still and watched as this monstrous branch came crashing down inches from where I was standing. It was so close I could feel it's back draft tickling my nose. Now my dad wasn't the world's most affectionate fella, but he rushed over, grabbed me in his arms and asked me if I was all right. I was totally oblivious. I didn't realise how close I came to being human porridge. We stopped conkering immediately. I had a bag full of them anyhow. I was a little confused as to why my dad had gone as white as a sheet, but I was also totally drawn into the world of horse chestnut nuts. It wasn't for a few years that I realised how close I came to being dead.

So, you can say once is just an accident, but how about the second time? Suggesting my dad was responsible for me almost drowning is stretching the point a bit, but for the second time in less than a year, he felt helpless as I danced around with the Grim Reaper. We were on holiday in Westward Ho, Devon and I was using my new inflatable dinghy; the one he'd bought me especially for the holiday. While mum and dad were sunning themselves on the beach, I took the dinghy down to sea, where the tide was going out. I was having a whale of a time until I realised that I'd got a little too far out. I could no longer touch the bottom with my feet. I didn't really panic, I thought it was quite funny and began waving at my folks up on the beach. They saw me and waved back - remember I have 20/10 vision, so I could see them as clear as day. I started to paddle back and realised that instead of heading for the beach I was actually heading out into the Atlantic ocean. Still not too perturbed by this, after all my dad - my superhero - would save me. So I started making SOS signs in the air with my arms. I know, with hindsight, that my mum and dad had no idea what I was signalling, but they both felt I was getting too far out; by virtue of the fact I was the furthest out of all the people playing in the sea. So, in what was not his proudest moment, my dad, resplendent in shorts and sandals, wandered down to the sea edge and soon realised that I was heading out rather than in. So he started towards me, got as far as the legs of his shorts and realised I was much further out than he feared; he also realised that he had his fags and lighter in his pocket, so he fished them out of his pocket and kept them dry. he got up to his chest in the sea and realised I was far too far out to be able to get to me and what was worse was that my dad wasn't a very good swimmer. he could float on his back for hours, but lifesaving? Forget it; he'd more than likely drown himself.

So there he was, the incredible hulk, with his fags and lighter held above his head looking around for someone to help rescue his son - who incidentally had just got a certificate in June for being able to swim a width of the local pool. It wasn't like I could swim well and this was the sea, an entirely different proposition. Two swimmers saw the situation I was in and asked my dad if they could help and he was dead keen for them to rescue me. I can still remember the looks of disdain and disgust on their faces and immediately I didn't like these people who would ultimately be rescuing me. They both swam out to me, told me to hang on and began to push me back towards the shore. this was the most frightening part of the entire adventure, because I actually realised a) I was in danger and b) I was struggling to hold onto the dinghy and was now scared of falling into the sea. But the point was, I got rescued and my dad felt really bad; but, hey, I still loved him.

It wasn't like this was an isolated incident either. Several years later, my brother Steve almost drowned in the old swimming lake at Castle Ashby. The 'waving not drowning' adage came into play here too as Steve, obviously in trouble, was waving frantically at us and dad thought he was just doing that - waving, so he waved back. If it hadn't been for a fit young woman, who Steve ended up dating for a couple of weeks, diving in and saving him, we would have lost Steve. The young woman gave my dad the same look he received from the people who had saved me in 1972.


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