Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Childhood Memory.

Friend W and I are off to Thorpe Perrow Arboretum again today to see if we can catch that elusive Autumn colour on the maples. This will be my third visit, so hope it is colourful this time.

In the meantime, our next exercise for the December Writers' Group is ' A childhood memory.' Now last night my brain was in a whirl by the time I went to bed (too much information I think) and, when I had not gone to sleep at 1am and was mulling childhood memories over in my head, I decided to get up, make a cup of green tea and write down a memory. I offer it to you today - unedited, spontaneous - don't know whether that is the best kind of memory or not.

A Childhood Memory.

The River Witham is a narrow and slow river as it winds its way through the Lincolnshire Fens on its course from Lincoln to the Wash at Boston. During my childhood it played a major part in my life.
Because it was slow-flowing it easily silted up and as, in the 1930's, it was still navigable with corn coming up to the flour mills on Brayford Pool in Lincoln, it was dredged yearly and the silt piled up on the banks, where the new rich soil encouraged a covering of grass, water iris and kingcups. It was our playground.
On those seemingly endless Summer evenings, when it was always still and warm and the air was full of the sounds of Summer, we would gobble down our tea and head for 'the banks',, our cossies wrapped in an old towel. In those pre-polio scare days we would teach ourselves to swim in the warm, muddy water.
We were given free rein. No parents came, but nobody drowned and we all learned to swim eventually. The baptism of fire was the day you crossed from one side to the other - a distance of maybe thirty strokes. There had been a ferry here and the landing stages were still there, making perfect places to hold on to and exercise the leg strokes, or walk out a couple of steps and launch out with a couple of breast strokes.
Our older brothers and sisters would often come down after work. They would dive in with consummate ease and swim up and down, doing the crawl or showing off their back-stroke skills, splashing their feet in the water. We were envious.
One Saturday my friend and I went to the next village along the river, to see her Grand-parents. We often went there at weekends, riding our bikes (very little traffic in those days) and pretending they were ponies, jogging up and down in the saddle - mine was Molly and hers was Bonnie.
There was a ferry here across the river - a hand-operated chain ferry. We would cross on it, have our tea and then cycle back. One day we decided to go for a swim there too.
Messing about in the water I suddenly realised that when the ferry went across the chain was taut. I felt it and began to move along it, edging stealthily towards the far bank.
My friend was chatting to other children. She wouldn't look up and see me until I had reached the other side and would think I had swum across!
Of course, as I reached the centre of the river, the deepest part, the chain went slack and sank to the bottom, taking me with it. My feet went down into the soft mud and my head went under into the murky water. Nobody noticed. I was on my own and desperate.
I floundered, then pushed out for the bank. Making a grab for the side I realised I had made it.
Was I going to go back on the ferry? Oh the indignity of that.
Like the cat who does something silly then, when he is seen, washes himself and pretends that he meant to do it all along, I waited until the ferry had started out then I swam behind it, pushing off. Doing my best breast stroke I swam across. I had made it.
Like the young bird leaving the nest I had been practising for long enough. Necessity was the mother of invention here. I had suddenly found my wings. I was away.

15 comments:

mrsnesbitt said...

Phew Pat you had me going there! Next time you are over this way bring your cossy and we'll swim from Skinningrove to Scarborough eh? lol! Dxxxx

Tom Stephenson said...

You may be the only person in history to have learned to swim using an iron chain, Weaver!

Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

How scary was that?! Did you tell your mother when you got home? Well done for making it across though :)

steven said...

well! this is the kind of story that you tell your parents when you've finally moved out and there's a sort of level-playing field on which past misdemeanours can be shared without fear! what a story! steven

rkbsnana said...

I agree with Steven. Something to tell after your folks know you are okay. I love to hear about your world.

Dave King said...

These reminiscences really belong in a book. What about putting them all under one cover, Weaver?

John Gray said...

been there...done similar ...
the memories still make the hair on the nape of my neck prick

we are all remembering strange things today!

Heather said...

Well done, little Pat! A delightful memory and a big adventure. Childhood seemed to be much more fun in our day than it is now. Weren't we lucky?!

angryparsnip said...

What a wonderful story and I too love hearing about your childhood from another time and place.
I too think my childhood was wonderful
and interesting. So much better than the children of today. We didn't have much money but we were rich in many other ways.

cheers, parsnip

Pondside said...

That was good! The moment of terror when you went under - I'm sure we all felt it and remembered something similar.

Mary Elizabeth said...

That's something you'll never forget!
We all took some chances in our younger years...I'm cautious now in my old age!!

acornmoon said...

How times have changed, would we allow our children such freedom now?

I am so pleased that you lived to tell the tale!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes - as you rightly say - I lived to tell the tale. It is odd how we remember some things from childhood and not others - but this one is certainly engrained on my memory!

Thank you for replying.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Incidentally - I don't think my parents ever knew.

Bovey Belle said...

You've just reminded me why I am not a natural swimmer but a landlubber! The ferry reminded me of the old "floating bridges" that used to cross the River Itchen at Woolston (Southampton).