I want to take you all to the seaside. To beaches like Woolacombe in Devon, Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey and Rhossili in the Gower. These are places where we went on family holidays in the seventies and which provide my favourite childhood memories.
Invariably, Dad is first into the changing tent. Mum has made it – from thick, towelling in a pattern of orange and yellow daisies and with a piece of elastic around the neck. In the wind it flaps around his body like a spinnaker on a sailing boat as, bent over, he staggers as he steps into his voluminous trunks. All of us wolf whistle as the wind blows the tent up his legs. Having attracted the attention of everyone else on the beach Dad finally flings off the tent with a flurry and a fanfare. He likens himself to Charles Atlas and strikes a muscleman pose. A fine figure of a man – to use his expression.
He then jigs off towards the surf. Entering the sea he runs in as fast as he can for as long as he can. Then he spins round onto his back to immerse himself and kick like fury creating as much foam and the highest spray as possible. He puffs out his cheeks and whoops and hollers. (I use this technique to get into the sea every time. In fact, a week ago today, on holiday with my family in Scotland, I used it again in a tribute to Dad. I’m glad to report, it still works).
Dad comes out of the sea and later watches over Beck, John, Adam and I as we swim. He paddles about 30 yards away from us. His trousers are rolled up to his knees and he wears a red cable pattern jumper (also made Mum, I should add). He reads a book – about the Boer War, a favourite topic. It’s not a paperback but one of about a dozen weighty tomes that he has got out from the library and previously tied up in a pile with a length of string. His hair is tufty from being dried so vigorously. Wrapped around his neck – like jumpers on a cricket umpire – are towels for us. We are soon rolled up in them and blissfully cosy next to Mum at the back of the windbreak.
To me, Dad will always be that man standing in the sea. Often in the distance but always there and utterly dependable.