Holiday? Did I say something about lying on a sun-lounger, drinking sangria and lazily soaking in the holiday sun? I take it all back! I have been mugged, mobbed and molested by my Spanish-Irish friend’s three children. Let me think: F. is a fearless eight year-old, S. is spirited and six, and A. is three, an age where everything is thrilling. Together they are a torrent of tumbles, they love the beach and they have found a new playmate to torture: me. They blew in like a gentle wind one evening earlier this week, pacing around me lightly, like hyenas sizing up their prey. A. was first to throw himself upon me, demanding a piggy-back. Their mum, E. arrived, hauled another onto her back, and races ensued. I needed a sit down and, with confidence, thought that ‘row, row, row your boat’ would be a restful option. It was, for a few seconds, until we got to the verse, “If you see a crocodile, don’t forget to scream!” The children scattered like exploding fireworks, running in erratic zig-zags across the pebbled beach to the clump of palm trees – the designated ‘den’. The crocodile (why is it always me?) chased after them in puffless pursuit, threatening to snap kiddies’ ankles. The evening was windy and the sea was up, so although F. showed me the beach’s perfect skimming stones – just right for bouncing across a calm ocean – we weren’t able to test out his skills. Calm descended as we examined them – flat, thin, smooth, different sizes of rounds and ovals, and every colour: red, green, slate grey with white stripes, dove grey with yellow swirls, jet black, cream spotted with rust and plain white. All was quiet, maybe a little too quiet. Where was S.? I called for her and a voice called back, “Estoy aquí!” My best Spanish extended to questioning where,“donde?” as my eyes followed the sounds of her giggles, half way up a palm tree. “Now how did you do that!” I called, covering my alarm as I wondered how on earth she was going to get down. But shimmy, shimmy, shimmy and down she came. In a final show of exuberance before going our separate ways, it all got a bit more physical. There was wrestling and pile-on games. I feel pressed like one of the Christian martyrs, but instead of calling for ‘more weight’, like they say Margaret of Clitherow did in York, I call (upon deaf ears) for mercy.
The following evening we have a more organised meet-up. This time they’ve brought all of their beach gear: sun hats, towels, buckets, many changes of clothes, and (most importantly, it turns out) beach snacks! E. in a magic mother’s stroke has packed muesli bars, marie biscuits, a big bar of milk chocolate and chocolate milk in a tall rectangular tub. The sparrows hop around our feet, scavenging for crumbs. We share from one mug, heeding instructions that dunking is notallowed; nobody likes floaters. But when you are three years old dunking is in your DNA and A. just can’t help himself. I make a new rule: big people are allowed to drink straight from the tub. Bellies full and it’s time to play. A monster bubble blowing kit has made its way from Ireland and bubbles as big as the children rise in unstable wobbles to drift in multi-coloured displays across the beach. It’s 6 o’clock but the sun is still hot. S. takes charge of my sun cream with its special nozzle; at first it’s the squirty action that attracts her, then she discovers she can make big white splats on my skin that look like a seagull has pooped on me. She laughs gleefully from under her tousled lion’s mane, rendered impossible to comb by running in and out of the waves. Stories from school that day are told; both teachers are men and I ask their names: “Juan and Miguel, but we call them ‘Maestro’”. I repeat it back to them with a flourish, “Maestro” and the six year-old compliments me, “you say it well.” I tell them I am going home the day after tomorrow. “Pasado mañana”,F. tells me, with the best downcast face I have ever seen – this one is destined for the stage. Belongings gathered, I tip all of the pebbles from my shoes. Stuck down in the toe of my left espadrille is a tiny pebble in the shape of a heart. I give it to E., their mother.
The trip has been short but restorative; not least because of the power of the sea, the energy of the children and the mixing of the two. It has rooted me into the earth as sturdily as the palm trees that line the edge of the beach.
‘maggie and millie and molly and may’, by e.e. cummings
‘maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
for whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea’