Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Giant Swimmer

Normally I dislike those stories that begin with 'when I was young...', but in this instance there is no other (or better) alternative, so here goes... Oh, and before you cry, “Well, how old is she? She can't be more than twelve!” I'll have you know I'm thirty four, but feel closer to fifty. With that trifling matter cleared up, I'll say it again, here goes...
When I was young, I had an unusual role model. Unusual in the sense that he was a version of my dad, only three times taller and bigger all over. Dad then was roughly five foot eleven, his statute now is shrinking, but at eight years of age that seemed tall and we were always comparing as Mum was only five foot three and I was desperate to overshoot her. And I did by three inches eventually and being willowy, or if you prefer beanpole-like I managed to look even taller. Anyhow that's beside the point and makes not the slightest difference to this story.
As my parents worked full-time, most of my summers were spent at the seaside, Middleton-on-Sea to be exact, with my grandparents, the Good Witch and Troll, and occasionally Uncle Dingle and the cousins, Sam-Sam and Judo Nell, and this was where in '89 I stumbled on the Giant. And yes, stumble is the right word as not looking where I was going, as per usual, I tripped over one of his pasty calves while he was sun-bathing. Ordinary people don't do that in Bognor, sun-bathing that is, but admiring your footprints in the sand is I assure you quite normal. Backwards walking is a common sport that all ages partake of.
But let's return to his calf, which to me seemed to resemble an uncooked chicken drumstick, only thrice the length and size. I pondered if a flock of seagulls might have dropped it as I had not yet allowed my eyes to travel further up, and when they did, I admit I momentarily froze. I'd never seen a man built like this – King Kong, yes, but not a Dad on a grand scale.
Fortunately, my clumsy trip didn't seem to have disturbed him. He probably didn't feel a thing, and so when I'd recovered from my shock I chose to zoom in, as a photographer's daughter naturally does, and study him closer up. His flesh was chalky white and marbled with blue veins. His legs were smooth, but his arms and chest were covered with dark, curly hairs. His large nose was mottled pink and there was the beginnings of a grey shadow on his chin. His head hair was plastered down, being still damp, and on the crown there was a tiny bald spot like a desert island surrounded by its own sea of chestnut brown. There were many contradictions in his elongated frame, but that he was a man and a giant I was pretty much convinced, especially as he wore similar swimming trunks to my dad's, except his were pearly, seashell white, and dad's were navy blue.
I was just about to check he was napping and not dead, when he opened one eye and regarded me like a tired dog keeping watch over its owner. He stretched his lean arms overhead, “Hello imp!” he said in a broad Dorset accent which came out as a boom, and then broke into a toothy grin, “Cat got your tongue?”
I shook my head, “I didn't think so,” he said, “but you've been taught never to speak to strangers. Am I right?” I soundlessly nodded in reply. “Good. Go get your nan.” I raced off as he slowly peeled himself off the sand, and hurried back, pulling the Good Witch by the hand, to where the Giant now stood in all his magnificent height.
Greetings Mil, I thought she was your girl.”
Oh, it's you John!”
The Good Witch turned to me and said, “This is a friend of ours – John Hurrell. He's a giant swimmer,” and then she shouted up to the cloud-scattered blue sky, “and this, John, is my granddaughter.”
Pleased to meet you,” the Giant said sticking out a large pinkie finger which I clasped with my child-sized hand.
Introductions made, when summers came I always went to find the giant swimmer.

Picture credit: A Swimmer, Paul Cezanne