Saturday, August 28, 2010

Faith


My mother had no faith in the sea’s trustworthiness. She panicked whenever the ocean, sea, tidal inlet or even a sluggish river were in close proximity. This became apparent to me as an 11 year old when we spent a holiday with relatives who lived by the sea at Littlehampton in Sussex shortly after WW2. We stayed a in a village a tidy walk from the town and the sea itself was still a distance from the shops. The beach was flat and mostly sandy which was where most people congregated close to all conveniences such as the ice cream parlours, the tea rooms, the amusement arcade, the putting greens and of course the public conveniences.
My father was more adventurous and on hearing of a deserted beach on the other side of the river that ran through the town decided on an expedition to this haven from the hoi polloi, in order that games, picnics and sea bathing could be enjoyed without the need to jostle for space on the main beach, trip over others belongings and join hundreds of others in the an almost religious dip into the ocean akin to bathing in the Ganges. Mother approved the plan and we found that to reach the unspoilt pristine beach we would have to be rowed across the river by a boat plied by a boatman. This was exciting. The boatman himself was a gnarled weather beaten old salt that said little and merely did his job whilst smoking a old pipeful of rank tobacco that sent up a cloud and stench so foul no other water craft came near us. I do remember his hands though; great brown knotted clumps of flesh on the ends of his arms that gripped the oars and seemed to me to epitomise immense strength.
I could see the panic on my mother’s face as we and several other hardy souls intent on exploration also clambered into the boat. The charge per passenger was 1d and for this we were ferried a few yards across the River Arun. This comparatively short river rising somewhere to the north of Arundel was extremely fast flowing. At Littlehampton this was quite evident when the tide was out. When the tide was in, as it was this morning, the basin filled and the water was sluggish so rowing across to the other side was simple, much to the relief of mother. Thus it was when we crossed for the first time and safely delivered on foreign territory we trekked the few hundred yards to the beach and spent the whole day there, exploring, eating, playing and even bathing. Mother however merely donned her sunsuit and had no discourse at all with the sea.
With all the food eaten, burnt by the wind and the sun, tired out from so much exploration and hungry again we made our way back to the ferry crossing. There was a queue of customers as the journey seemed to take longer this time. The tide was going out. No that is not true it was racing out and the pair of ferry boats in use were making very heavy weather of the trip. When we finally boarded and pushed off the boatman with grim determination immediately turned the craft and rowed with a steely look on his face in what appeared to be wrong direction upstream and continued that way painfully slowly. Only when the berth on the opposite side seemed totally out of reach did he carefully swing the boat around and drift down with the current. The craft seemed hopelessly out of control until some yards from the berth did he nudge the boat into the waiting hands on shore to quickly fasten it and unload the passengers on dry land. Now we boys and Dad certainly had faith that all would be well. Mother on the other hand did not open her eyes until she was helped out of the boat on the other side.
Postcard of the tiny ferryboat in middle of photo crowded with faithful trippers c.1950

10 comments:

  1. An excellent recollection. Enjoyed it.

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  2. Lovely words - I could really picture the place and the people..I suspect the ferry has long since gone? I had to feel for the mother though..I doubt any mum does blind faith very well! Great piece..Jae

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  3. twas a great story. well written...easy to follow.

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  4. I just finished reading a history of the London Bridge, and your account made me think of the boatmen on the Thames, even though you were on a much smaller river. Imagine if your boatman had taken you on a fast trip through a narrow arch in a stone bridge! I have a feeling your mother wouldn't have liked that a bit.

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  5. Reminds me of that song..."Don't pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side.
    I never thought of faith in so many ways, tied to trust so strongly by brown gnarled hands.I liked that picture.

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  6. What wonderful memories. I was in Littlehampton this very afternoon - now there's a coincidence!

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  7. ah, some wonderful memories you have shared with us, Old Egg :)

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  8. I really enjoyed your story, thanks for sharing your memories with us. :-)

    Susannah
    http://panopticulated.blogspot.com/

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  9. I am pleased to read some of your fiction with a father figure included at last.
    I love the descriptions of the boat man's pair of hands "great brown knotted clumps of flesh" I can just picture them as well as imagine how rough they would feel to touch.

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  10. I too loved the description of the boatman. My father's best friend for years, even before my birth could have played that part. He was a fisherman all his life and passed away just a few years before my dad. I always think of them fishing in heaven.
    When we were kids, weekends were spent on the lake. We would fish for several hours and then dad would motor to a sand bar where we kids could swim (which probably kept us from fussing and complaining so much) and sometimes we would go through a part called The North Channel. At the time were just had an aluminum boat and the channel was deep with a lot of larger boat traffic. This particular time, the waves were large and the boat slammed through them hard enough to pop some of the rivets. I remember my mother holding to the seat so hard her knuckles were white and her eyes shut tightly. Thanks for sharing your memory and bringing back mine :)

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