"Hey, Granddad, what did Grandma mean when she said at your fiftieth wedding anniversary party that 'Uncle' Dag was responsible for her having to put up with you for all that time. I know she loves you dearly and she said it with affection but when I asked Dag, he said to ask you and 'get the answer from the horse's arse', well you know Dag's way with words," Jenny my eldest granddaughter asked and went on, "I know you were married long before Daddy was born so you didn't have to get married because Grandma was preggers but you were both young when you married though."
"It's a little joke between us, Jenny, but in a way it's true. Without Dag, his real name is Daren Cousins if you didn't know, and a girl called Celia Swinthorpe, I don't know what her name is now and the last I heard of her over a year ago, she'd just got her third divorce, I probably wouldn't have met the girl that became my wife. Make a pot of tea and we'll sit by the fire and I'll tell you the tale. It's quite a long one."
"And I want all the rude details as well; I'm old enough and I know people all those years ago weren't as innocent as they make out now, especially when the war finished and there were more girls than men around and the 'baby boom' started."
Even now it amazes me that the breaking of my friend's leg wrought so many far-reaching changes to my life, including the finding of my wife, and I wasn't even responsible for breaking it.
Dag, and I have been friends since infants school and he being an enthusiastic football player, on many occasions in senior school, as it was then, he tried to encourage me into playing the game, but I couldn't see the point of kicking a ball from one end of the field to the other. I, of course, played like all the boys in school during one of the two PE lessons we had each week and, while I wasn't the last one picked to join a team, I never went to any of the after school training sessions or made it into the school team. Maybe I could have done well at the sport because my long legged, lanky body could outrun many others of my age but I always had other things I considered more important, like helping Dad on his fishing boat and rebuilding my sailing dinghy.
Seeing him now, over weight and with a huge pot-belly, it's difficult to believe he was once a fine athlete and played football in the amateurs league until he was forty, but at school, football was his total life. He played every spare minute he had and only when the season finished at the end of April, did he come sailing with me at weekends, but that week early in May, he'd been playing rough-and-tumble football in the wet grass of a newly cut meadow with a group of boys. During a rough tackle, he slipped and fell awkwardly and broke his leg and two days later, on a Friday, his brother pushed him to school in an ancient wheelchair mainly because his mother wanted him out of the way.
"Looks like it will be a while before you can go sailing with me again, Dag," I greeted him.
"Or play football again, Steve," he moaned.
"That was the cause of the problem. If you will play these dangerous games, you must expect some injuries," I teased and the usual banter began on the merits of football and sailing.
How did I come to own a boat when we had very little money? Dad, Dave Birch your great grandfather, worked at a boatyard and in those days, nearly all the yachts and boats had wooden hulls and the firm employed a dozen shipwrights as well as painters and riggers and at school holiday times I used to wander around the firm, watching and helping. Health and safety wouldn't allow that now but what I learned put me in the boss's eyes and I was destined to get a job there when I left school. Through my meeting a yacht owner while watching a boat being launched, for a season I got a weekend job as the crew on a small sailing boat. It didn't pay much and I would have done it for nothing because I enjoyed the sailing but I really wanted a boat of my own although I knew it would be years before I could afford one. Fate helped. One night a drunken group from a local yacht club took a sailing dinghy without the owner's permission and in the dark ran it onto a pile of rocks smashing several planks in the bottom. It sank, but the cold water soon sobered the men and they swam the short distance to the shore. The insurers decided it would cost more to repair than the boat was worth and when Dad heard about it he paid the princely sum of £1 to become the owner and was able to get it dragged to an out of the way corner of the firm where we spent many hours and a little money for materials to repair it. As our labour was free, I ended up with a 16 foot, seaworthy sailing dinghy, the 'Saucy Sue', that I kept on moorings in front of the local, working-man's sailing club.
After signing Dag's virgin white plaster I commented, "I guess I'll need to ask around for another crew if I decide to go out tomorrow. It may be too blustery to go out alone."
"I'll go with you."
Surprised by the slightly sneering voice I knew belonged to Celia Swinthorpe, the rich, snobbish, beauty queen of the class who normally wouldn't bother speaking to a workman's son unless she wanted something or had an ulterior motive, I queried, "You sure?"
"I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't. What time?" she snapped.
"Eight o'clock at the sailing club causeway."
"Too early. Ten?"
I agreed on ten and warned her, "Wear warm clothes, a waterproof coat and plimsolls. I have a life jacket you can wear." Immediately and without waiting for any more information, she turned away and left with her cronies.
"That's a turn up for the book," Dag remarked, "She's up to something and while rumours have it that she opens her legs for her posh boyfriends, I doubt if you'll even get your hand inside her knickers." I had to agree.
The weather forecast said for overcast skies and wind force 3 increasing to 4 and gusting force 5. Not ideal for taking a newbe out. In the event I had to wait until 10:30 for her to arrive dressed in smart slacks, and wearing a light coat but at least she'd headed my advice and wore her PE shoes. Knowing she'd get pretty wet before we returned, I almost sent her home but then thought, "Sod her, she's setting me up for something and this may be my chance for a come-back."
The lifejackets in those days were bulky affairs, not the neat little automatic inflating ones we have today, and it did nothing to enhance her appearance. She complained but I resolutely insisted she wear it and got a little satisfaction when my hand brushed her tits as I helped her fit it on.
"Is this it?" she asked with a certain amount of disgust when I'd rowed her in the little plywood tender to the dinghy and indicated she should get aboard. She expected a cabin cruiser or much larger boat. "I want to go that way," she demanded, indicating the downriver direction that went through all the larger moorings so she could see all the expensive boats. With an hour to high water, it meant sailing against the tide in both directions. I would have suggested the opposite way but with the moderate breeze we'd be able to make progress against it.
The first hour or so went reasonably well and we made good progress, firstly on a broad reach until the bend in the river and then with the wind directly astern. For the most part she sat without talking or looking at me but from the way she held her arms across her body, I knew she'd begun to feel cold. It would get worse.
"Take me back now," she demanded. Little did she know that she'd have to work and that we'd have to tack all the way back against the tide. As forecast, the wind had veered a little and freshened and, although we'd seen other small sailing boats with the crew sitting on the gunwale and leaning over the water to keep the boat from capsizing, at first she didn't believe she'd have to do it, not that is, until the boat leaned over and the water almost came over the side. I knew I could ease off the wind a little but now I had my chance to put the bitch in her place. She'd hardly sat out when I plunged the bow into a largish wave that sent the spray over her. She screamed but I said she had to hold on like the crews in other boats were doing.
I won't go into the performance each time we tacked and she had to duck under the boom and change sides or the complaints and invective I received but I'm certain that trip put her off sailing for life. It took nearly three hours to get back and needless to say she was not a happy bunny. Bedraggled, wet through and shivering with cold, she gave me the 'fuck you' sign when I cheerily asked if she would like to go out again in the morning. She stalked off to a payphone to get a car to take her home.
"That looked like fun but I don't think Celia thought so." Sheila Broome she was then, your grandma, another of my classmates stood on the seawall and watched me pull my tender up the ramp and came and gave me a hand. Unlike Celia, Sheila, at that time a short, dark haired, slightly plump girl, had a more down-to-earth attitude, and when we'd dragged it into the boat park area, she went on, "I didn't think she would enjoy it and from what I heard whispered by the other girls, she only offered to go in order to get back at her present boyfriend who she caught making eyes at another girl. I bet we hear how you almost drowned her on Monday and with any luck, later in the week when I get the film developed, we'll have the pictures to prove it." She showed me the little 35 mm camera she'd tucked inside her coat and we laughed and concocted tales Celia might tell and then Sheila asked, "Do you really want a crew for tomorrow? I've no experience but it looked exciting and I won't mind if I get a bit wet or starting at eight."
.... There is more of this story ...