I recall, years ago, a cartoon depicting a rather frosty middle-aged woman sitting on a beach next to her little pot-bellied husband. In the background were shapely maidens tossing a beach ball around.
The woman was saying to her husband: “You may frolic a little if you like, Albert.”
I’m not a beach person myself and will not be among those about to leave for Durban. This is partly because from an early age I used to be dragged off to the seaside by people bigger and stronger than me and we would sit huddled and shivering on a windy beach in Wales or at Brighton – sitting on pebbles as big as your head.
If the sun shone, my father would sometimes remove his jacket and once, after first glancing about, he removed his tie. My mother said it was crimen injuria, especially in Wales.
In SA we take practically everything off. I don’t mind this at all. It is when it comes to my shoes that I object.
I hate walking barefoot, especially on coarse sand.
SA-born people have genetically hardened feet. Their soles are different from other people’s. Shaka used to make his impis discard their flip-flops (a word derived from the flip-flop’s inventor, Frenchman Phillipe Feloppe) and march on thorns. Those who winced were struck down by a heavy club. So there is more than a modicum of genetic engineering involved.
One day, years ago on the Natal coast, I was on an assignment and found myself on a quite unscheduled walk with an attractive bronzed young lady marine biologist – she in a sun frock and me in my normal urban attire.
We came to a barnacle-encrusted rock shelf and the young lady kicked off her sandals. I would have kicked off my shoes, too, but I had to sit down and unlace them first. There was a lot of steam from my socks and the vague smell of boiled onions.
I peeled them off revealing delicate milk-white feet deeply etched with tramline sock patterns.
Then I tried standing. The razor-sharp barnacles made mincemeat of my soles. The young lady, leaping daintily from rock to rock, hearing my shrill cries, looked back concerned.
I pointed to the sky indicating that the shrieks were from gulls flying overhead.
I tried walking nonchalantly, ignoring the trail that I was leaving of horror-movie footprints of bright arterial blood. But my hands betrayed me by clawing at the sky.
My barely suppressed cries of agony were fortunately drowned by the thunder of the surf.
The young lady, stepping into the sandy shallows beyond the shelf, tucked her dress into her panties – an act that caused me to stub all my toes.
When I came to the edge of the rocks I feared that if I jumped into the knee-deep waves my bloodied feet would attract sharks from as far away as the South China Sea, so when I came to the first rock pool I stepped in to relieve the pain in what was left of my feet.
I expected to feel sand but there was nothing.
The incoming tide had masked a bottomless hole probably known locally as Die Groote Wondergat.
I must have disappeared for some time.
Frankly, I had very little desire to reappear.
The young lady pulled me out and kindly ran back for my shoes, but they’d been stolen.
I did the only thing possible: I swam far out to sea and waited for whichever came first – a great white shark or a National Sea Rescue Institute lifeboat.
As a result, I always give generously to the NSRI.