|"Are you coming in, Ethel or what?"|
"Doubt it, think I'll just dither about on the step attention-seeking and threatening to faint until you all lose patience and pelt me with whelks."
Over the summer, we spent a happy annual week with family in Wales near a tiny seaside town, where the nearest neighbours are sheep farmers with tough, freckled, big-hearted lads about Freddie's age, who are initiating all the cousins in the dark art of jetty jumping.
The trick is to time the jumping for when the tide is out and the leap is stomach-droppingly high. Later on, the tide comes in and the ancient bell below the pier tolls sonorously, announcing time for the small fry and tourist kids in new wetsuits. The coolest kids jump in ancient board shorts, flipping, diving, pretending to fall. Rose and her cousin Annabel have been jumping with the local toughs for a few years now; Freddie has always point-blank refused. Even the high-tide soft-kids-from-London jumps were met with his bare feet planted firmly against the wooden pier edge.
Each day, he would announce over breakfast that he was going in this time, get kitted up, come down to the jetty and greet everyone, and then decide he didn't want to jump after all. He'd then spend an hour being preached at, hassled, counselled and cheered on by the lads, sister, cousins, assorted aunts and uncles, locals and total strangers. He would get thumbs-up in the evening queueing for hot chocolate 'hey, Freddie, did you go in? Never mind, bet you jump tomorrow.' Each evening, he'd listen to the girls' tall tales, see their matted-sea-hair, runny noses and huge grins, and swear blind that, next day, he'd jump.
Edward and I hung about cajoling, bribing, getting the camera out, putting it away again, spending fortunes on flotation devices, goggles and hot chocolate. By the end of the week, neither of us could handle the pathos of the towel-wrapped figure shivering and peering white-faced over the edge for another second, and decided to pursue land-based activities that would leave us all less traumatised.
On the second-last day, a cousin came to relieve me of lifeguard duty so I could take Freddie to the honey ice-cream factory for pride-salving cones. She raised an eyebrow, I shook my head, we sighed and I turned to gather the towels, shoes and resolutely dry boy. A huge cheer went up, followed by a splash and more cheering and clapping. Freddie had jumped in and I had bloody well missed it. He appeared a minute or two later covered in saltwater, snot and triumph.
'Come on then,' he said, grabbing his towel and marching off down the pier.
'Is that it? Don't you want to hang out with the lads? Can I get a video of you jumping?'
'Nope. I told you I didn't want to because I wouldn't like it, I did it and it was just as horrible as I thought. So now can we go and get honey ice-cream and can everyone stop going on about it. I won't be doing it again, I knew I'd hate it and I did.'
I'm not going to labour the point here, but 1. I'm back and 2. some of you might just end up taking me for honey ice-cream. You know who you are.