It looked like a kind of wet Dante’s Inferno, a watery underworld filled with the loud wailing of souls who were thrashing about, being sucked into whirlpools, hurtled down rapids, or drowning in tidal waves. Tall tangled plants drooped over the water – who knows what horrors lurked in their branches – well, I had left my glasses in the locker. But I wasn’t prepared for this.
I’d thought I was prepared for a family weekend at a holiday park, a 70th birthday treat. I’d emailed my daughter: ‘It’s only 65 miles away and there’s a welcome pack with tea, coffee and a toilet roll, but we need to take beach towels; there’s a supermarket, and it’s not going to rain.’ ‘You seem mega-prepared – do you know all the petrol stations on the way?’ came the somewhat ironic reply. Hmm, maybe I do get a bit over-prepared for things. I’d even got a costume that gave me comprehensive cover (boy-leg it’s called in the swimwear business) so as not to embarrass the grandchildren. I still had to prepare various areas of my anatomy and already had a rash in the top-of-the-leg area courtesy of my marks & spencers knicker elastic. But I’d pre-empted this too so had packed a tube of Drapoline (from a previous nappy-changing era) which is very soothing.
Of course, the grandchildren were ecstatic with Subtropical Swimming Paradise – even granddaughter 1 (aged 14), usually too cool to participate, headed off with granddaughter 2 (aged 11) to all manner of rapids and to queue for the Cyclone – a sort of roller coaster in a typhoon crossed with the wall of death: you sit on a rubber raft, hurtle along a glowing blue tube, plunge miles down a Niagara-like precipice and emerge, surprisingly still alive. No, it was not my thing. But my daughter, who doesn’t like heights, but always insists on experiencing things her children do, went on the Cyclone – and more than once – although she found the precipice part not pleasant. She’s very brave. Of course, the Cyclone was the fav of off-the-wall granddaughter 2, but on the nth time she said she’d bruised her bottom and, back in the cabin, she sat grimacing dramatically atop four cushions like the princess and the pea.
‘Come on, gran,’ said granddaughter 3 (aged 9) pointing at a whirlpoolish thing where people were being dragged defenceless by unseen currents through a rocky tunnel, bludgeoned by violent jacuzzi jets and then flung into the pool gasping for air. Lovely. We zoomed round once and then, oh god, I saw her little head just above the water disappearing round again. ‘No,’ I shouted, ‘I don’t want to go again!’ Feeble or what? ‘I can’t stop,’ she laughed. But off I went after her, just in case – fantastic. Then, with all this water about, we both needed the toilet. Pulling my wet cozzy down was difficult, but hauling its upholstery up was utterly impossible – it clung to my clammy body like a rubber wetsuit two sizes too small. Oh god, I’d be trapped half-naked for days in the loo waiting for it to dry and food would have to be pushed under the door. But granddaughter 3 valiantly came to the rescue – she hauled at the back and I heaved at the front until I was decent.
Then grandson cried, ‘Gran, gran, let’s go to the shore’, He meant the shallow steps into the pool – ok, I could cope with that. ‘I’m swimming gran,’ he shouted happily, pulling himself along by his hands as hordes of gigantic folk with gynormous feet sploshed down into the water. Great. And he just loved the tidal waves – yes, oh joy – every half an hour came two rolls of jungle drums and then enormous walls of water. What’s all that about? I’ve lived in the tropics and a) there are no jungle drums and b) big waves hardly ever happen, except in a hurricane and then you certainly don’t go for a dip. But grandson plunged towards the rolling water, arms outstretched. So off I went again, lunging after his little body, my eyes full of water – thank god he was wearing a luminous life jacket. And, guess what? On Sunday, praise the lord, there was even more water. And lo came the flood, but an ark came there none. Yes, extra torrents gushed down from aloft and up from the depths for an eternity – well, five minutes. And everyone was laughing – were they raving mad? Meanwhile, my partner wandered about barefooted with his camera, glasses steamed up, fully clothed, one trouser leg rolled up, the other one down, as if he’d arrived in the Tardis from the 1950s but had lost his hanky with knotted corners like my dad used to wear on his head at the beach.
My daughter discovered a Pirates Cove area for little ones (and grans). What a relief! I imagined a sandy beach with warm shallow water, a jolly pirate with an eye patch and a parrot crying ‘Ahoy there me hearties’ from a small, hopefully not high, wooden ship. There was some shallow water but, oh no. towering up was a mass of mangled pipes gushing, yes, more water about and huge buckets hurling water down – it was like the engine room in that disaster movie, Poseidon. Naturally, granddaughter 2, her bottom miraculously better, charged straight for it and she and her younger sister danced around in it like demented water demons. Mercifully, grandson wanted to return to the relative calm of ‘the shore’.
As luck would have it, just as I was beginning to unwind a bit, it was time to go. We trailed through the steam from the hot showers, past the people-drying pod glowing red like the gateway to Hades and along the dimly-lit labyrinthan passages of lockers and cubicles to get changed. Then – Halleluya! – we were back in the land of the living and the bright sparkling evening sunshine. I felt euphoric – I did it, I did it, I did it, yeah! and it had been a huge hit with the kids. Maybe we should come again for my 80th, I was thinking – then again, maybe not.