I am a toddler. Maybe two years old. On holiday by the River Thames at Henley. Two hundred miles from my home town of Widnes in Lancashire.
Widnes was a heavy chemical industry town and Henley would feel like a green paradise by comparison.
I’m with my father, mother and my older sister.
All around us there are families picnicking and relaxing – almost as if by the seaside. This is about 1956.
I remember watching lots of these people head down to the water’s edge and then dive in or jump in to go swimming. In this part of the river there were wooden floating perimeter beams to mark out this bathing area.
Something in my tiny brain must have clicked and told me that if everyone else was doing that then I should be doing it as well.
Up I get. Unnoticed by family. I toddle off to the water’s edge and suddenly I’m in the water, then under the water! Completely unable to swim of course.
I’m going down, down, down, sinking, drowning. Above me I can see the surface of the water, distorted and catching the sunlight. The water has a greenish hue. Bubbles surround me – all going upwards while I go down.
Then suddenly I have the image of my father breaking though the surface of the water and reaching down to rescue me. He was wearing a navy blue beret (as a sunhat), sunglasses that clipped onto his spectacles and baggy white tennis shorts.
(Luckily, back at home he ran the local swimming club and taught life saving.)
His hands reached out and grabbed me. I was rescued. I was safe.