Once, when I was ten or eleven and I and my family were on holiday in the south of France, we went to a beach the day after a storm.
The waves were like nothing I’d seen before and like nothing I’ve seen since, though I’m sure they grew in my imagination. In my memory they would have been twenty or thirty foot high though I suspect they were less. They were the waves I learnt to body surf on. They were waves that you couldn’t escape because they were huge and powerful. Because they came after a storm there was no rhyme or rhythm to them, no counting for the third as surfers in the Pacific do, the Atlantic after bad weather is not predictable.
In my memory too the beach was full, parents staring at hundreds of children (and a good number of adults and teenagers) as we learnt to swim on the storm waves.
You had to time it, how far you swam out and when, you went out until you were chest deep when the water was out and then when the wave came roaring and rushing back into shore you held, held, held until you could see the white bubbles signaling the horses to come. Then, you swam aiming yourself to be just under the crest when it peaked and you let it take you at just the right moment and carry you, laughing, into shore.
The push and pull of the sea that day was awesome. The scent of salt, the power of it, my ability to ride it nine times out of ten and even those tenth times when I came unstuck and misread the underto being sucked below the wave or tumbled head over feet up the beach where I did not intend.
In the end, though body surfing storm waves came down to a great deal of luck, there was a skill to it. Now if the wave decided prepubescent me was going down then I went down scraping along the bottom of the ocean until it spat me out either far deeper than I should have been or lost somewhere along the crowded beech. The skill though, was timing when to swim, saving my strength for exactly that moment when the white bubbles of the powerfully crashing wave began, not too early or I’d miss the wave and be too tired when the next came, not too late or there was nothing for it but to crash wherever it left me. But time it just right and the storm was a powerful thing to ride.
I was eleven and it was the most afraid I’d ever felt.
There’s something about this that reminds me of waiting for the bubbles. There’s a wave pulling back and pulling back and we don’t know when the crest will come but we’re waiting and hoping we time this right.
The deaths have started to appear on my Facebook wall. The elderly, the already sick and dying. Sometimes it’s confirmed as coronavirus. Sometimes it’s not, but for every death I have to wonder, was it because everything was stretched thin? Would they have died this time last year?
I thought I hated austerity before this. I hate it and the seemingly BREXIT based desire to put profit ahead of people. I hate it so much.
It’s starting. There’s so much left to lose.