Photo by Barbara Marciniak.
In the early days of my relationship with Jodi, who I would later marry, we were so caught up in each other that we were close to being swept away and consumed by a rising tide. If you think that sounds like a sentence from a tacky romance paperback then let me elucidate.
We had gone to South Wales for a weekend getaway. Jodi had been attracted by the name ‘Mumbles,’ the name given to the two tiny breast-like islands off the coast of Swansea. I couldn’t recall ever having been to Swansea before so agreed it was a Good Idea.
It was a glorious summer day when we arrived and after parking the car we strolled down to the sea front with a picnic hamper full of sparkling wine and cucumber sandwiches. Discovering that the tide was out we crossed the rocky shore to the first of the Mumbles islands. We climbed the steep hill and found a sheltered spot where we spent the afternoon picnicking and dozing. It was a wonderful and relaxed few hours doing nothing but enjoying each other’s company in the sun. By four though we were ready to leave and so we gathered up our belongings and made our way back down the hill.
After such a pleasant afternoon it was a shock to discover that the tide had come in since we’d arrived and we were now cut off from the mainland.
“Oh dear,” I said to Jodi. “This isn’t good.”
Jodi remained upbeat.
“We’ll figure it out,” she said in that hopelessly optimistic tone I’ve come to love in Americans.
We reached the shoreline and found a fellow strandee surveying the rising water and, a little over halfway out, another man who was wading through the swelling waves. The water was already up to his waist and he was struggling. But after a few minutes effort he made it to the opposite shore. I knew we had to act fast.
“Quick,” I said to Jodi, tugging off my shoes. “If we go now we’ll probably make it.”
Jodi looked at me with raised eyebrows and the slowly-dawning realization that I was perhaps not the cool guy she’d thought me to be.
“Just take your jeans off,” I prompted, unbuckling my belt, when she made no move to follow my lead.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she said with a furrowed brow as I stood with my jeans around my ankles.
“Well, I don’t really fancy spending the night here,” I replied. “What if the tide comes all the way up to the top of the island?”
Jodi considered this for a moment but didn’t seem remotely convinced. I looked over at the middle-aged man who had been stranded with us and knew in an instant that, were the three of us to be stuck on the island overnight, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill and eat us.
I removed my jeans completely and was about to urge Jodi once again to listen to reason when, over her shoulder, I saw that a crowd was gathering on the other side of the water. A man waved at us and I waved back. He shouted something but he was too far away for us to hear what it was though the accompanying hand gestures lead me to conclude it was something along the lines of ‘If You Get Into The Water Now You Will All Die!’
I didn’t know what to do. We were literally and metaphorically caught between a rock and a hard place. Attempt to cross to the mainland through the rapidly rising tide and we might get swept away and drowned. Stay on the island and we might get murdered. The Third Man was looking more and more like a serial killer in waiting.
I felt a growing sense of trepidation at our predicament, though overriding everything was my increasing embarrassment as more and more people joined the crowd to stare at us like we were an exotic zoo exhibit. The least I can do to improve this situation, I said to myself, is put my trousers back on. Jodi, to my horror, was now smiling and chuckling to herself. Oh God, I thought, please stop looking like you’re enjoying yourself.
Not many minutes later I became aware of the hum of an engine floating across the water. A dot appeared on the horizon and gradually formed into the shape of a speed-boat manned by three people in yellow jackets. As they drew closer Jodi smiled and waved and I felt myself shrinking further and further inside myself.
The boat pulled up to the water’s edge and a kind-faced man stepped out.
“You did the right thing staying where you were,” he said earnestly, “this is one of the most treacherous tides in the country.” I felt my knees buckle.
He helped me and Jodi--and the serial killer--into the lifeboat. I thanked them for rescuing us, apologised unreservedly and set my face into the usual expression of deep self-loathing and contrition and kept my mouth shut for the journey back to the mainland. Jodi, meanwhile, was clearly loving every minute of the experience and was attempting to chit-chat with our rescuers.
“So you guys are volunteers or is this your job?” she said with a smile.
“We’re volunteers,” the kind-faced man said curtly and I felt my face flush an ever deeper shade of maroon.
“How often do you get called out like this?”
Jodi began to hum a chirpy tune to herself. Had I known her then as I do now I would have recognized that this was something she does when she’s nervous rather than because she’s having a grand old time.
Arriving at the landing bay back on the mainland we were escorted ashore through a large throng of grim-faced locals and smirking holiday-makers, some of whom were cheekily taking photos of the occasion.
After we’d been debriefed by the coastguard—which involved looking at a tide chart, being given some literature and made to realize both how foolish and how lucky we’d been—we were allowed to leave. We both thanked our rescuers once again. Our fellow strandee--the serial killer--had legged it as soon as the boat had landed. I told them what an amazing job they were doing and left feeling ashamed for wasting their time. We made our way to a nearby cafe and sat outside eating ice cream, relieved we had avoided death until, noticing that people were looking at us and were sniggering behind their hands, we decided to leave Swansea all together.
We spent an uncomfortable night at a crummy hotel a few miles inland from Mumbles. The proprietor--a greasy man of about forty-five with an air of desperation about him--greeted us when we arrived and asked if we wanted dinner. We said we would love dinner. We threw our bags into our room and made our way to the dining room. There were half a dozen diners already eating and among them a couple I thought I recognized from the throng we’d passed through when the lifeboat had brought us ashore. I was newly embarrassed. I looked down at my dinner and found I’d suddenly lost my appetite. I moved the food around on my plate and glanced back over at the couple who were pretending to have a normal conversation. I could tell from the way they kept looking over that they were talking about us. I pushed the plate away, leaving my meal more or less untouched.
Our host returned and seemed rather put out that I hadn’t eaten my dinner and began to tell us how hard it was running a small guest house these days.
“Business isn’t what it used to be,” he said sadly. “Tonight’s quite busy but the restaurant is sometimes totally empty.”
We commiserated with him and then Jodi unexpectedly announced it was getting late and we should go to bed.
It wasn’t even dark when we left the dining room but we had psychically come to the same conclusion: The sooner we were asleep the sooner we could leave. We made a pantomime of elaborate yawning and said goodnight. As we were heading to the staircase our host abruptly announced that he would be going home for the night once the restaurant was empty and we’d be in the guest house alone.
“Not to worry though,” he said. “I’m leaving the dog here overnight so you won’t be totally on your own.”
I wasn’t sure whether I should be worried that he thought we needed a guard dog or that the dog in question was a Jack Russell terrier and would pose no threat to anyone over the age of six.
“I’m locking the door when I leave and once I’m gone you won’t be able to go out again tonight.”
“Er, ok,” I said worrying that he was in cahoots with the serial killer from earlier.
“Good night then,” he said. “See you for breakfast.”
We went to our room and collapsed onto the bed. Jodi read while I started at the ceiling praying for the sweet relief of sleep.
Later, after an hour of almost total silence, we heard the front door close and the sound of a car engine starting up. The dog, who had been shut in a downstairs room somewhere, started to howl mournfully. After a few minutes of howling, when it had figured out that nobody was going to respond, it began barking. This continued on and off for the rest of the night. The dog would stop for a few minutes and the night would become totally silent. Jodi and I would breathe a sigh of relief and attempt to get to sleep. But just as we were nodding off it would start up again. Barking. Howling. Howling and barking. We tried to block it out but it was no use. The bastard only ceased howling and barking when a car pulled up outside the house the following morning a little after seven and the proprietor came in.
By the time breakfast was being served Jodi and I were both exhausted and in a foul mood. We had barely slept at all and were keen to get away as quickly as possible. Neither of us felt like eating breakfast any more and tried to slip out unnoticed. The proprietor heard us coming down the stairs though and appeared from the kitchen wiping his hands on a dirty apron.
“Did you sleep well?” he said with a smile.
“Oh, yes,” I lied, beginning to suspect he had left the barking dog in the house overnight as punishment not only for wasting the previous evening’s meal but also for our earlier actions at Mumbles. They all know each other in these small communities, I reasoned. He was bound to have heard about what had happened. Maybe that couple in the restaurant had told him. The shits. My left eye began to twitch as my sleep-deprived brain whirred from outlandish scenario to outlandish scenario.
“We’re off then,” I said. “No need for breakfast. We’re not hungry.”
“Oh…” Our host sounded extremely disappointed. “Are you sure?”
“Quite sure,” I said firmly. “We’ve got a long drive ahead of us and… well...” I trailed off.
“Well come back any time,” he said forcefully.
“Of course,” I said knowing that I would never in a hundred lifetimes return to Swansea. “And bring the kids. We’re family friendly you know.”
“We don’t have any kids,” Jodi replied with a bemused chuckle.
“Well, when you do, make sure you come back!”
“Right, ok,” I said, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.
We said our goodbyes and once we were safely in the car we giggled over the comment about the two of us having children together.
On our way back to Kirtlington we stopped at the National Botanic Garden of Wales for a visit. As we crossed the car park Jodi suddenly grabbed her side and let out a small yelp.
“Are you ok?” I said.
“No. I’m in terrible pain.” She was doubled over now. She staggered over to an iron railing and leaned against it to catch her breath. A few minutes later she was fine again and my mind began to wander down a strange and never before explored tunnel. I didn’t say anything and thought that maybe it was just because the hotel owner had been talking about families, but I had an instinct that she was pregnant. A few weeks later we discovered that I had been right.