When it comes to beaches, my favourites have miles of fine sand and the occasional rock pool. On a recent trip to the seaside the view down to the water’s edge could not have been more disappointing. For the next hour or so I would be ‘playing’ on a short stretch of a narrow, steeply banked, pebble beach with nowhere comfortable to sit and relax. However while the prospect looked gloomy, the outcome was an inspiration!

Our grandson, River, who is now ‘three and three quarters’ – as he says with great determination – loves this beach and most days goes there after school with Ali, his Mum. That Sunday afternoon, out of Ali’s giant bag first came a bucket and spade, and soon a road, or was it a river bed, was dug down to the sea. That done, River ran to get a bucket of water to start things going but I intervened. With the big waves it was all too risky so I took off my shoes and socks and after a most uncomfortable walk across the pebbles scooped up a bucket-full. One was not enough, but after five, with my feet now freezing, I gave up and slowly hobbled back.

Next out of Ali’s bag came the kite which River adores. With him at the helm, his Octopus kite with its big eyes and eight tentacles was soon fluttering high overhead (see illustration); seeing that changed everything.

Some toys work and as a child I would spend hours cementing together tiny, perfectly-proportioned bricks to build walls and houses. It was the same when I constructed vehicles with my Meccano. However, at that moment on the beach my mind turned to my childhood toys that were failures. There was the expensive, silver and red metal sled which never slid; the extendable aluminium fishing rod that could never carry a line and, lastly the large and complicated box kite that I could never make fly. The sight of River flying his kite was a delight and an inspiration; I was now determined to go back and try again.

Next day in London, I bought a diamond shaped kite with assurances from the shop keeper that I would have no problems – it was ‘for children’. Not so, when I tried to fly it on Richmond Green; either it would not go up or it would fly limply, immediately spin round and nose dive. Three passing teenagers offered help and with Amy organising, Izzy on launch duties, and Jasper running round at full speed, we tried again but nothing worked and we gave up. Then came an explanation; as Amy left, she quietly told me how kites work best if there is wind. She also suggested that I give my kite a name – “They are temperamental and need encouragement.” 

From then on, each morning I read the weather forecast and while the wind conditions for the next day were good, it was far too gusty and again I failed. 

Disheartened, I contacted Ali who told how some kites just don’t fly! I bought a second and this time it was an even simpler shape. In honour of the original organiser it was named ‘Amy’ and with great ease she immediately soared higher and higher. Just being there holding the cord and feeling the kite quiver as it moved in the wind was wonderful. Moreover, with an assortment of quick tugs I soon learned how to control her flight. After more than seventy years I felt very satisfied, even proud – my childhood kiting disappointment had been laid to rest.

But there was more. It was not just me who felt pleased – it was soon clear that kites have magical appeal. As she fluttered aloft I was approached by people who either thanked me or wanted to chat. A Russian family escaping Putin couldn’t get over her simple grace and beauty. An Indian man told me how my kite reminded him of his childhood and how he and his friends would fly their paper kites from roof tops. A Turkish couple stopped to tell me how their three-year-old daughter was mesmerised. Last of all that day, a man in his sixties told me that it was lovely to see a kite in the sky adding ‘‘But you’re far too old to be flying one!’

My hour on the beach with River taught me so much. I suppose that usually it is grandparents who teach their grandchildren, but on this occasion it was the reverse. River inspired me to learn, to discover and to realise that I am not yet “too old”.

Interestingly, while I was kiting, my mind’s eye saw a copy of the 1794 etching on a wall at home in which there was a boy flying his kite on Richmond Green. I was right, and it happens that he was standing just a few yards from where I had been that afternoon some 200 years later (see second illustration).

The main illustration is a photo of ‘Octopus’ flying under River’s command. The second illustration, ‘A View of the Green in Richmond’ shows the 1794 etching of the Green with a boy and his kite on the right.

For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Ali, River, Andrew, Rohan and Vivien.

10 thoughts on ““You’re too old to do that”

  1. Joe,
    Such a touching blog.
    I had no idea this had been happen since our day at the beach! You never fail to surprise me.
    I wish I had seen your face when ‘Amy’ first soared high. River is certainly going to want to try her out when he nexts visits you.
    Lovely read.
    Love you.

    Ali xxx

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  2. Awwwwwh Joe you will never be too old for anything!

    You’ve provided another wonderfully uplifting story to start the weekend. I can visualise you running about trying to get the grumpy kite to fly, the old and young collaboration and the joy of ‘Amy’ reaching new heights.

    Magical, playful and simple pleasures Joe are what matter… and what a lovely end, seeing the 1794 etching of where you played. Just love this blog 😊

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  3. Joe- lovely blog which reminded me of the catchy tune from Mary Poppins – ‘Let’s go fly a kite’ :

    Mr. Banks:
    With tuppence for paper and strings
    You can have your own set of wings
    With your feet on the ground
    You’re a bird in a flight
    With your fist holding tight
    To the string of your kite
    Oh, oh, oh!
    Let’s go fly a kite
    Up to the highest height!
    Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
    Up through the atmosphere
    Up where the air is clear
    Oh, let’s go fly a kite!
    When you send it flyin’ up there
    All at once you’re lighter than air
    You can dance on the breeze
    Over ‘ouses and trees
    With your fist ‘olding tight
    To the string of your kite
    Oh, oh,

    © Wonderland Music Co. Inc.

    There’s something magical about flying a kite at any age !

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  4. Hi Joe. One of your better blogs. Probably because at our age people expect something different from us than pulling a kite along a beach trying to get it airborne. Way-to-go. Since our three sons were about River’s age we would buy them kites at Easter. They are now in their 40’s and even though we no longer buy them kites, (just recently stopped that tradition) I believe they are a bit disappointed when the Easter Bunny leaves just a few scattered chocolate eggs. Our grandsons are now the recipients of such pleasures. Keep it up. Don’t let the old person in!!

    PS: It’s always wonderful to read the Ali and River blogs.

    John

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    1. Dear John, It was good to hear about another oldie who has refused to give up. It was lovely writing about Ali – she is one of my favourite people. Yours, Joe

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  5. Dear Joe

    As a typical doting grandparent this blog resonated with me. As you point out grandchildren give us all who have them a chance to introduce, and thereby return to, our favourite childhood pastimes. I wonder how many generations kiteflying goes back in your family? A pastime which has not passed down in mine is making models out of cigarette packets and collecting (and winning) cigarette cards which I enjoyed as a child

    Thanks, Ian

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  6. Dear Ian, Thank you for your comment. I wonder how many hobbies are passed down through the generations. Although football was not one of my father’s interests, I have already started introducing our grandson to the importance of QPR. I plan to take him to his first game when he is around six. Yours, Joe

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