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.