Jess of the dairy fields
by Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in May ’14
As the evenings draw out, the mild days and warm spring sunshine hint tantalisingly at the promise of impending summer and of happy days whiled away by the sea. The Dorset coastline is one of my favourite places in the world, and Ringstead holds a particularly fond place in my heart because Jasper and I spent a lot of time there when we were courting. Last week, inspired by a sunny day, we made a picnic, and drove down there for the day, much to Lily’s delight.
I was almost as excited about crabbing as she was. I love the whole ritual of carefully lifting up a rock, wondering what you’re about to find, and the excitement when you discover one. It takes me back to my childhood when my sister and I would spend long happy hours on the beach every weekend, swimming and filling our buckets with crabs, shrimps and starfish, which we would study in fascination before releasing them again before we went home.
It’s still rather cold for crabs so we only found two, but Lily was thrilled nonetheless and watched enchanted as they scuttled comically sideways and buried themselves under the sand.
Jasper is particularly fond of shrimping and has a real knack for it. I’m never quick enough, but with his lightning fast reflexes he had soon amassed a bucket full of them.
After lunch of the obligatory egg and cress sandwiches and ready salted crisps, we dozed drowsily in the gentle sunshine.
Lily suddenly slipped her little hand into mine: ‘You’re the best Mummy ever.’
I swallowed a lump in my throat.
‘And you are the best little girl in the whole wide world.’ I replied.
She propped herself on her elbows and gazed up at me beseechingly: ‘Mummy, will you come for a swim with me?’
I looked at her suspiciously. Was it merely coincidental that her declaration of affection was almost immediately followed by a request to enter the frankly Baltic waters?
‘I’d rather not darling. It’s freezing cold. I put my foot in it earlier and my toe almost dropped off with frost bite!’ I said, trying to put her off. She held her course with the implacable resolution of someone who knows that they will get their way if they just hold out long enough..
She just looked at me steadily: ‘You said that today was a treat.‘
‘That’s right, it is. Shall we get an ice-cream? You can have any one you like.’
She frowned: ‘Don’t want an ice-cream. I want a swim.’
‘I haven’t got my swimsuit!’ I said, trying to look dismayed. ‘What a shame.’ I added, for good measure.
‘You can go in in your pants.’ she shrugged.
I was running out of excuses now. It would be futile attempting to explain to a four-year-old that the sub-zero temperature of the water wasn’t the only thing that I didn’t relish. My legs are so preternaturally white that they appear luminous. I must confess I had also not been keeping myself ‘beach-ready’ for about a fortnight either.
In short, it would not be Ursula Andress emerging from the water as Honey Rider in Dr No so much as Undressed Albino emerging as Mrs Tiggy Winkle in the never–to-be-released No, no, no!
Not to mention post-baby varicose veins. I don’t even go from the bathroom to the bedroom these days without a towelling robe, yet here was my four-year-old daughter seriously suggesting that I frolic about in public in sub-zero waters, wearing nothing but knickers and a T-shirt.
‘No,’ I shuddered.
She paused for a second and narrowed her eyes:
‘You don’t love me at all. You won’t even come swimming with me,’ says she in a trembling voice; her bottom lip starts to quiver. Oh God.
Ten minutes later I was sitting at the water’s edge cursing to myself as I removed my linen trousers. I put on one of Jasper’s T-shirts as a makeshift top. I planned to shuffle in on my bottom, thus exposing as little of myself as possible to the other beach goers. My toes touched the water and I recoiled in shock. It is FREEZING cold.
‘Go on.’ Lily smirked as I gritted my teeth. I edged into the icy water, inch by inch. The coldness knocked the breath out of me; I noticed that my legs were no longer white; they were blue. Lovely.
It took 10 minutes to get in up to my waist. My teeth were chattering and I was covered in goose pimples.
After another few minutes I plucked up the courage to submerge myself. ‘The sooner I get in, the sooner I get out,’ I thought to myself, before holding my breath and diving in. I re-emerged 0.001 seconds later, praying my heart was still beating.
When I had recovered from the shock enough to talk, I turned to Lily. She was standing at the water’s edge giggling. Jasper was hiding behind his newspaper; the pages of which were twitching uncontrollably. Judas.
I affected a lofty indifference. ‘Come on Lily, in you come!’ I trilled. She stuck a toe gingerly into the water –
‘We made a deal. I said I would go swimming WITH you, not on my own.’
‘Don’t want to. It’s too cold.’
‘Lily, that’s not fair. Come on, get in.’
She looked at me thoughtfully for a minute before replying ‘Okay, give me ten pounds and I’ll do it.’