The Swimmer by Lesley Matthews – Part 2

The second part of The Swimmer by LESLEY MATTHEWS

It is June 1934 and 14-year-old Margaret is competing with other swimmers in a sea race when she gets cramp…

… As Margaret sank for the third time, she tried to call for help, but the stewards’ boats were too far away to hear or see her, a little head bobbing in an enormous sea. A calm began to enfold her, the water changed from salt to fresh, from cold to warm. The sound of gulls faded from her ears and she thought she could hear the shrill cries of parrots, the chattering of monkeys. The colour of the sea changed from blue to dark green, the sea seemed to thicken and she sensed tall trees around her, creepers trailing into the water. She could smell an unfamiliar spicy greenness.

‘Ee lass, whatever is the matter?’

‘Uncle George? Am I dead? Have I drowned”?

‘Don’t be daft. You’re OK, it’s just cramp. Now breathe in, relax.’

She felt strong arms support her, take away the pressure. She rose to the surface.

‘Your dad and I wouldn’t let you drown. We’ll see you through. You’re doing well – keep this up.’

She felt a rough kiss on one side of her face then the other. She could feel stubble; smell the aroma of her dad’s Player’s Navy Cut.

How could this happen? Her father had drowned when she was ten, falling from his fishing boat at the Fish Quay. The crabs had nibbled his hands and face away before they found him, recognisable only by the sailing ship tattooed on his back. Her Uncle George had been missing, presumed dead, for eight years, lost from the Empire Star while steaming up the Orinoco.

Everything faded; she was back in the North Sea, cramp now gone. Confused and disorientated, it took her a few moments to get back into the rhythm of the swim. She felt sure everybody had overtaken her by now, felt she had lost a great deal of time; but refusing to admit defeat to herself, she swam on. Soon her inner strength reasserted itself and she pulled strongly for the Groyne and the finishing line.

On and on she swam, on past Frenchman’s Cove, past Trow Rocks. This race was her battle, she didn’t care if she won now, only cared that she finished. She hoped Jimmy and the boys she spent her childhood with would be there to see her, see that even if she was ‘only a girl’ she was just as strong as they were. She smiled as she remembered how she could spit cherry stones further than any of them. Could swing from the hooks of cranes and dive further out into the Tyne than any of them.

‘I’ll show them,’ she thought as her arms and legs protested at the effort she was making.

Then, it was all over. Strong hands helped her to her feet. Helped her up the steps. Warm towels were wrapped around her. She could hear yells and cheers. Uncle Billy stood proudly before her.

‘How did I do? Was I very far behind?”

‘No, hinny, not far at all. You won.’

Lesley Matthews has been concerned about climate change for a very long time, so when she happened upon the Fishguard and Goodwick Community Fridge, she was delighted to get involved.

“After over 20 years visiting Pembrokeshire with my husband, we made the move from Bristol to live here about two years ago. I love waking up every morning and seeing the sea,” she says.

As a retired teacher, Lesley found herself with time on her hands and a need to be part of her new community. However, since she found the Community Fridge she has also taken on the new role of food saver champion.

Kitty Parsons

Kitty Parsons

Kitty is an incomer, with five summers under her belt and the knowledge that even the wettest and greyest of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire. She knows she will never live long enough to be considered a local but hopes to leave some small mark through writing about this beautiful county and its people.

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