A distant memory in time and place.
The life in Nutwood turned me on
To stories, as I sat upon
My mother’s knee, so keen to hear
Fantastic tales of Rupert Bear.
Four cartoon pictures on a page
A rhyming couplet to assuage
All those whose reading skills were low;
A prose rendition lay below.
The Bear was often all at sea.
Washed up upon a desert isle.
And chased by savages (not PC).
He never stopped to stand a while
To feel the sun, eat coconut
Beneath the palms where fishes teem.
That image never faded, but
Lay dormant, just a childhood dream.
The year is 1983, and we find ourselves on a desert island, though not an island that is deserted. The place is Rarotonga, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. How did we get here? Not in a sailing ship as Captain Cook did, and who gave his name to this cluster of islands and atolls – but by air, following a zigzag route which crossed the international dateline three times, leaving in its wake a week with two Tuesdays and a missing Friday.
Come closer: we are about to witness a dream coming true. We’re here at the side of the road at the eastern end of the island. As you might imagine, this tarmac road is bordered with palm trees. Ah, here it comes; a pickup truck from Avarua, the main town on the island. It stops on the bend in the road. A man gets out, says something to the driver, and the pick-up drives off.
We follow the man through a small scrubby park to a curving sandy beach bordering a lagoon. Across the bay there’s a spit of land, covered in coconut palms. A narrow channel leads out of the lagoon into the expansive picture-postcard-blue Pacific, where a hundred yards out a white line of waves breaks over a coral reef. There is a gentle breeze; the sun is overhead and strong. The man sits on the sand and takes off his shoes.
I walked upon this beach of golden sand,
Went barefoot, felt the rising warmth.
Saw sunlight flicker through the waving palms.
And stopped to hear the swishing of the surf.
“I’ve done it now, at last, and here I’ve found
My childhood dream has just become a truth.”
I had got what I wished for, nothing less.
But soon the lapping wavelets did suggest
A creeping sense of boredom, I confess.
A nagging thought demanded: “So, what next?”
What next indeed! It’s what is known as ‘a threshold moment’, a magical time when reality shifts. A moment to be treasured, as it marks a significant milestone along life’s path.
An ending now in Rarotonga,
Time to part, be on my way.
My visit here need last no longer,
Nor any reason for dismay.
What evidence would vouch my visit?
What could I take? What souvenir?
An object that would be exquisite,
Distinctive of this hemisphere.
The man spots something in the sand. He gets up, walks over, and picks up a sea-shell. He turns it over, smiles back at the shell’s toothy grin, and puts it in his pocket.
I found a cowrie, perfectly designed
To be a memento, a means to teach
A salutary lesson of the kind
That silently says more than any speech.
I have it still, a way to bring to mind
Another life that once was in my reach.
Here, damp Worcestershire, is where I find
The time to deconstruct that palm-fringed beach.
The years have passed, I’ve changed a lot since then,
My adult attitude far more complex.
That Nutwood life was well beyond my ken,
Christmas Annuals no longer my effects.
The tea where I could dip my Madeleine
Did not exist in urban Middlesex.
“Be careful what you wish for”, but I say,
Appreciate the moment, then go play.
Peter Young © 2014