COLUMN: August 22, 2013

I HAVE been away at a maximum-security forest holiday village. It is wrong to identify it by name, let us just call it Boden Butlins.

It has involved more swimming with young children than would normally be expected during a typical week, in the super-tropical thunderdome, I think it’s called.

“Swimming” is probably overstating the nature of the activity. One does not swim with young children. What one does is crouch, trying not to fall over, for an hour and a half to two hours, while the children have a whale calf of a time.

This teaches us a valuable lesson about context. If I attempted a cossack dancing stance while three-quarters naked in Marks & Spencer I would end up on some sort of register, but nobody bats a soggy eyelash at the pool.

Anyway, I don’t normally mind having my swimming activity curtailed. After all, it is “for the kids”. Also, I am not one of nature’s swimmers.

In fact, I think one of my best days was when that first proto-human crawled out of the water, flopped onto the sand, and thought, “Wow, this golden area with non-slippy rocks will make a great home. There are no sharks and it’s much easier to breathe. It will be even better when somebody invents towels.”

And I wasn’t even alive then, which just goes to show how many great days I have had.

However, on this occasion I did object, because I had been landed with the ring.

I have written before how I am plagued by things with holes in, e.g. front-door doughnuts, molar-destroying onion rings, my monthly budget. But this was the worst of the lot, a gargantuan inflatable ring, with which the children in my charge played for a maximum of 97 seconds over the two-hour period.

For the rest of the time I had to hold this colossal ring. It was like winning a large plush elephant at the coconut shy shortly after arriving at the fair and then having to lug it around for the rest of the day. (I imagine. I’ve never been able to knock off a coconut, but bear with me for the sake of the metaphor.) It’s a massive pain, but complaining about it makes one sound like Trevor Wet-Blanket, hon. sec. of the SWBBTGVS (Scrooge Was Better Before The Ghosts Visited Society).

But as I stood there, lumbered with Rubberhenge, I was comforted by the fact this was at least an improvement on what had happened earlier, when I attempted to inflate it.

I was standing in my trunks at a table by the side of the pool, and opened the valve. This was a big ask, I accept – this was no namby-pamby party balloon – but I am full of air and so I blew hard.

I felt my head go light. I think I saw stars. I had made precisely zero impact on the rubber ring. There was a man in late middle age on the next table. He gave me a look of understanding. This was a man who had been where I was, and left it behind, perhaps even with a sense of regret.

I parped into the ring again, with fresh resolve and more effort than I have ever expended on anything. I looked at the ring again. A deep wrinkle at the bottom of the hoop appeared to be slightly shallower.

OK, I thought, this is going to take a while, but I am having an effect on this thing. I blew again. My eyes popped. The man on the next table smiled, perhaps a little too much for the sake of solidarity.

A small crowd gathered, all astounded by the purple man.

I tried again, and again. Each time I could see a tiny smoothing in the ridged texture of the ring. Each time, I was aware of the man on the next table chuckling.

This is beyond me, I thought. I need the breath control of Bill Withers, or that man who did the longest trombone note ever on Roy Castle’s Record Breakers. Yes, I know my references are not very contemporary, but we can’t all be Jasper Carrott.

No, I thought, I have to do this. For the children.

Also so that the man on the next table, who was now rolling on the floor, hooting, tears of mirth streaming from his eyes, did not see me give up after ten minutes of effort.

He composed himself. “You know you can get that blown up over there?” he said, pointing over my shoulder.

About 20 feet behind me was a lifeguard surrounded by inflatable toys, with a pressurized nozzle in his hand.

I need a holiday.

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