Salt water in the lungs

2010-12-15 00:00

I’VE still got it on my bedroom wall — a plastic plate covered in splodges of oil paint. The splodges are rather dimmed by a 41-year accumulation of dust. But I can’t bear to get rid of this relic of a happy south coast holiday.

I was four and we were at a Margate hotel called, I think, the White House. Or maybe it was Whitehall. Whatever, it was most certainly all-white in every which way. This was, let us not forget, 1969.

We’d done Margate flat. By which I mean we’d been literally flattened. Its waves had dunked us. Its waves had dunked us again. And again. All those oxygen-deprived, lungs-filled-with-salt-water minutes of dunkeddom no doubt shed some light on my present mental deficiencies. There were even a few “Oh! Hello Great-gran, what are you suddenly doing here from beyond the grave?” near-death drowning experiences interspersed. Well, that was just about all Margate had to offer for entertainment back then.

Which rather explains why my bored-to-death, “one more beach talent contest and I’ll offer myself as a sacrifice to the nearest shark if only it means escape from this horror” parents perked up when they discovered that the hotel had a resident artist. Off they dashed to his room, my sister and I in tow.

I can remember it as if it happened only five minutes ago.

The artist’s walls were coated with the kind of

lurid kitsch that only the late sixties were capable of. He was particularly fond of a nauseating orange, which he counterpointed with an unusually bilious green. He didn’t even have the excuse of post-Summer of Love psychedelia. Such modern notions most definitely hadn’t seeped down to Margate by 1969.

“Oh, how lovely!” fluted my mother, her eyes darting frantically in search of the nearest escape route. “You have such talent!”

My father just stood glumly. It didn’t involve rugby or cricket so he wasn’t interested to start with, and anyway he was rather enjoying watching my mother deal with this masterclass of politeness at its most challenging.

“Which one to choose!” my mother trilled in a frenzy of ladylikeness that was rapidly approaching hysteria.

My father still just stood there glumly, only even more glumly now because it was looking increasingly as if this little misadventure would end with him having to fork out some hard-earned bucks.

“This one I particularly like,” hyperventilated my mother. “The riot of colour! The embracing of the abstract! It’s such a departure from your other work!”

“It’s my palette,” muttered the artist.

“Ah! Well ... It just goes to show ... Ha ha! What do I know? Erm, yes ... Uh, is it for sale?”

Fifty cents glumly grabbed from my father’s pocket later, we fled in disarray, proud owners of the artist’s greatest work.

That’s the south coast for you — lots of salt water in the lungs and even more happy memories.

I wouldn’t get rid of that plastic plate for the world.

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