Thirdly came the sailor. A chap. Youngish, lithe but grisly with brown hair, reddish about his face, falling down moplike about his ears. He was handsome and sat around the other side of the reservoir, near a slipway outside a tatty boathouse. Wearing dark overalls and latex gloves, he was hunched over an upturned topper, its hull glistening and roughish from the tar he was using to fix it up. It had been hauled there by an equally tatty car, to which it was attached, and which for some reason evoked, together with his faultless and uncompromised smile, a memory in me of student youth, happy in simplicity, hopeful, grounded, and of a time when I used to be kind to strangers.
His smile, the only brilliance in that face, sandwiched between the reddish matte of his hair, didn’t waiver throughout his short conversation with my father, of which I caught the remnants after cycling up to them.
“Can’t help, I’m afraid,” he said, beaming with kindness. “If you’re looking for sailing, this club’s not your best bet – it’s generally just open at the weekends,” beaming, he paid no attention, whilst with us, to his job at hand; a radiance of uncompromised kindness and gentleness to those that approached him.
“It’s my girlfriend’s, not mine,” he said upon enquiry, “yes, here I am, stuck with the grunt work – she sails it, and I fix it!”
Our eyes moved to the Surrey countryside, to a picturesque church at the top of a hill, and the man-boy sailor humoured my father’s offhand, irrelevant comment on the surrounding beauty, and on that church, and still the sailor smiled as he said, “yes,” though he knew nothing of the church, the surroundings or the boat club, and again couldn’t “help, I’m afraid.”
On our cycling away, down the tree-lined avenue opposite the slipway, we found the gate through which we had passed to be locked with coarse chains.
“He’ll have trouble getting his car out of here,” my father said, and the sailor drifted from our memories as we conducted the exertion to vault the fence with our bikes, and heaved ourselves over, whilst he, the boy-sailor, brimming with smiles and simplicity, polished away at his boat which wasn’t his at all, heedless of his immurement.
Bough Beech Sailing Club, Winkhurst Green Road, Bough Beech, Edenbridge Kent TN8 7AN, is a stone’s throw from the Nature Reserve & Visitor Centre.