This is someone’s memory of a time when childhood had ended and adulthood had not quite arrived:
Dawn breaking, sunrise over the reed beds. The feel of the boat slipping through the water, moving downstream with the current. Light touching the treetops and glancing silver on the water, sound of ripple and splash. The events that took place were unique to a moment in time, preserved over the years by the feeling which has kept the memory alive.
I’m by nature a night bird, so on the few occasions when I experience a sunrise it is special, but each one reminds me of an April morning when I was sixteen and life was just beginning. Four boys I knew at the college where I was studying decided to hire a yacht for a week on the Norfolk Broads at Easter and, being practical lads and fond of their food, they asked me and two other girls to come along, occupy a second boat and take charge of the catering. The shopping list sent ahead to the boatyard’s store included essentials such as custard powder and at least twenty cans of soup.
It was a lot of fun and quite innocent. We did not use the sails much as the boats were equipped with engines and the boys, being engineering students, liked engines. Easter that year was cold and we lived in thick sweaters, and probably slept in them, and some nights the decks were dusted with fine snow which cleared in the morning sun. The evenings were spent in village pubs, for warmth and so that the boys could practice their newly-acquired beer habit. Several of us were under age but few questions were asked and answers were vague. Nobody got drunk. Some regulars may have been pained when the boys belted out the songs they used to sing in the showers after matches, but I guess the locals must have rightly decided the lads were too wet behind the ears to be a menace.
It was a time of friendship and safety within the group. After closing time we walked back to the boats through the dark lanes in an atmosphere of camaraderie. Everyone sat up to the small hours just talking and maybe dropping off to sleep over late-night cocoa brewed in an ancient brown enamel saucepan. We were innocents, somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Nothing of obvious significance happened: no dramas, no tantrums.
Mike’s uncle was a local artist. When all turned up on his doorstep he seemed unphased and gave us tea and, for the girls, signed copies of the Ladybird books on British Birds which he had illustrated. I chose ‘The Robin’ and still have the little volume, with the quickly sketched bird he added beside his signature on the flyleaf. John fell in the river. I made hot soup for him because I rather liked him and he let me wear his hat. He was grateful for the soup but that was as far as it went: uncomplicated.
On the final morning, we had stayed up all night, aware that we were due back at the boatyard at Potter Heigham by nine the next morning. So, as movements on the river were banned after dark, we decided to set off at first light. That was how it came about that I volunteered to take charge and steer through the dawn while the others slept. Alone on deck, I felt the boat’s gentle movement underfoot, listened to the sound of rippling water and relished the scent of new morning air. The world, gilded by sunlight as glints of gold caught the tips of reeds and set rooftops glowing, was awakening in the early light with the promise of a sunny day to come. It was a precious experience and it was sheer happiness.