On facebook my posting conjured up some old jokes from university days, and some comments on how gorgeous I looked then compared to how I am now. Let's concentrate on the former. School days, college days – they're made for laughing aren't they? Catch a bus or train and listen to how kids laugh. Uncontrollably, joyously, snottingly, about absolutely nothing, setting each other off like fireworks. That's the spirit in which this anecdote should be enjoyed.
It can't of course, you weren't there. And you're too old. Except the person who reminded me of it wasn't there either, he'd just heard it repeated ad infinitum. “Many on the beach?” he asked. A line Anne and I still use over 30 years later as our own private language whenever we either (a) see a canoe or (b) encounter a fantastic non sequitur.
Anyway, 1981, New Quay, Wales. The Saint David's University College's canoe club, which consisted of four older lads who were being paid to go through college by the British army, my two mates who both wanted to join the British army, and me - a hippy pacifist - which is probably a tautology, but certainly didn't make me fit in. And the Falklands hadn't even happened yet.
We were stretching our Spring canoeing legs with a paddle in the harbour; piss in wetsuit, check; Eskimo roll, check; dunk Crispin, check. Time for lunch. We leave the canoes on the beach, but keep our paddles for it's half-term and South Wales' urchins are about. And so it is we enter the fish and chip shop. In wet suits, dripping water and sand, helmets on and holding paddles. Colin, our leader, presumably full of military training, sets to work on making friends with the enemy. But he is plainly somewhat self-conscious about his appearance and the sideways looks we are garnering from the holidaymakers. Because, when the fish fryer greets him with the not unreasonable opening gambit of “many on the beach?”, Colin answers with verve and gusto “canoeing.“
I can safely say this remains one of the funniest moments of my life. No question. I can smell it, see it, taste it, like it was yesterday. And it's only been enhanced by all the re-telling. But guess what? I wasn't actually there. They'd left me guarding the canoes. True.