We hated every minute of it!

Sur le banc du Bûcheron

David Lodge se met à la voile. Sur un Mirror ! Échec…

In 1978 we had a different kind of holiday. … I had the idea that if Julia, Stephen (ses enfants) and I learned to sail a dinghy it would greatly enhance our holidays in Connemara. Accordingly I booked a week’s introductory course with a sailing school in Salcombe, Devon, preceded by another week in a hotel near Broadcastle on the north coast of Cornwall. I had supervised an MA student working on Thomas Hardy’s novel A pair of blue eyes, which is set in that spectacular and romantic landscape and had many connections with Hardy’s courtship of his first wife. I had conceived the idea of writing a television dramatization of the story. It seemed to me that Hardy had a very cinematic way of placing human figures in landscape, and there was a scene in particular in ‘A pair of blue eyes’ which cried out to be filmed, when the heroine rescues one of her two rival suitors, who is clinging perilously to the edge of a high cliff, by stripping off all her Victorian underclothes and making a rope of them. We had a most enjoyable week exploring the location of this story in and around Boscastle before moving to Salcombe for the sailing course.

We stayed in a hotel, Mary (son épouse) spending the days onshore with Christopher (leur plus jeune fils, atteint du Down syndrome), while Julia and Stephen (les deux aînés), then aged 18 and 16, did the course with me. They told me later in life that they hated every minute of it, and I didn’t enjoy it much myself. None of us had any previous experience of, or natural aptitude for, sailing, and such courses inevitably generate a competitive atmosphere which is depressing to the less adept, so we felt more and more marginalized as the week progressed. It ended with a race in the course of which we ran aground on a sandbank and had to be towed off. We did however learn the rudiments of dinghy sailing, and I was determined to apply this knowledge on our next holiday in Connemara.

The following summer (having had no sailing practice in the meantime) I rented a Mirror-Class dinghy from a supplier in Birmingham, a very basic boat built of wood, so heavy that Stephen and I only managed to lift it on the roof rack of our Ford Cortina estate, and drove it all the way to the west of Ireland. (As I write this I wonder at my commitment to such a foolish and laborious project.) I had divided the holiday in two parts: one week at a hotel at Renvyle, a beautiful part of the coast at the north-west extremity of Connemara, and a week in a rented bungalow near the William’s cottage in Cashel. Julia, now old enough to be independent, had wisely arranged some other kind of holiday for herself, so Stephen and I were the only sailors.

The first week was wet and windy and Renvyle is much more exposed to the Atlantic weather than Cashel or Roundstone. It could not have offered more different or more challenging conditions than the sheltered Salcombe estuary. Stephen and I made an attempt to launch our boat from the beach and were soon beaten back by the Atlantic rollers. A photo survives, taken by Mary, of the enormous empty beach under a threatening sky, and in the middle distance our boat lying on its side in the shallows with Stephen and I stooped forlornly over it like survivors of a shipwreck. The weather did not improve enough that week to encourage us to make another attempt, but I thought that Cashel Bay, being a long inlet from the open sea, would offer more favourable conditions. The weather also improved, and on an encouragingly sunny day we got our dinghy into the water, and set sail.

At first all went well. A strong breeze from off the shore filled the sail, and we sped along at an exhilarating pace – much faster than anything we achieved in Salcombe. This, I thought, is the real thing at last. Then I became aware that around us and ahead the waves were flecked with crests of white foam that in some cases were caused not by the wind but by the projection of rocks. A collision with one of these at the speed we were going could hole and sink the boat, which was already taking a good deal of water over its characteristic blunt prow. Stephen and I both wore life jackets, and he was a strong swimmer, but I was not, and by the time we were well down the bay, and at some distance from either shore. Scanning the land I could see no sign of any person who might observe us if we got into difficulties; nor was there another craft to be seen on the water. I pointed out the rocks to Stephen, and said: ‘This is too dangerous, I’m going back.’ I managed to turn the boat round without capsizing it and tacked back to our starting point, so I suppose some of the Salcombe training had stuck. We dragged the boat out of the water, put it on the roof of the car, and I never sailed in it, or any other dinghy, again.

David Lodge, Writer’s Luck, A Memoir: 1976-1991, Harvill Secker, Londres, 2018

David Lodge au volant de sa voiture

Le Mirror familial, enfin, celui de Jacqueline, à l’Île de Ré :


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