Old Men in the Water

I wouldn't be found dead in it. Its waters are inky black. Its depth unimaginable and there are things - you know things - floating about - I mean floating - you know! Poor Maeve. "What you have to worry about, Maeve, is the stuff not floating," said Peter. You need your wellies on. Between the tides it isn't so bad. A few months ago we did have a shark in there attracted by the scent of fish in the bait pond, and a delightful pair of barracuda were seen cruising around in the yacht basin. Funny thing, the water in the yacht basin is so clear you can see rocks, old mooring cables and flotsam twenty feet down. But that dark yawning harbour mouth is, unbelievingly, part of the same complex, and it is here where the old men gather to swim half a mile from the Costamar building on our side to the other side of the harbour entrance where there is a mole protected on the seaward side by huge concrete blocks, and on the inner side by wooden strakes, mooring ropes and a convenient slipway to climb out of the water.

Old Men in the Water

What is it about old men and the sea? I mean, dammit, what's wrong with a bathing pool early in the morning before the cleaners get there? There are lots of bathing pools lying around. No sewage floating about, all you have to worry about are dead dragon flies, moths and struggling cockroaches. The Costamar is a tall old building, allegedly built by Franco as a holiday home for his officers, containing many apartments and a cess pit and most days at high tide the contents of that cess pit are released into the harbour water for the beneficient ebb tide to carry out to sea. But sometimes it doesn't and the flood tide brings some of it back and it sort of hangs about. And these freaky old blokes paddle around in it waiting for the flood tide before they start swimming.

At first I was curious to watch these old guys wading around among the rocks. I stared, trying to find some meaning to their behaviour. When I finally twigged it I shouted to warn them of the odd incoming fishing boat that comes charging around the corner making for her berth. Pleasure traffic gives a working boat plenty of space but it would be almost impossible to see a swim cap on the surface.

Walking the perimeter from Cristimar, passing the fish market and the yacht basin and the slipway for the La Gomera ferry to the extreme far end, is about two miles, though you can do it in one with a following wind. I wanted to see this exercise in full, the swimmers emerging at the slipway where aficionados with towels were waiting. A two mile walk is good for you. So, at the other end and feeling good, I spotted my green cap about fifty feet out and coming on slowly. My attention wandered - as it frequently does - and I found myself too far from the edge of the stonework, saying hello to our smiling family from Bedford staying in number 204, to see what was happening in the water. The angle of incidence allowed my swimmer with the green cap to disappear from view about thirty feet from the edge. Now, paying attention to the task in hand, I excused myself and walked to the edge in case he was hanging on to a rubbing strake or something. The flood was running but still about ten feet below high water. No sight of my skinny old man. Alarm bells! Had he disappeared beneath the black water? Heart attack? Drowned? There was no sight of him at the slipway. Other people were standing around with towels. No query arose, no rising inflexion of voices, no surging waves of consternation. Everything appeared quite normal. Maybe he made it to the slipway. Maybe he'd taken off the green cap and I wouldn't recognise him. Or was it pale red? I'm hopeless with colours!

Stupidly, I felt responsible for his fate. I should have paid more attention. Dare one's instinctive reaction risk exposure to ridicule? My mind's eye, calling out the coastguard from their small office, sees the diver breaking surface, shaking his head, the others in their inflatable giving me funny looks, all these people staring... No. Couldn't bear it. I walked off, found Dick with whom I exchanged greetings, enquired after Jess, and put out of my mind the old man in the water. The ancient Greeks and Phoenicians were here in Tenerife. Maybe Poseidon figures in this somewhere with nymphs and tritons blowing conche shells mourning his death.

But no. On the following day the old guys are still gathered among the rocks by the Costamar. No Greek tragedy unfolds. Just normal chat. A few laughs. I see no green swim cap and goggles. Maybe my man just isn't here today. I turn away and continue my walk to the post office.

Information drifts on the wind, almost passing us by. Then we heard several days later of some bother at one of Barry and Joan's apartments. The other occupants couldn't get in. The missing man had the key and the spare key had been left inside. It is something that frequently happens. Keys get lost, mislaid, and there are notes pushed under our door calling for rescue. Four men from a chess club near Birmingham, one of them missing. If it was the man in the green swim cap why was nobody making a fuss? And what about his clothes? Was he wearing a chain round his neck, a chain with a key? The tide runs very strongly at the harbour entrance. If it is strong enough to take out all the gunge from the Costamar building it would take out a body, no bother.

The police were called and it occurred to me that I could have been the last person to see him alive! Barry said yes, he was an older guy. This is grief and tragedy to some unknown family deep in the depths of Birmingham. But we live in a different world and it is of no great consequence bar a swift entry in our diary, and then the whole thing is lost on the wind.

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