Tuesday 27 September 2016

The Angel who saved my Christmas

Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30

Making a splash: Some of the Christmas Day swimmers who braved the elements.
Making a splash: Some of the Christmas Day swimmers who braved the elements.

It was a small Christmas miracle. Christmas morning at Seapoint. Any hope that the rain might have put off Christmas swimmers was dashed by the crowds. But we got parking and the wife and kids got somewhere to stand and in I went. I swam around a bit trying not to look down on the Christmas amateurs who made a big palaver out of getting in and out. I don't whoop when I get in. I walk methodically in, not thinking about the cold. The cold is all in your mind. Until after 20 minutes or more when the insistent bite on the tips of your fingers and toes can't be ignored.

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I don't look down on the others mainly because I am conscious that I am fairly low on the pecking order of these things myself. I am a Johnny-come-lately to the sea also. And Seapoint isn't my regular haunt. But the smugness of knowing that I was in the day before, and I will be in the following day again, and that I am largely feeling no pain, does warm me a little.

After I got out we drank a bottle of vintage Champagne I got from a rich man's cellar for doing a favour once. It had been planned weeks before with a friend, to mark a turning point. It was the end of a shit year and next year, which is going to be better, began here. So we had a tailgate party in the rain, with Champagne and chocolate Mikados and mince pies.

We got back in our own car slightly giddy from the daftness of it all, and the designated driver went to start it. Nothing doing. I eased her gently if condescendingly out and said I would start it for her. The car is a fine vintage itself but it has its quirks. But still nothing doing. The younger child senses tension and it doesn't agree with her. She started freaking, but, I have to say, in an admirably cogent and articulate way. "I have to get out of here!" she wailed. "You don't understand! I can't do this!" I knew exactly what she meant. The rain was getting heavier now and there were suddenly cars everywhere. The chaos was beginning to feel biblical. The younger one set the older one off. The two of them were wailing for me to do something. And there was nothing I could do. The buzz of my glass of Champagne and of the cold sea was wearing off fast.

And then my wife sprang into action. I'm still not sure how she identified the man with the jump leads and I'm not sure I want to know. But I can only imagine she went down to the throng of swimmers and shouted into the wind and rain for help. And one man admitted he had jump leads. He was just out of the sea and needed to get dry and changed and he'd be back with them then. And he did come back, from way up the road where he was parked. He couldn't get his car down to give me a jump but we would find someone. So we opened the bonnet to find my battery. No sign of it. Obviously I was feeling like a right wimp at this stage. Not only was I a damsel in distress who sent his wife out into the elements to look for jump leads, but I didn't even know where the battery was in my own car. Channelling my inner Clarkson, I eventually located it in the boot. My Christmas angel stuck with me patiently. Then we had to stop another woman who was driving past and get her to open up her bonnet and give us a start. Mercifully, the car started. The Christmas Angel grabbed his jump leads and he was gone. I had thanked him several times throughout the process and he just kept saying that plenty of people had done it for him down the years. But I never got to thank him properly, to get his name or number. So if he's reading, can I just tell him that he saved our Christmas, and he didn't have to do it, and he had plenty of opportunities to escape.

I took that bit of Christmas goodwill as a sign. It was a good omen. This year is going to be a better year. We have turned a corner. God knows all of us will have our various crosses to bear over the next year, not least a General Election followed by the national hysteria of the 1916 commemorations. But I guess the important thing to remember is that as much as a lot of people can be a pain in the ass, most people are fundamentally fairly sound. And it's always worth taking a minute or two to perform a small act of kindness for people, because it can make a huge difference to the recipient. Happy New Year.

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