No problem, a pleasant trip to the sea with the girls ensues. Though future editors of Time Out's otherwise excellent Guide To Lisbon please note - to the sentence "from Oeiras onwards you will experience miles upon miles upon miles of golden shoreline..." please add - "IF however you are one of those truly ignorant tourists stupid enough to actually get off AT OEIRAS rather than ANY of the subsequent stops where the Beach/Train Station access ratio is beyond adequate, you will have to wander through a distinctly non-tourist-haven-like urban settlement whose locals upon being asked "praia?" will uniformly respond with muted horror and point in a direction vaguely toward the hills, you then will blindly stumble down through steep deserted streets past decades-ago closed pharmacies and restaurants before a madcap dash across a highway brings you STRAIGHT TO THE BEACH."
Day 2 - blisteringly warm, sun blazing, straight to the beach - one that is accessible by transport other than helicopter. What could possibly go wrong!
SMACK! In the middle of some tig/tag beach-bound chasing game Boy Child 2 (not ours - but on our watch) decides to take an imaginary free kick at the only slightly submerged rock on the entire beach causing his toenail, of which I imagine he was rather fond, to take the next step on its journey to really find itself, now free of the shackles of being connected to the boy's foot.
I fashion a bandage out of a handkerchief (unused). For a moment I feel at one with nature, practical, original man. Then I remember I carry a handkerchief.
Day 3 - CRASH! In a good way this time - leaping into brilliant high waves and being thrust into the warm surf face down in the sand very much allows for the practice of being in the present moment. Try anything, begin any thought process and you'll soon find this interrupted by a thumping stinging aquatic smackdown: "I wonder if I left the gas/BLAM!" - "Oh this is so much f/SHUDAMM!" - "Shoot, did my wedding ring just come/POOMFUDD!" - "It's getting hard to breath n/CHHHHDUNCK!"
It was some twenty minutes into this ecstasy of pretending to be clothes in a saline-based washing machine that I noticed the most curious optical illusion. Both Girls 1&2 (ours & not ours) and Boy 2 (not ours) seemed to be happily lying on the beach, the group decision having been taken to get out. Yet for some entertaining reason in a manner not dissimilar to a slow version of the famous Jaws shot (Roy Scheider on beach / camera pans out & tracks forward*) the other kiddiewinks and the beach seem to be incredibly suddenly rather further away than makes sense and as Boy 1 (ours - I didn't technically make him but in this and the subsequent few minutes he sure is about to become a physical extension of myself) attempt to swim what a few seconds ago was the five or six metres towards the shore.
I suddenly can't feel the sand beneath me and waves are pretty high around us. I have Boy 1 in sight and check he's OK, he smiles. He is still swimming slightly ahead of me towards the beach apparently advancing at a rate of no strokes forward and nine strokes back. I too, by no means a Channel swimmer but not without stamina, am getting nowhere.
Hmmmm, we're in a rip.
I make one more attempt to do completely the wrong thing, which is to fight the current. It at least brings me nearer to Oli - I tell him 'hang on, it'll be OK'. He informs me very calmly that he is in fact moving quite quickly in a direction rather against that which he would prefer to be going and not under his own momentum. I leap/dive/fall to him, grab his arm and pull him towards me. From here there isn't a lot of dialogue and the following thought process seems to occur as interminably slowly as one of the lengthier Bergman films might feel if presented without subtitles, yet probably was in real-time the duration of a squirrel fart:
We seem to be caught in a rip, what are you meant to do again? I vaguely remember something about swimming across it, rather than against it... Definitely against it is wrong as we are now much further out than is warranted by our efforts... But how in the deep blue fuck am I going to swim across it and keep hold of the boy, he's strong but he ain't doing that on his own... Besides which way IS across it? We seem to be sailing in a vague diagonal away from the shore... so if you're supposed to go across, is that at 90 degrees, 45 degrees...? ...that means, oh fuck it, my maths isn't strong enough even if my one-armed swimming is... I wonder if I can get us to those rocks, at least then we can rest... Gosh, I'm swallowing rather a lot of seawater, these giant waves were much more fun on the shoreline... Perhaps it's time I let the professionals intervene... There are some folk on the rocks.
I clear my throat and call out:
"Say, hello my good man... HELLO MY GOOD MAN!... Yes, hello there, would you mind awfully... wait, do you speak English? Oh it doesn't matter you'll infer my meaning... Yes, hello there. We seem to be in a spot of bother here... would you mind awfully bringing this to the attention of those chaps who guard lives, as it were... well, quite literally actually... yes, it's of the highest priority... if it were an email it would have a little red flag next to it... yes I can see you pointing towards the beach, that's very much where we'd like to go thank you...
A little more treading (and swallowing) water, the duration of which feels like two un-translated Bergman films - real-time; maybe three minutes. Then suddenly, ploughing through the surf comes a very welcome fellow with an even more welcome floatation device over to which I fling Oli before I gratefully grab hold. He is rapidly joined by another chap, who Oli notices is wearing flippers. Flipper-guy throws a life-preserver onto Oli and lifts him onto a small floating board, then the remaining three of us water-babies swim in a direction dictated to by Flipper-guy (in truth I suspect I contribute about six percent to the momentum). This direction seems to be further out into the sea and we are buffeted by higher and higher waves, however these chaps aren't panicking and so neither shall I. Oli displays his only moment of uncertainty, asking 'where are we going?' a couple of times. Swimming, rather than engaging in elucidatory banter appears to be their priority so I loudly if a little breathlessly reassure him, telling him not to worry.
In fact I suddenly laugh out loud as I think of the understandable yet absurd nature of the question; a child's desire for knowledge and reassurance. Of course what they are doing is following the rip-current around the sharper-looking-than-before rocks further out to sea so that they can suddenly cut across it and out of it so that the pounding waves of the tide propel us once more in the desired direction of the incoming tide toward the beach. (Desired for humans, that is; the fish, they mind less). By now another hero surfer has come to our aid and offers me his surf board but at this point the effort required to haul myself onto it and remain there seems more involved than the effort to keep swimming so I politely decline. In retrospect I'll probably remember this bit of oceanic camaraderie as quite fun. Right now it isn't. The second moment of apparent-absurdity occurs as the kindly surfer keeps asking if we're Dutch (or Deutsch, I cannot tell for the sea roar partly restricts my hearing...) and Oli keeps telling him we're English. All I can think of is - what the fuck does that matter?...
And almost, almost as quickly as it began and after four particularly heavy waves temporarily sinking me, I feel sand under my feet and I am dragged to shore breathing fairly heavily. Oli is relatively beaming, and offers to go and get mum as the blurry bronze muscles in front of me order me to sit down for a minute, or two.
In a Portuguese accent.
*I am fully aware that Orson Welles first conceived of this shot.