Reading the gospel in preparation for my sermon last week reminded me of an event I hadn’t thought about for years. It didn’t quite fit in with the sermon theme but there’s no harm in trying.
A long, long, time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a daughter was born to Mr & Mrs Innes. Actually it wasn’t a galaxy far away, but Morningside and a basement flat. Up above them lived a couple called Geoff and Sheila who had three boys about the same ages as my sister and I. They all became good friends and kept in touch even when Geoff sailed off to the Navy and their family moved many times.
Leap on about fifteen years and Geoff was posted to South Queensferry to live in the captain’s house there. By this time the boys were in boarding school but during the holidays they were to come home and we were invited to go and meet up with them again. Now, remember that I have spent my life with three sisters and in an all-girls school, so meeting three boys was just a little bit scary. Especially when you’re just at that self-conscious teenage stage trying to be hip and trendy – and failing miserably. And I couldn’t believe it when I saw them – they were gorgeous! Each one of them more handsome than the last. Dear reader, I was in love.
Over that summer I found myself taking the boys round all the sights of Edinburgh. (This included pub-crawling in Rose Street which was THE place to be in those days.) Just before the boys went back to boarding school, Simon (the one closest in age to me) asked if I would keep on writing to him when he went back to school. Be still my beating heart! He also asked if I’d like to take part in a boat race with him.
Now at this point I must remind you that I am a city girl – happy in the pubs of Rose Street and my platform-soled feet on terra firma. The only boat I’d ever been in was the ferry over to Fife as a very young child. (Or perhaps a boating pond in St Andrews, if memory serves me well?) But I was also in love with Simon so I heard myself saying, “Hell, yeah!” I’m sure I must have pointed out to him that I hadn’t sailed before but he said it was easy and I’d pick it up. Ha!
Now the next problem was what to wear. My wardrobe didn’t exactly cater for a life on the ocean wave. So I went for a pair of enormous flaired jeans (not enormous in size, you understand, but enormous in width of flair), a stripy t-shirt (with a sort of matelot look) and, loathe as I was to ditch my platforms, a pair of trainers. Of course the trainers meant that my jeans were about 6 inches too long so I began the day with a large amount of wet denim flapping about my lower legs.
So off we set from Queensferry in a little boat with a sail (called a bosun?) along with about one hundred others. Now I wish I could tell you that a huge storm arose and we nearly drowned and fit it neatly in with the Gospel. But no. It was sunny all day but very, very wet in that little boat. Sea water kept coming over the side and I never did get the hang of diving from one side to the other whilst ducking the boom without getting ever more wet from the bottom of the boat. Then when we did manage that alarming tilting thing and I got to sit on the top of the boat, my bum got all wet from the spray.
All in all it was a rather scary experience for a city girl and meeting Simon’s parents again in the Club House cold and shivering, encased in about 5 metres of sodden cold denim and a hairdo that looked like a bird’s nest, was not me looking my best. (If memory serves me well, that was also the day I first tasted a gin and tonic but this has nothing to do with the story at all.)
But I did pray that day. Never having been to church, or having any kind of relationship with God, I do confess to praying in a kind of emergency way. Not being a great swimmer – a sort of breast-stroke only with head held above the water on a giraffe-like neck in case my hair and make-up got wet – there was a moment out there on the crest of a wave when I did fear for my life. Not because a storm blew up but because there was something about being very small out there in a big wide sea. And I’ve since found the perfect prayer for that:
Lord, my boat is small and the ocean is great.