How The Shark Got Her Hat

So when we got the contract to attend to the annual payroll upgrades at the hotel complex in Barbados along with the annual business trip there I also negotiated a couple of family holidays and one of those just so happened to coincide with the hotels 25th anniversary celebrations.

And so it was that in the first week of December 96 the family climbed the steps of a Caledonian Air DC10 at Gatwick Airport and off we were whisked to the small coral island at the very border of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean for a weeks worth of freebies, my two girls were just 8 and 4 years of age – when I was that old Filey was as exotic as it got.

A host of unknown celebrities had been invited on the same trip, the GB Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies being one of them, make a note of her name, she will appear a little later.

Seven days of organised trips and entertainment followed for those who had been invited as suppliers to the hotel, by way of a thank you for their services and by way of saying “And we expect your prices to be cheaper next year because you’re getting this free holiday” its how things work in Barbados, its all very laid back and smiley but you don’t get anywhere without knowing someone or doing someone a favour that has to be repaid.

The two girls needed a hat for sun protection and we bought them each a pink baseball cap with a Barbados logo embroidered across the front, they also chose a Barbados key ring and hung them off the back of the caps, I don’t know why, it was the fashion, hey they wanted to do it, I’m just the dad who has to buy all this stuff, they were really chuffed with their decorated caps and wore them everywhere, we still have Jodies.

Note : we don’t have Amanda’s

So by the time Thursday came around we were settled into a nice laid back routine, everything was easy, as it should be in Barbados, nothing is a problem and there are no problems – as long as you don’t mind waiting, and while you’re waiting why not sit in the sun a little longer and have another beer?

We were loaded onto a small bus that day and driven to a bay at the very bottom of the island, Bottom Bay, seemed like a reasonable name for the place, Google image it, its perhaps the archetypal Caribbean bay, a small horseshoe beach enclosed by coral cliffs, white sand, I mean WHITE sand, sand so white it hurts your eyes, and a clump of coconut trees at the back of the beach to shelter from the sun underneath, an idylic place to have a barbecue and picnic and have some of the hotel staff bring a cooler box down from the bus, beer for the dads.

However, and here is a warning for those who may be ever so lucky to also visit, the location of Bottom Bay, at the bottom of the island, offers the holidaymaker a sting in the tail, for most of the islands holidaymakers stay in hotels on the Caribbean coast, the Caribbean sea is as slow and as laid back as the Bajun residents, the Caribbean sea holds no hidden secrets or terrors, the beaches on the Caribbean side of the island slope gently into warm waters that lap at your ankles and invite you to lounge in their crystal clear azureness as if taking a bath in your own luxury suite.

The Atlantic coast of Barbados is not like that at all, for the waves that hit the Atlantic coast of Barbados have had not let nor hinderance since they left Africa several days earlier, their first landfall is the island of Barbados and on a windy day they can be spectacular in their height and ferociousness, in short you admire the sea at Bottom Bay but you don’t venture therein, not unless you are an olympic swimmer, Sharon Davies for example (you’ve remembered her haven’t you ?)

The white coral sand beach at Bottom Bay slopes steeply into the sea, within two paces your are up to your waist, within four you’re out of your depth and either swimming or drowning and while the water is still the brightest azure you’re ever likely to see its waves are relentless and will easily knock an adult off their feet.

We took a walk down to the waters edge, the two girls and me and I kept a tight hold of their hands and we merely wet our toes at the very waters edge as I warned them that this was no place for paddling for this paradise had a nasty edge to it, we went ankle deep, no more and then suddenly Amanda started to scream in pain, I lifted her up and carried her back up the beach, she was crying and pointing to her ankle, I thought she may have stepped on a sharp piece of coral and was looking for a cut when someone pointed at her ankle at the bright red rash that had suddenly appeared, that someone was the aforementioned GB olympic swimmer clad in regulation speedo lycra swimsuit *gulp*, she was pointing to the jelly fish sting on Amanda’s ankle and told her that she had also just been stung whilst swimming in the sea, she offered the use of an antiseptic numbing cream which she said would help, I just gulped again, good grief but that swimsuit was cut high around the thigh.

Following the advice of the aforementioned GB olympic swimmer with the high-cut thighs and my but those broad shoulders *gulp*, the girls and I walked along the beach to “walk off” the hurt, its a sports term, “to walk off” an injury, I don’t suppose you know of such things but I’ve learned and now am passing on the information, we waked to the other end of the beach to a place where the waves seemed even higher when suddenly a gust of wind blew the hat off Amand’s head, it was turning out to be a bad day for her.

Into the sea it wafted and for just a nanosecond I followed it, for just a nanosecond it was there, two feet in front of me floating in the foam and I almost stepped towards it to grab it when suddenly it was gone, just like that, an undercurrent must have grabbed it and sucked it under in no more than one foot of water, Amanda was stood on the beach and shouted at me to grab her hat, well you can’t tell your young daughter that there’s no fookin way on earth that you’re going any deeper, not for a stupid fookin hat anyway, and to be honest I was shitting myself at how powerful the waves were but I put on my best bravest manly face and ran screaming from the sea as if I were for all the world a bit scardey-cat, as indeed was the truth.

The only way to stop her crying and yelling at me to go into the sea to fetch her hat back was to joke about it, so I told her that I’d just seen a shark pinch it, a shark who even now was probably swimming around out there showing off to all his sharkey mates who in turn were all probably pointing at it saying “I want one too, look its got a keyring hanging off the back of it”.

Sixteen years later you only have to mention the Barbados hat to her and she’ll immediately tell you of the day that her dad was to chicken to go into the sea to grab it back from the shark that stole it from her.

To me that day just reminds me of those high-cut thighs, and my, those manly shoulders…

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