I never forgot her birthday – until last year that is. Ruthie is now mother to Romilly Berry, and I see her even less than I did my daughter. They live in Cornwall, cross ways down what is currently the United Kingdom, and may shortly be further separated by an international border.
We gather for a picnic with Nanny Sarah by the side of Father Thames as he takes his time to cross Port Meadow. No reason to rage and swell over the famous floodplain at this time of year, he accepts the channel. Ducklings loiter at the margins, geese bathe and preen in matronly clusters.
I am committed to meet in Oxford any time Ruthie visits her mum here.
I received the call ten days ago.
It is windy, blowing down river, and the river is swollen from yesterday’s upstream rain, but the air is warm so we are looking to swim. I am content to be guided by Sarah who has a forty year familiarity with the place since we met here as student actors.
We undress in the lee of a denseleaved goat willow, and forge into the river. I swim upstream to test the strength of current, losing sight of the picnic party: while Sarah, more confident and tirelessly attentive to our grand-daughter disports entertainingly in full view.
I am first to shore, first to the towel. Sarah joins us soon after. Romilly is chewing on pitta bread : Ruth fills some with mackerel pate and offers it to us.
‘There were some people stopped by on the path while you were swimming
They were making a fuss of Romilly.
As you would…
They asked if that was granma and granpa in the river.
And it was.
I had to think for a moment, but it was nice to say
‘Yes it is’.