Headfirst, sometimes sideways, I was swept down a treacherous, rain-swollen river

‘Father of three drowns in Welsh holiday tragedy’. This was the news-in-brief headline you nearly read last week. The father in question would have been me. Like all such incidents it came completely out of the blue. This is a thing I’ve noticed: you never wake up that morning with a spooky feeling of impending doom. One minute you’re carrying on as most of us do: as if we’re immortal or, at the very least, guaranteed to live to a very ripe old age. And the next: ‘Whooah! If it isn’t the Grim Reaper, hovering above me with his sickle!’

It happened like this: there’s a lovely house we take for two weeks every August in the Welsh Borders, and one of the many splendid things about it is that there’s a small river — the Edw — flowing past the bottom of the garden. When the kids were younger it was great for paddling and catching minnows in. As they’ve grown older we’ve started using it for more adventurous stuff, seeing how far you can go down on bodyboards and rubber boats, jumping from a rock into the only deep-ish pool, that kind of thing. But you can only really manage this — just — when it’s in full spate. Otherwise, you’re much better off going for a proper swim and dive in the Wye where it’s deeper and faster and more satisfyingly dangerous.

Anyway, I don’t know how your weather has been in the rest of the country, but in the Welsh Borders it has been tipping it down something rotten. About the only upside is the effect it has had on our little river, which has been transformed from a clear, tranquil, gurgling stream into a raging brown torrent. Great for body-boarding the kids decided. Reluctantly I agreed to go with them.

The reason I was reluctant was because it was a miserable day and I wasn’t altogether convinced that the minimal excitement I’d experience floating not all that fast down a muddy stream on a bodyboard was quite enough to make up for the risk I’d catch a chill. But when the kids are begging, what can you do?

So we float down the river on our bodyboards.

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