THE TRAV­ELLER

You’re never too old to get a les­son in sand­cas­tle build­ing, writes Dar­rel Bris­tow-Bovey

Getaway (South Africa) - - Contents - DAR­REL BRIS­TOW-BOVEY

I was in Phuket one Christ­mas, vis­it­ing my friend An­dre. He lives in Nai Harn with his wife and six-year-old son Ni­cholas, and one night he told me he was wor­ried about rais­ing his son in Thai­land. He goes to school with other ex­pat kids – mainly Ki­wis and a cou­ple of Aus­tralians – and An­dre feared this might have a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on his char­ac­ter. ‘Not this again,’ said his wife. ‘It’s true,’ said An­dre. ‘He’s turn­ing into a Kiwi!’ One morn­ing on the beach we watched some Kiwi kids build­ing a fee­ble sand­cas­tle. Their dads looked over and gave them the wishy-washy New Zealan­der thumbs up, even though these were very ob­vi­ously mea­gre ef­forts re­sult­ing in a woe­fully sub­stan­dard struc­ture. ‘See what I mean?’ said An­dre. ‘Come,’ I said to Ni­cholas, ‘let’s show them how South Africans build a sand­cas­tle!’ How do South Africans build a sand­cas­tle? With bravado, point­less com­pet­i­tive­ness and ex­ces­sive dis­plays of force, that’s how. At first Ni­cholas just watched as An­dre and I scrab­bled and heaved at the sand to form a mighty moat, cre­at­ing a grow­ing moun­tain in the mid­dle. Then he be­gan to get it. He scav­enged pieces of wood and rope and we grunted and sweated and con­structed im­preg­nable walls and a draw­bridge and piled the sand higher and higher. The Kiwi kids looked over at our cas­tle in awe. They cast ac­cus­ing looks at their par­ents, no doubt re­gret­ting their de­graded ge­netic her­itage, then came to ask if they could help. ‘Of course,’ I said gra­ciously, for it be­hoves the lord of the cas­tle to be gen­er­ous to his van­quished foes. The Kiwi dads sulked un­der their um­brella. For hours we laboured away, con­struct­ing an in­creas­ingly baroque plea­sure palace that soared and loomed and crenel­lated, a mag­nif­i­cent folly, a grand and oc­ca­sion­ally col­laps­ing ver­ti­cal sea-sand Nkandla. An­dre’s back was in spasm. I had sand in my eyes. We were ex­hausted but proud. ‘See!’ I said grandly to Ni­cholas. ‘That’s how a South African makes a sand­cas­tle!’ Then I no­ticed a cou­ple of Swedish guys watch­ing us. They shook their heads and tut­ted. ‘Who could live in such a build­ing?’ they said. ‘It would fall down.’ They had a quick con­fer­ence and sketched out plans with a twig in the sand, and started to work. In three min­utes they had a broad square base, smooth and planed. It looked like solid con­crete. I glanced back at our cas­tle, which was al­ready be­gin­ning to crack. Small sand­slides were hap­pen­ing on the north face. ‘Quick! We need to build it higher,’ I hissed at An­dre. We sweated and grunted and sobbed as we tried to bol­ster our palace. The kids all lost in­ter­est and wan­dered off to swim. ‘Traitors!’ I wheezed af­ter them. No mat­ter how we strained, in half an hour the Swedish cas­tle loomed high above ours, ris­ing like a zig­gu­rat in level ar­chi­tec­tural plat­forms, solid enough to bear a hu­man’s weight. They tied a shirt to a spade to make a flag and planted it on top, where it flut­tered proud and true. And then a wave rolled up the sand and washed over our sand­cas­tle and it melted be­fore our eyes. ‘We built above the wa­ter­line,’ said the Swedish guys solemnly, ‘so ours is more per­ma­nent.’ They shook hands with each other and walked off to go and lis­ten to Rox­ette or some­thing. An­dre and I slumped there, shat­tered. Then the New Zealand guys wan­dered over. Silently they handed us each a beer. ‘Sorry, fel­las,’ one of them said. ‘Noth­ing worse than be­ing beaten by a bunch of Scan­dos.’ ‘South­ern Hemi­sphere must stick to­gether,’ the other agreed. ‘You know,’ said An­dre later, back at the house, ‘Ki­wis aren’t so bad.’

‘The Kiwi kids looked at our cas­tle in awe … then came to ask if they could help’

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