David Calcutt - Matt's Dad
Matthew was good at birthday presents. For my sixtieth birthday he paid for us both to canoeing on the River Wye. It was something I'd long wanted to do. He drove us both down on a drizzly morning on the Sunday after my birthday. We were picking up the canoes at a station on the banks of the Wye not far from Ross. I can't remember now whether Matt had done any canoeing before or not but I certainly hadn't. We both listened carefully to the instructions we were given. The section of river we'd be on was easy and smooth-flowing for the most part, there was just one short section we had to watch out for, where the river forked around a small island. There was a strong current in one of the forks so we should avoid that and take the other. We took the map of our journey the instructor gave us and made a note of which fork was the safe one. Then we put our belongings and spare clothes into the watertight plastic barrel we'd carry with us, stepped into the canoe, took up the paddles and set off. Although it was still dull and drizzling it was warm on the river, especially with the effort of paddling, and we both felt good. Matt sat in front and it was good to see how his strong shoulders and arms pulled easily on the paddle and we moved along smoothly and quickly. Later on we pulled in to a piece of low bank and swapped over so that I was in front and Matt was behind. We both talked about how wonderful it was to be out on the river with the high, thickly wooded banks rising steeply above us on both sides, just the two of us, away from everything. Then we came to the place where the river forked around the island. Neither of us could find the map we'd been given but we were pretty sure we could remember which fork we'd been told to take. We took the right one and as we came around the island we felt the canoe being taken by the current and pulled across towards the right bank. It rose up sheer from the river with trees growing down to the water. We let the current take us and steered with our oars to keep us upright and it looked like we were going to make it through when without any warning at all we were suddenly upside down in the water. I came up under the upturned canoe and felt Matt grab hold of me and pull me out. Then we both came up gasping. We took hold of the canoe and swam with to the island. It was much more than a long sandbank of gravel and rocks. We pulled the canoe up onto the island. I realised then that I'd forgotten another instruction I'd been given and had let go of my paddle when we were overturned. Matt saw it moving with the current around the island and ran across and managed to get hold of it before it floated away downstream. We stood shivering on the island, soaked through. The sun came out. A fisherman on the bank was staring at us. Then we looked at each other and laughed. It was Matt's loud and wide-mouthed full-of-life-and-the-joy-of-it laugh and it was that soaking and the laughter that came out of it that made the trip perfect somehow, just the kind of thing that was bound to happen to us, and the day wouldn't have been right without it. It's what gives that day such a sharpness and clarity so that I can relive it just by bringing it to mind, see Matt's strong shoulders in front of me pulling at the paddle and see his face flushed and excited and hear that loud, strong laughter ringing across the water. It was a good day.