One morning in August 1971, when I was ten years old and my family were holidaying in Bournemouth on the south coast of England, my grandmother said to me, ‘If you could have anything you liked right now what would it be?’
It was to be our last holiday. My mother and father, my brother and me were migrating to Australia in the first week of September.
I asked, ‘If I had all the money in the world?’
Grandma snorted and said, ‘What if you had just five pounds?’
Just five pounds? It seemed like a fortune. The answer was easy.
I’d wanted the Beatles album ever since the film had been on television a few months earlier. I’d talked about it none stop and thought that maybe my parents would buy it for me as a Christmas present, though they’d give all the credit to Santa.
Grandma swung her legs over the side of the deckchair. ‘Come on then, our Dad, we’re taking this young man into town. We’re going to get him some help.’ Making it sound like I was sick in the head.
We went to a department store in the centre of town, and headed straight for the record department, where Grandpa watched me lift the Help! album from a revolving wire stand.
Back at the beach, we walked along the Promenade, my grandmother’s arm scraping against mine. I could feel the age beneath her skin, the roughness the years had added to her, and felt afraid. I did not want her to die. I looked down at the sand where people sat in deckchairs, at the children running in and out of the tiny surf, at the pleasure boats on the bay, and thought, I never want this to end. Wishing it could go on forever, that we could transcend time, continue living this moment through eternity.
At our Chalet I showed my mother and father the Beatles record.
‘Hmm,’ my father said, one eye on the newspaper. ‘Good.’
My mother looked out over the top of her sunglasses, said, ‘He’s done nothing but talk about that record since the film was on television.’
I pulled out my battery-operated mono record player.
‘Every time you play that record you’ll think of us,’ Grandma said.
‘If you do start to forget us –’ Grandpa said.
But Grandma said, ‘He won’t forget us,’ and she leaned over and kissed me on the lips, sealing the promise.
And nor did I forget. Though Grandma and Grandpa are long gone, each time I hear that original record I’m transported back to them and to that day on the Promenade in August 1971. Help!, more than any other of my albums, certainly does transcend time, and I continue living that last holiday again and again.