Whenever she saw one of their boat-shaped collection boxes, my Granny always donated whatever small change she could find in her handbag to the RNLI. When I was little she and my Grandfather lived on the Suffolk coast, so there were RNLI collection boxes in every village shop and street corner. She always impressed on my little brother and me how important an institution the RNLI was, and how courageous the lifeboat men and women were: volunteers going out in the very worst conditions to rescue people at sea.
My Granny was a sailor. She came to this activity late in life via the enthusiasms of my Grandfather, who discovered the joys of sailing when he retired. They sailed across the North Sea when they were in their sixties and seventies many times – and were even in The Netherlands with their boat when I was born. My earliest memories of my Granny are of her in a boat, cleaning a boat, packing for a trip on a boat, or taking me for walks around the harbours of Suffolk to look at the boats. She always liked looking at the boats' quirky names – something I enjoy now – and she would point out her favourites to me as we strolled. My Granny was a very ladylike person, and the only time she wore trousers (which she called slacks) was when she was on a boat. She seemed to greet my Grandfather's desire for nautical adventures with the equanimity that was characteristic of everything she did. She just got on with it, and then found pleasure in it.
I went to the seaside today, on a whim, and the first thing I saw when I arrived at the harbour was the RNLI lifeboat station, with its flag flying smartly in the breeze. I went into their shop to see if I could buy a tea towel (my Granny's charitable nature meant that she acquired what must surely have been one of the largest RNLI tea-towel collections in East Anglia). I think she would have understood my desire for little adventures on my days off – and I know she would have loved to stroll with me around the harbour today, looking at all the boats and eating ice cream.
I thought of her when I put some change into the boat-shaped collection tin, and I could her her voice in my head reminding me once again of why the RNLI is so important and how courageous its crews are.