Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Mathew Clayton

Mathew Clayton | 15th January 2020

It’s time once again for the annual series of postings we like to call Shadows and Reflections, in which our contributors and friends look back on the past twelve months. From Mathew Clayton:

In late July we went to Italy to celebrate my dad’s 90thbirthday. Thirty-two of us gathered for a week in a big old house just outside the town of Spoletto in Umbria. Nothing dramatic happened over those seven days, we swam, we read books and generally got to know each other again. The villa was set on a hill, with views of the surrounding countryside, there were a few farmhouses dotted around but little else. Except…on the first day as we navigated the tiny country roads we were surprised to see a sign for a beach volleyball club. On the second morning I went for a run and sure enough just along the lane, in the middle of nowhere, were two pristine sand-covered volleyball courts with an expansive bar and café spread around them. 

Later in the week my brother and his wife were out walking. When they passed the club the owner flagged them down, ‘tonight it’s party night, you must all come’, my brother demurred but as he wandered off the owner made one final sales pitch, ‘our DJ he retires tonight, after 30 years! Big Party. Free entry after 11.30!’. 

That night instead of cooking communally everyone went out separately to eat and it was after midnight when a group of us collected underneath the wisteria-draped pergola for a final nightcap. A dull thump from the volleyball club echoed across the valley. The music was interrupted every few minutes with the excitable patter of the DJ. We sat there running over the day’s events, waiting for someone to suggest that maybe, just maybe we should check out the party. It was the DJ’s last night, surely that counted for something? A decision was taken. We would go.  And so, armed with a stack on unclaimed euros that had laid on a table by the front door, we headed into the night. I still had my slippers on.

Five minutes later we were stood in the middle of packed dancefloor. The young Italians were all dressed to the nines. Polished shoes for the boys, glittery tops for the girls. We drank Long Island Iced Teas out of red plastic cups. We danced. There was lots of laughter. At some point a fight broke out. A dispute over a girl. Two competing groups of friends. We were in too good a mood to care. The fight rumbled on, moving round the club like a lazy Mexican wave. Occasionally flaring up. Never quite dying out. Protagonists came and went. Girls bravely intervened. At one point it spilled into the car park, then gathering some steam made its way back into the middle of the dancefloor. It was getting late. The DJ made an announcement – his last record. His last ever record. But then he played two, both Italo disco classics from the German label XYZ – ‘Take on Higher’ by Jennifer Lucas and ‘Touch Me’ by the 49ers. We danced for a final time. The music ended. The fight stopped. The teenagers climbed into their cars and drove off. To walk home we cut through an olive grove. The moon hung bright above us. Crickets danced at our feet. I was surrounded by the people I love and all was right with the world.