2014-12-5 - Peter Woolcock 1926-2014 and one of our Family Man articles from April 2007 Print
Written by Andrew Stevenson   
I Love You

"Let me tell you something daddy," Elsa says.


She reaches forward and wraps her arm around my head and pulls me towards her and whispers, "I love you, as much as a baby whale!"


That's about the highest esteem she can give.


"I love you too, as much as a daddy whale!" I whisper back and then stretch my arms far apart.


We had just had our Christmas holidays, three weeks of being away together 24/7. Now the three of us were home again and nursery school had started.


We were driving in the car, each of us lost in our own thoughts when Elsa asked me, "Where are you going, daddy?"


"To school," I replied.


"Which school?" she asked.


"Your school. Why?"


"You mean, when I was a baby?" Elsa asks.


"No, I mean your school now."


"Then why you didn't turn at the sign with the tree?" she asks.


I'd driven past Brighton Hill, our route to school. I was at Collector's Hill heading to her old nursery, or the airport, or somewhere. "Sorry, sweetie." Preoccupied with all the things I had to get done this first week back, I turned the car around.


Pulling in to school, Elsa hesitated as the car door opened and one of the school staff reached in to help her out. As the door closed she suddenly realized I wasn't going to be with her. "I want my daddy!" she cried.


Her words repeated themselves as I drove off. I felt terrible, guilty. She loves school. Always has. But three weeks with both parents giving her undivided attention and, well, she missed us.


When I picked her up at lunchtime she had regained her composure and was talking about school with her usual enthusiasm.


"Elsa, I've got something to show you," I told her.


"What, daddy, what?" she asked.


"Something different."




"A whale. A humpback whale," I said.


"A toy one?" she asked.


"No. A real one," I replied. "Only, he's dead." I had been informed that the dead whale had drifted up on the rocks at Ariel Sands. I had seen it already and thought it might help assuage some of the concerns Elsa had about Bermuda being devoid of bears and moose and wolves. I figured for a three-year old who played with plastic whales at home for hours on end, seeing a humpback whale close up would be something special, even if it was dead.


‘Where's the whale?" she asked as she ran down the lawn at Ariel Sands.


"Over there!"


The humpback had washed ashore the previous day and had been towed out to sea only to float back again. The massive creature was on his back and the gasses that had built up inside his body had fully extended the pleats on his throat. He looked like a caricature of a humpback.


"Why he is on his back?" Elsa asked.


"He's dead."


Long silence. It was raining, adding to the grimness of the setting.


"His flippers are moving," she countered.


"It's the waves," I replied.


"Is it a baby whale or a daddy whale?"


"A daddy whale," I answered.


"Why he is dead?" she asked, frowning.


"I don't know. Maybe he swallowed something, like rope or a buoy or a bucket."




"Because baleen whales open their mouths wide to swallow krill and shrimps, and then they squeeze the water out through their baleen and swallow everything that else. He might not have realized there was something still in his mouth that shouldn't be swallowed," I replied.


One complete side of his baleen had dislodged from his mouth and lay on the rocks at our feet. That required a completely different set of explanations.


We watched solemnly for the longest time and the question kept coming back, "Why he is dead?" No explanation satisfactorily explained how this magnificent animal could end up on his back, lifeless. Elsa was awestruck. Both of us were. The carcass bounced gently on the rocks as the waves nudged him backwards and forwards.


"What now?" Elsa asked when she saw a boat approaching and divers tying a rope around his tail.


"They're going to tow him away, out to sea."




"Because he's dead," I answered.


She was silent. I could see she couldn't come to terms with the deadness of the whale. Lifeless on the rocks he wasn't real, like her plastic whales at home.


"Besides, the ocean is where he belongs," I added.


When the boat dragged the dead humpback whale backwards and upside down beyond the line of reefs, Elsa asked quietly, "Is he real now?"


"Yes, he's real now," I replied.