All too soon the summer’s gone and all the flowers are dying (cue: Danny Boy intro) A week of Michaelmas Term is already passed, and our holidays are becoming a dim and distant memory. Having spent a few days mucking out and an re-arranging nearly all the rooms in the house, and catching up with admin, (still got some name tapes to sew into uniform), I’ve decided to sit still for a moment and muse over the fun we’ve had.
Except, now I come to think of it, the continuing theme for many of our summer family outings seems to be ‘Epic Fail’, and it dawned on me that it might be time for me to stop knocking myself out in the name of ‘making memories’. When I asked my 13 year old son if he’d enjoyed the summer, he was typically ambivalent, saying, ‘It was okay, except nothing very memorable happened’. Seeing my evident disappointment at his words, he quickly remembered that ‘…me and Johnny and Jack got chased by the game keeper on his quad bike. THAT was memorable!’ Reassured, I realised that it’s not always the carefully planned, and well executed outings to idyllic locations that stick in the young mind. This made me feel less guilty about the half-baked and disastrous expeditions that I have spearheaded this summer, in the name of Family Togetherness and Memory Making.
Every morning Badger takes Danny for a walk at Allerthorpe Common. It’s their favourite place. Not mine; I dislike the oppressive atmosphere of the tall ranks of coniferous (or is that carnivorous?) trees, the enormous electricity pylons striding overhead, and the signposts warning of venomous adders. But Danny, with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, kept raving about the masses of fluttering butterflies he saw at Allerthorpe, and so one morning I decided to haul the children prematurely from their holiday lie-ins and embark on a family dog-walk/butterfly hunt with him. The promise of a Starbucks breakfast was, for them, a key motivator.
However, on this particular morning there was a strange atmosphere. As we pulled up at Danny’s preferred lay-by next to the big kissing gate into the woods the sky above grew very dark, a sinister yellow light hung stickily in the air. An argument had been incubating in the car, (one of Danny’s favourites, about Arthur being a Lazy Good-For-Nothing), and as we pushed, single file, deeper into the darkening canopy it gathered momentum. Anyone, or anything, lurking in the bracken would have heard the whole sorry episode unfold, as Arthur and Danny’s exchanges escalated to a feverish crescendo, Arthur flouncing off, me saying in my ‘commanding’ voice, “Arthur, come back here at ONCE!” and Rose staying well out of it.
The paths in Allerthorpe Woods are liberally scattered with the droppings of dogs (whose indifferent owners should be strung up in the branches overhead by their nostrils), but also, at this time of year, there is an abundance of the poisonous and evil looking fly agaric toadstools, which on this dark and brooding morning added to the sense of foreboding.
Our forlorn party, having exhausted the row, walked on in silence, strung out so that from the rear, I could not see Danny or Rose ahead, only the floppy-armed gait of a sulky Arthur among the trees. All the while there had been this terrible eery sound, a persistent, rhythmic grating whine, unearthly and horrifying in it’s intensity. I reasoned in my head that it must be a distant piece of forestry machinery, but the sound crept under my skin and in the darkness it took on the unnerving tone of a horror movie soundtrack. There was a distinct whiff of Blair Witch Project about the place, and I muttered to myself about taking the family to a nice leafy beech wood, or a grassy hill next time.
In an instant the heavens opened, dumping gallons of clammy summer rain onto our heads through the black trees. Within seconds we were soaked to the skin. Then the lightning came. The Gods unleashed a deafening storm directly above us. Thunderbolts struck the earth close by, making me shriek and cower with my hands over my ears. I was convinced we were about to be fried alive. But as we re-grouped, sploshing quickly back towards the car beneath the sizzling pylons we found that we were all laughing out loud. Bad feelings forgotten and bound back together by our imminent catastrophic death by electrocution, we reached the car in high spirits. Not a single butterfly had been glimpsed, and the staff at Starbucks were amused by my wet teeshirt entry, but it was certainly memorable.
The Beach Hut
So that I could do my Macmillan hike up Snowdon in August, I booked the family a week’s stay in a picturesque little fisherman’s cottage on the beautiful Llyn Penninsular. One of it’s most endearing features, for me, was access to a beach hut just a short walk away on the sands of Nefyn. You see, I never grew out of Wendy Houses, hence my continued attachment to the dilapidated wooden play house in our garden, and a reluctance to give up my old camper van. And so I imagined enjoying long sandy days, brewing up fresh tea and coffee on the stove, eating our picnic lunches at the table, sitting comfortably in deck chairs and all without the arse-ache of having to lug our gubbins down and up the steep cliff path each day. Not to mention the added luxury of changing out of a wet cozzy without suffering the indignity of struggling under a beach towel, and flashing glimpses of tit and arse at our neighbours as the sea breeze dictates.
On the first morning, full of sunshine and promise, I packed all the requisites for just such a week of summer delights, and we set off like fully loaded Dyfi Donkeys, to find the little cabin on stilts. There it was, at the far end of the beach, complete with pretty curtains and a dinky 1960’s kitchen dresser, and we set up camp, putting the kettle on as if to stake our claim.
Danny relaxed with a fresh coffee and Arthur and Rose swam in the chilly waves when a stylish looking lady with a dog approached, closely followed by a gaggle of girls and a older gentleman. She politely asked if my name was Emma-Jane, it felt like fame at last! However, having exchanged pleasantries she moved swiftly to the point, and it transpired she was the owner of our cottage, and was here to tell me that the Beach Hut was NOT available to us on this particular week, as it was booked for their own family holiday. Apparently it clearly said so on the website, with asterisks all round it and everything, but Stupid here had failed to notice that. It was possibly the most awkward and humiliating come-down I have endured, despite her own evident embarrassment and effusive apologies. All I could think of as I began gathering up our things was how her beloved beach hut appeared to have been squatted by a bunch of pikey tosspots from Yorkshire. All Cath Kidston-esque dreams I may have had of our delightfully middle class, beach-tousled family faded away, revealing the stark reality of an inept and red-faced mother (with a broken swim-suit strap tied up wonkily), a distinctly unimpressed husband and two wet and confused children. The owner was gracious enough to retreat to a discreet distance and gave us plenty of time to move on, but our hut-neighbours, with knowing looks on their faces, watched our walk of shame as our sad little family plodded to the other end of the beach like a tragic eviction scene in a period drama.
It has to be said, that on the upside, we enjoyed a better standard of surf at that end of the beach, and it was much nearer to our cottage, so ‘every cloud…’ and all that.
Every summer I take the children for a week’s stay with the dear olds. They have kindly chosen to continue occupying my wonderful childhood home near the Kent coast just so that we can turn up every so often and take a holiday at their expense, and for me, being able to return to Dover and show the children my old haunts is a huge treat.
Just as it did in Wales, the sun shone brightly on that week in Dover, and one afternoon, having made our annual pilgrimage to Dover Castle and visiting the war tunnels, I decided we should explore the further reaches of Langdon Cliffs where other relics of the first and second world wars remain among the harebells and rabbit nibbled turf. It was a hot day, and as we scanned the info boards at the car park, Arthur was quick to point out, in his usual walking-phobic teenage whine, that it was a FORTY-FIVE minute walk to the Tunnels. ‘Pish & tish’ said I, and stepped out briskly along the chalky path with two sullen offspring in tow. Some time later, we arrived sweatily, (with no water or sunscreen) at the entrance to the fabled Fan Bay Deep Shelter; ‘an excavation of epic proportions’ only to discover that, for the privilege of donning a hard hat and being escorted down to the first level by a National Trust guide, it would cost us the princely sum of £28, cash. (The info board hadn’t mentioned that, or the fact of it only being suitable for children over 12). Turning out my pockets miserably, I confessed to the children that I had led them on another futile mission.
However, not easily defeated, I led them down a precipitous cliff face to find the WW1 Sound Mirror at the tunnel’s lower exit, which I knew was FREE to look at. Yes, there it was, a great big grey piece of concave concrete. As I did my best to set the scene; “…imagine a lonely watchman listening out for enemy aircraft approaching across the English Channel…’, the children almost fell over themselves with impressed-ness, and they were especially grateful when I made them scramble all the way back up the endless tussocky path of choking chalk dust, dizzy with heat stroke, with not even so much as a Pokemon or a fizzy drink in sight. Ah, Mummy’s adventures really are the best!
Later we drove to Ramsgate to watch the brilliant but harrowing ‘Dunkirk’ at the Granville Theatre. An appropriate and retro venue, where afterwards we stood on the promenade, dazed, and gazing across to the French coast. I think I frightened the children with all my sobbing, which persisted almost as far as Sandwich on the drive home.
The Camping Trip.
I felt a little smug about how I’d managed to bag us a pitch at the tiny Fraisthorpe Beach campsite for two nights by the sea. Smugness intensified when my beloved 1989 Renault Rimini Auto Sleeper Camper van passed it’s MOT with flying colours. A short while later however, I learned an interesting fact: an MOT inspection extends only to those parts of a vehicle that can be viewed without dismantling any part thereof. And so, when the slack brake pedal hit the floor one evening as I descended, (careered), into the sharp bend at the bottom of a steep hollow in Millington, I decided to take it back for a fix-up. Because of the Bank Holiday it was going to be difficult for the mechanic to get the parts and restore the apparently fused and completely knackered brakes in time for our camping trip. I impressed upon him that there were two little girls with their hearts set on this Enid Blyton style seaside adventure, (for her birthday treat, Rose had chosen to invite her BFF). We waited two nerve-wracking days of uncertainty, but in the end, I had to make a decision, and ever optimistic, I concluded that we should forge ahead regardless, sleeping instead under canvas, what larks! The Fraisthorpe site, however was a tourer site only, and at the eleventh hour, while simultaneously cramming camping gear into the boot of the Discovery, collecting eggs for our breakfast, and hacking ice packs out of the freezer, I found us a camping site (Wold Farm) further up the coast with a space for us.
That afternoon, as we approached the headland at Flamborough, a flashing sequence of sunshine, rainbows and black clouds rolled across the sky, and we just managed to pitch our tents in between showers. It’s okay, I told myself, it will be alright when I get the kettle on.
While the girls skipped off in search of adventure I attempted to re-position the car so it was nice and tidy alongside the tents, unaware that the tail gate was still open with the girls over-night bags perched on it. Cursing the over-sensitive parking assist bleeper, and shouting at the car to stop being so jumpy about a little bit of tall grass, I straightened up nicely and put it into park. It was only when I went to unpack the rest of the boot that I discovered two holdalls mashed flatly into the grass with evident tyre tracks across them. Leo, a beloved teddy had miraculously escaped the horrific accident, but sadly, Sophie’s little tub of deliciously scented Lush ‘Sleepy’ body butter, (recommended) was exploded comprehensively.
Time for that cup of tea…except that the bastarding camping stove, having spent the last four years mouldering in our damp garage had corroded and was about as much use a tits on a fish, as Danny would say. The farmer who owned the campsite was an accommodating and helpful man who, armed with a short length of steel wire, was insistent that we might just clear the blockage and get it going, but eventually, after what felt like hours of embarrassing twiddling, he admitted defeat.
Deep breath. Never mind, we’ll whizz into Bridlington and buy a new one, if the shops were still open? No, they weren’t. All our excitement about hot chocolate at bed-time and waking up to the smell of Gaz fried eggs and bacon next morning dissolved, and the girls, though stoic, looked crestfallen. We bought a consolatory jar of Nutella, and a box of Choco Nuggets at Morrisons for our ‘continental breakfast’ and wearily headed back to the remote corner of a Bempton field.
On the way back through Flamborough, we passed an inviting looking pub with giant hanging baskets of white petunias (The Seabirds) At that moment I knew I could redeem this lacklustre camping trip with a few ales (for me) and piles of fresh scampi and chips within it’s warm dry walls, and so I carried out an impressive U-turn, screeching to a halt in their car-park.
At three in the morning, having tip-toed to a shadowy corner behind my tent for a pee, I stopped to marvel at the vast twinkling cosmos. Ursa Major, The Great Bear constellation appeared to be almost within my grasp overhead. The girls were gently snoring in their little tent next to mine, the lighthouse sought me out with it’s four-stroke flashlight, as I stood in my pyjamas like an escapee outside the perimeter fence, and I felt suddenly very free and very happy despite all the disasters.
The next day, it was sunny and dry and we spent the rest of that trip availing ourselves of all the gaudy amusement and old fashioned entertainment Bridlington had to offer, including sitting on the harbour arm watching juvenile seagulls squabble over the upturned floating corpse of a cormorant.
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