Saturday, 4 April 2015

We go somewhere exotic! The Algarve!

Holidays always begin with the mundane.  This one was no different.  It rained and I ran about doing the usual last minute chores - spring cleaning the house so we didn't come home and wish we were back on holiday because it was cleaner, delivering keys to various people so they could feed the cat or water the garden and stopping the milk, that sort of thing.

I remember this moment so well!  My trainers were full of water, I had 101 other things to do and when I delivered the keys to my next door neighbour he knew I was going on holiday already - not sure how - and he had stopped our milk delivery for the duration of our holiday.  "These young housekeepers" he probably thought, "they never remember the little things, it would be a kindness to stop her milk for her".  Well I took it as a kindness, but I must admit to being at a bit of a loss for words.  It didn't matter because Mr Jezzard never was.

The Jezzards had a lovely garden with a very old apple tree from when the area was a market garden in the 1920s.  He was a keen gardener and used to give us surplus plants as the garden when we moved in was just grass and rubble.  His wife gave me a lily of the valley and I now have a large and spreading colony.  Very fragrant.  Anyway the milk.  Milkmen are a dying breed now.  I give it another few years and I reckon there won't be any left.  When we moved here in 1996 there was a choice between three who would deliver milk (and orange juice) to the door each day.  Now there is one, and very few people use him, even though he delivers all sorts of other things besides milk - even growbags,  but it will all stop soon. No longer will the policeman in the detective thriller be able to say "the milk has not been taken in for 3 days,  so the victim  has been dead since Sunday".   Sad.  Supermarkets have taken over.

The whole family went on this holiday, Mum, Dad, Carol (my sister) and the five of us.  We hired a large rickety van to get around in and a huge house with a swimming pool (!)

The children were beside themselves with excitement.  We didn't let on we were going until the last few days to prevent the endless questions  - "How many more big sleeps until we go?" " Will there be seaside?"  "Are we really going on an aeroplane?"

We did go on an aeroplane which was very exciting.  To give the children a portable and lightweight amusement, we bought them each a Tamagotchi - a sort of hand held digital pet - very new and exciting at the time.  They loved them, although the amount of Tamagotchi babysitting we did as parents was a bit of a disappointing side effect.

Clara had not quite grasped the complexities of electronics and water. She probably actually believed her pet was alive...

The novelty wore off when the children found the swimming pool and neglect had its natural consequence with pets.  George was terribly upset when his pet died but you can re-set these things and it soon passed.

Clara goes in swimming "by herself".  George's cyber pet dies.
Clara was desperate to be independent although she was only 3 and loved to do everything the boys did.  I let her go swimming by herself, but Aunty Carol surreptitiously floated close by and I pretended not to be looking, from two feet away.   We kept the pool door locked tight unless we were outside using it. Even so I was very nervous which was something I didn't want to communicate to the children and put them off swimming.  Jim has never been able to swim, and I was determined to train up some watersport company for myself on later holidays.  It worked!  They are all avid swimmers and surfers which is great when we go to Cornwall!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

1994 Cornwall - lost socks and steam trains

Lots of things happen to socks in our house.  There are never the same number of socks in the washing machine at the end of the cycle as there were at the beginning.  I think washing machines use electricity and odd socks to run their wash cycles. If for some reason they don't get enough socks to eat they sulk and refuse to work.

Secondly there is the dreaded sock beetle.  Jim often finds holes in both ankles of a pair of socks around the ankle bone level.  It looks for all the world as if something has eaten through all four layers of sock in one go.  The holes match in size and everything!  Sock beetles are invisible and immune to mothballs.  We did theorise that Jim has unusually sharp ankle bones, but when we checked, they looked pretty normal.

Thirdly, for some reason, young children dislike wearing shoes in the garden, but also prefer to have warm feet, so they wear socks out.  This also wears the bottoms out of the socks.  White socks go a very sorry shade of grey almost immediately and no amount of washing will shift it.  I think when the children were small we kept that town in China (where the world's socks are made) in business all by ourselves.

They had a wonderful fort for the children to play in at this hotel.  It was much bigger than I have drawn it, big enough for grown up people to play in with their kids, should they be so inclined, without banging their heads.  It wasn't really pushchair friendly though.  The boys ran off some of their energy and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Strictly speaking all boys should love trains.  Ours did too, but mainly from the outside.  Once they were inside and going along, I suppose to them it seemed much like any other train journey, apart from the armchairs. In this picture, Jim was away in the restaurant car getting everyone snacks and coffee.  Such a helpful husband!

Personally I love steam trains.  I think they are the most romantic way to travel, and I adore the noises - hisses, hoots and whistles - which punctuate the journey.  I would jump at the chance to drive one myself, but it seems unlikely that I ever will.  The engines are so huge and exciting, all full of fire and steam and smoke.  I enjoy looking at all sorts of engines - there is a lovely steam museum in Brentford ( The London Museum of water and steam) where you can go and watch the giant water pumping engines in full swing.  Wonderful!  But you really need children as an excuse to go and visit such places, otherwise, somehow, it tends not to happen.

"Daddy's train" was the one he commuted up to London on every day.  It was not exciting.

Jim's Mum tried to be soothing.  I wasn't feeling soothed and had to keep my teeth together to stop myself saying something unsuitable.  Clara had just cried for 20 minutes squirming on my lap, then dirtied her nappy and thrown up all over me.  It was more relaxing because Clara was happy and skippy again, but I smelled of baby poo and sick.  Never pleasant aromas.

The view was lovely though and we had the terrace to ourselves, mainly due to the screaming and the aforementioned aromas.  I think Jim got us a cup of tea just after this, which was very diplomatic of him.

Jim is a natural provider and nurturer.  His answer to any crisis is, "I'll put the kettle on", and "would you like to stay for dinner?"  This is often closely followed by a request for me to fix the crisis.  He has this charming idea that I can fix anything, and that a good meal will help.  He is very good at acting as support and commissary, so we make a good team.

Friday, 10 October 2014

1994 Cornwall - anyone for tennis?

We never had much luck with kites.  I always think that Charlie Brown's kite eating tree is real and has extended its hold to all of the natural world.  The ground eats kites, so do bushes, dogs, sheep, other people and sometimes other kites.  They have to be strong to be flown at all, because they hit the ground so very fast.

Still, the boys loved going kite flying, partly because they loved to see a really good kite smash!  It was really windy that day.  The kite did not make it home.

Once we had a lovely little booklet with patterns for kites. We made them all with the tissue paper and straws that came with the booklet.  I think they needed a specially moderate wind tunnel to fly in, with strict speed control on the wind.  They certainly couldn't manage to stay together in a gentle breeze.  We did try blowing them up in the air at home with the fan heater, but they still disintegrated and fell like little moths.  I can't understand how Mr Banks in Mary Poppins did it.  Maybe he should make a video?

Jim's Mum had a bad angina attack in the night.  The doctor was really cute and helpful.  Yes he did make this joke.  The lady from the hotel was also lovely and we all went back to bed at about 4 am with a mug of horlicks (malted milk).

When we were woken at the usual time by Clara and the boys champing at the bit for their breakfast, we certainly didn't want to rise and shine, but we were terribly impressed when we stumbled from our room and shambled into breakfast. The lady who made us the horlicks was there on duty, bright eyed and bushy tailed despite having only had 3 hours sleep.  That's what I call fortitude!

Sleep deprivation is no stranger to most parents.  I was horrified to find that I was expected to function whilst hallucinating from lack of sleep when I first had Sam.  It was so different from the calm and orderly world of the office, where tea breaks and lunch were interspersed with periods of concentrated effort and productive work.  I can remember feeling proud if I got dressed before Jim came home. . .

Jim's mum was not an active person, as I may have mentioned, but she was a pretty competent table tennis player. I was not.  I have never been any good at ball games.  I can manage badminton because the shuttlecock moves slowly some of the time so I can leap into place and swipe at it.  Even so I could not return fast shots or hit anything at all with any degree of certainty.

A few years ago, Jim and I used to go out and play ordinary tennis.  We stopped when we noticed that other much older people were so much better than us and that they could return balls over the net.  The best time was when we found a tennis court on one of our holidays, in the field behind our cottage.  We had fun hitting the balls at each other and one day we even managed a rally! How cool is that? After two weeks we were almost good enough to play in public, but winter came and we lost our nerve.  Back to tea and cake instead!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

1994 Cornwall - relaxing in the jacuzzi

Clara had arrived in April so we thought it would be a good idea to head off to Cornwall again (not too far with a new baby).   We took Jim's mum along as she was widowed and didn't get out much.  We stayed in a family friendly hotel with children's activities.  As they go it was pretty good, but I seem to remember that breakfast was the best meal.  Dinners were geared to "nursery tea" so not really the long, candlelit, gourmet feasts one would wish for in a hotel.

I was suffering from post-baby elasticated waist syndrome...  Baggy T shirts over the waistband helped to disguise the fact that I still looked pregnant.  Ah the joys of the third baby!  Life just suddenly becomes too busy for Kegel exercises.  After George was born I still had this crazy idea that it wouldn't alter my physique being a second time mother.  I was deluded enough to try a cartwheel 12 weeks after he was born.  Oops.  Torn ligaments in the pelvis are interestingly painful, especially coupled with "You did what?  What were you thinking of?!" From the doctor.

Sam had developed the habit of trying to get George to do the things that he would be afraid to do himself.  George was so full of bounce and hero worship that he often didn't notice in time.  He loved Sam with a totally trusting and uncritical devotion.  How sweet.  It was bound to wear off eventually, but not yet a while.

Life gets incredibly more complicated with three children than with two.  Someone once told me it is because you haven't got enough hands to hold them all down at once.  I suspect that is part of it.  I felt terribly odd and even maybe a little bit guilty sitting in the jacuzzi while Jim (who still cannot swim)  watched them in the children's pool.  There were life guards as well so it was OK.  Jim's mum had the baby because she thought she had to sit down a lot with her angina.  Actually,  she would have been better getting a tad more exercise, but there you go.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  At the time we were under the impression that her heart had to be rested all the time.  We even took her to the beach and she sat in the car because the sea air was not good for it.

It doesn't always rain in Cornwall, even on our holidays.  We found a lovely sunny beach on the other side of the peninsula.  The beauty of Cornwall is that whatever the weather locally, you can generally find a beach somewhere within 20 minutes drive which is in sunshine.  I think it is something to do with the cliffs, which are up to 200 ft high, the Atlantic/English Channel on one side and the Irish sea on the other and the prevailing south westerly winds blowing in from the Atlantic.  Mixes things up a bit!

On the other hand, you can decamp to a gloriously sunny beach, settle the children, change into the swimsuit and break out the picnic, only to be deluged by a sudden squall which appears out of nowhere.  We used to take a huge plastic sheet and huddle under it until the rain passed.  It had the benefit of clearing the beach of all but the most hardened people - great for surfing just after the shower has passed, before the crowds return.  People have no staying power in my opinion.

A bit of rain never hurt anyone...

Friday, 27 December 2013

1993 Cornwall - not snowing

Jim was an excellent cook.  He made a good stew, but not often with turkey.  I have no idea what he put in it apart from turkey, but it was very tasty.    My sister was terribly determined to be cheerful on this holiday, despite the fact that it rained and was cold every day.  She only joined us for a week at the start, but as it was so wet, she decided to extend it to the full two weeks on the grounds that it couldn't possibly keep so cold for that long.  It did though! I remember her squelching down to the end of the lane in the mud to the telephone box to call her boss and extend her holiday.  Mobile phones were only available on Star Trek, and the cottage had no phone line of its own.

It seems unbelievable now, but when we married in the mid 1970s, we had no telephone and no television for at least the first year.  Life was very peaceful and slow paced compared to now.  The only interruptions were by letter or visitor!  Jim was quite keen to have a TV, whereas I wasn't so bothered.  One day he came home from work with a small TV and that was that.  Before that we used to mainly listen to the radio...

Carol had just extended her holiday when we saw this weather forecast.  In the 1990s the forecast for a maritime climate like ours was notoriously unreliable, so we watched it and then decided to hope for the best.  Unfortunately it was totally correct.  It really rained every day from then on.  The cottage we stayed in was dank and dismal, so we went out anyway with the boys, and sat on cold windswept beaches and drank lots of hot drinks to keep warm.  The photo below was taken on a cold grey day!  Sam went an interesting shade of  air force blue in low temperatures which used to cause comment from passers by. He didn't have to be that chilly for it to start, but it was quite spectacular!  He was wearing a t shirt, jumper, windproof jacket,  hoodie and a towel, but his lips were still blue!  George is sitting there with his little bare legs out and his hands in the clammy wet sand.  He just looked red and healthy!  The wonderful sandcastle was built by Mummy and Auntie Carol.  (Children are rubbish at building sandcastles).  They did sit in it until the tide came in and washed it away, then we all went home to have a hot bath and soup.

Despite the occasional cold and the lack of proper sun, I still love the English seaside, especially Cornwall.  When the sun shines like it did last year, it is far lovelier than anywhere else in the world, and when it rains it is wild, rugged and more beautiful than any other place on Earth.  I love the fact that walking a few hundred yards will bring you to a stretch of primevally unspoilt beach - hard wet sand running down to a bracingly cold and rough ocean, with not a soul in sight.  Total bliss.  Thankfully however, not everyone agrees with me!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

1993 Cornwall - Cars and money pits.

Back in the day, cars had exhaust pipes which rusted and fell off with monotonous regularity.

We had bought this car secondhand a few weeks before the holiday, thinking it would be just the thing for trouble free travelling. It was a seven seater Montego estate with fold down rear facing seats.  The garage must have seen us coming because it turned out to be a money pit.  We got to know the Britannia rescue call centre people quite well during the three years we had it.  The exhaust was the first in a long line of faults which cost us about £3k.  The wiring caught fire on the way to scouts one evening, the rear tailgate piston broke one afternoon in the supermarket car park, the suspension went, the brakes failed, we had a fuel leak etc etc etc.  Finally we gave in and bought a newer and more reliable car.

Paul loved his cars and was always terribly disappointed when they were broken, as they always seemed to be.  We always seemed to get cars that had been made on Friday afternoons when no one was trying!

Mobile phones were in their infancy and only a few people had them.  The young man who arrived to tow us home had a very low opinion of the phone he was provided with. My sister was in the business at the time and she tried phones as a chat up line. Young men still have low opinions, but phones are generally better.  Carol was unlucky, the chat up didn't work.    She said later he was too young, but I think it was just sour grapes.

George the risk taker, a child with his glass always nearly full, found the whole thing a big exciting adventure.  Sam the worrier, who really took after his dad and had his glass permanently almost empty, worried about the car falling off the back of the tow truck, the fact that he had a lap belt on, the fact that Daddy couldn't do up his seat belt and the possibility that the young man might exceed the speed limit.  I said to George that it wasn't exciting, but actually I did find it rather fun.  It would have been most unwise to admit that to Jim and Sam though, so I kept quiet.

Cornish people are generally very friendly unless they happen to live in a picturesque town and have to put up with dozens of tourists tramping through the town wanting souvenirs.  Londoners feel the same when someone asks the way to the Tower of London for the 47th time when they are just trying to get to work.  I suppose that it is the same in any major tourist centre, although I have to say that Americans pretend to like tourists in a very believable way.  Maybe the American accent  sounds sincere to Brits - I understand that some accents are regarded as more sincere than others, so it might be that.

So anyway, Jim's day got a bit difficult, and he had to complain to the garage where we bought the car, as the exhaust was held together with duct tape and paint when they sold it to us.  I have tried this subsequently and it never works for long.  We got home safely and it didn't snow, for which we should be grateful.  It doesn't snow in July usually, but you never know.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

1993 St Michael's Mount. A toilety day.

This is a day trip we had to St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.  Such a beautiful place to visit, and very interesting.  My sister pointed out afterwards that the young man on the boat to St Michael's Mount was quite handsome and rugged.  Personally I hadn't noticed!  I think I was  busy not dropping the children in the sea!

Sam did his thing again, panicking that one of us would miss the boat, or take too long or something of that nature.  He was such a worry-guts.  George, on the other hand,  seemed to be collecting toilets, or maybe he was affected by the sound of the water, whatever the reason, he needed to go again.  I was meanly making Jim take them to the toilet.  After all they could hardly go in the ladies, could they? (Actually I didn't tell him, but that's where they usually went when he wasn't there).  Consequently Jim was spending more time than he wanted to in the rather sandy and smelly public toilets that seemed to be available at the time in Cornwall.  They are better now thank goodness.

We had a lovely walk around the castle on St Michael's mount - the views are spectacular and - every small boy's dream - there are cannons!

Jim had been to the toilets with the boys and found that they were not terrible.  He had a nice walk and stretched his legs.  He enjoyed the view and altogether he felt the day had been pretty good.

It didn't last.

Children go through many phases as they are growing up.  Working out what presses their adults' buttons is their main aim in life.  As soon as they have worked it out, they press them unmercifully.  Jim always wanted everyone to have a good time, particularly when food was involved.  The boys knew this, so only ever really complained about the food! They didn't do it to me.  I was always a bit of a dustbin, so they knew if they didn't like their food, I would probably eat it, at which stage they would suddenly find it much more appetising.

The causeway we are standing on is only usable at low tide, which is why we had to get on a boat on the way there. In our teens, my sister and I swam from the beach at Marazion to the quayside on St Michael's Mount.  The Cornish sea is not for the fainthearted, being rather chilly even in the height of summer. (After all, it is the Atlantic).  We had a boat as an escort in case we ran out of puff half way, but we made it, despite the strong tide and cold water.

Somehow, looking at it with more adult eyes, we didn't like seeing all the strange creatures and deep dangerous looking rocks which had been underneath us in the water when we swam.  They were always there, but we had pretended they weren't!  In consequence, we both felt quite proud of ourselves, but we never wanted to do it again.

I see Jim is about to have to find another toilet.

Watch out for the next instalment where his life is about to take a bit of a downturn.  (Nothing really serious, for those of you who don't relish cliff hangers with stress!)