(Not much) Sun, (but plenty of) Sea and Sand.

5 Jun

If I was writing you a postcard from my jaunt to Devon, this is exactly what would have been written on it from Saturday night, as it is what I wrote in at the time….

 “ I am sat in the tent, the wind is blowing the sides left and right, and water is pouring in from every extremity. I am sat in my sleeping bag (which incidentally is also very wet) Why is this? Probably something to do with the idiot who has parked up next to me in a campervan, who has obviously run over one of my guy ropes, causing the said deluge to prevail upon my temporary canvas abode, while I have been out surfing. To cap it all, he has come out of his camper van to nod over at me, turned up his nose at my small tent, the smell of my Madras cooking, and has then proceeded to hang a bag containing milk and butter from an overhanging tree, but with some sort of pulley system with a stick beating against the side of his campervan, presumably to scare any animal foolish enough to make a play for his “I can’t believe it’s not butter” in the night. He also has a small Terrier, which has been yapping around for ages, and came sauntering over when I was cooking my curry, to engage in a staring out competition, which I obviously won. The mood I am in now, with my tent doing the hokey cokey in the wind, while I lay inside slowly drowning, coupled with the percussion of sticks beating against a metal vehicle and a howling dog, makes me seriously wonder if I will make it to morning without committing a murder, either man or beast, and whether my sanity, if not my dignity will still be intact.”

 You may think that I have brought this all upon myself, having decided to hike off with a tent and a rucksack onto the open road, risking the great British weather, when really I could have been far more sensible and economical and booked a cheap package deal in the sun for the Jubilee weekend. Or at least a Bed and Breakfast. So why the bloody hell did  I go camping, only to be rained on, and chased by herds of cows in fields? There is one simple reason: because this is exactly where I came for our first ever family holiday, some 22 years ago. Having invested in a new tent, my mother and stepfather took us toNorth Devonin the August of 1990. I actually really enjoyed the camping element of the trip, even in the rain. The expectation of a holiday however, was not something which I can honestly say was achieved for me at this time. There were no beaches immediately nearby, and the key aims of the holiday seemed to be following the trail of Lorna Doone, the historical novel set in and around this part of the country. It was, and still is a beautiful part of the world, with some stunning scenery, but show me the 10 year old boy who wants to lots of country walks on a summer holiday, visiting places mentioned in a nineteenth century novel about love and betrayal?. There were various picnics, long walks and opportunities to read. This was all very civilised, but was not really a holiday for kids like me and my younger sibling. I wanted two things from a holiday, either to go to Pontins, playing in the ball pool and dancing with the crocodile. (Had the company not gone bust, I think I would still enjoy that!), and my other goal was to have a beach holiday in nice weather. In the absence of an alternative, this was therefore what I concluded holidays were about.

There was one other particularly striking thing, which has only occurred to me in later years; on holidays, people are normally more relaxed than usual, and parents tend to be a little more lenient with their children. But for us on this holiday, there was a military precision and high expectations of best behaviour as part of our routine, and this put paid to the notion of a “relaxing” holiday.

On the one day we drove to the beach, we ended up a bit further south, at Woolacombe. As it was August inBritain, it was predictably, wet, cold and overcast, but I didn’t care as this is the bit of the holiday I really wanted to do. I just wanted to play on the beach and in the sea like all of my friends did, when they went on holidays. It was also the day of the holiday when my mother seemed to be in her worst mood of the week. She did not want to go to the beach at all as I recall. However, undeterred by the inclement weather, I set off for the sea, having already put on my swimming shorts in preparation back in the tent before leaving. Having left my T-shirt on the shore line, I paddled in, and at knee height was knocked backwards by the sheer force of a wave. I walked in further, and stayed there just splashing about, enjoying the sense of being hit by successive waves.

I have been on quite a few Mediterranean holidays since becoming an adult, happily swimming about in the open sea, but this was the first time I can recall actually going out into the sea, having only learnt to swim the previous year. The water had an element of danger, but I enjoyed scaring myself, and seeing how far out I dared to go. As it was freezing, and I was rather a nervous child at times, this wasn’t really very far at all.

After a while, my stepfather came to get me out of the water, saying that neither he nor my mother had known where I was. On approaching my mother, I could see that her face was a picture of disapproval, and I was proved right, as she expressed her displeasure at the fact that I was completely sodden. She declared her annoyance at the fact that we would now have to go on to the next place via the campsite, so that I could get changed, not having anything else to wear with me. Following a particularly bad tempered stop in a café for a cup of tea, that was it, and we left Woolacombe, less than three hours after arriving.

So, I came on “holiday” for myself last week for a few days, to recreate that holiday for myself doing the things that I had wanted to do all those years ago, figuring that I could replace old negative memories with fresh and positive new ones.

I walked for miles and miles along the coastline, aimlessly in any direction I chose, and completely failed in my map reading abilities. However, no-one told me off for reading it wrongly, or for not being able to correctly identify the type of church a mile henceforth purely from the symbols on the Ordnance Survey map. But best of all, I went back to Woolacombe, and decided that this was the time to try something completely new. And this is how I ended up becoming a wannabe surfer; I spent a couple of hours running into the waves, and being allowed to get wet to my heart’s content. On that day, I was 10 once again, and this time no-one could take away my enjoyment. I had no fear at all of the water, which may have led to my ingestion of rather a lot of sea water in the first twenty minutes or so. But as I caught my first wave, the feeling was amazing, as I hurtled towards the shore on my board. I wont pretend that I excelled at surfing, or even that I managed to stand up, but I did realise that there is a huge difference between being “no good” at something, a description often used about me and by me to describe my abilities, and being “not good”. With the latter, there is always room for improvement. I will definitely be back to practice my surfing in the near future, but for this time, the biggest achievement was going back out into the water, challenging myself to do something new, and creating a good memory of a place for which previously the recollection had not been so good.

As the rain came down during Saturday night, I must confess I started to feel quite down. After the high point of the afternoon’s surfing, the thought of staying in a wet tent all night did make me begin to wonder if my trip had perhaps gone wrong, and that I was kidding myself to think that I could ultimately shake off the feelings of not ever being quite succeeding enough, which I have carried like a ball and chain through most of my life. To try to forget about all of this, I put my iPod on. After skipping a couple of tracks, I came across “Under Attack” by Abba. With such a camp soundtrack, I immediately laughed at myself for being so dramatic, and, realised that a leaking tent really wasn’t an indication of the state of my life. I lay down to sleep, swaying to the music across the tent, through a combination of the wind outside and the water underneath my sleeping mat, imagining that I was once again on my surfboard on the waves.

On Sunday morning, I opened up my tent, and started wringing out my saturated clothes and bedding. The man with the bag of butter and howling dog in the campervan walked over towards me. I really wasn’t in the mood for any hastle, but I braced myself for some comment or other. He asked me if I was alright, as he and his wife had noticed from the van that I seemed to have been waterlogged in the night. He then told me that their dog was very unwell and had been sick everywhere, and they were worried about her. The final blow came as he went on to say that his wife was just making a pot of coffee, and “would you like one?”

My previous venting and judgemental scribbling from the night before (as written at the outset of this blog) came back to haunt me, and I felt very glad not to have sabotaged his carrier bag of dairy products in the night, just because I was fed up myself. I told him that a coffee would be absolutely wonderful, and he went off to get it.

Sitting in the door of my tent, having dried or thrown out anything that had become wet, I set about making some breakfast. The man’s wife came over with a steaming mug of coffee, her concern for my bedraggled state clear behind the proffered brew. She told me that her and her husband used to camp in a tent like mine before they had kids, and I was welcome to come and have a look at their campervan if I wanted to. Thanking her profusely, I returned to sit squelching in the doorway of the tent, and as I began to fry a pan of bacon which sizzled and hissed in the rain, and drink my mug of coffee made with a mother’s love, the woes of the previous night disappeared. I reflected that my trip had been a success after all, and I realised that the excursion planned for that day, to revisit the landmarks of the Lorna Doone trail was not required. After all, that had never been what I wanted to do as a child on my holiday, and so by NOT doing it this time was more far more empowering than trying to recreate a more enjoyable version of that walk as an adult. I had even bought a local map of the trail to follow, and so having decided to jettison this walk, I gave the pristine if slightly damp map to my newfound guardian angels, along with a now empty coffee cup. I had also brought a copy of Lorna Doone itself with me, as I had still never read it. Apologies to any RD Blackmore fans, but a few pages in, I realised it was utter crap. In fact, it read like Catherine Cookson, except for a middle class audience.

With everything achieved in a short space of time, I decided to return a day early to my home comforts, feeling rather pleased with myself. I packed up, and it was only as I took down the tent and put it in its bag that I looked at the label, which clearly read “Beach shelter tent”, and therefore, not suitable for sleeping in, and certainly not in a howling gale. No wonder it only cost me a tenner….

 

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