It has been a strange few weeks here at Pig Central. Having never really been at home for more than a week at a time during the whole of my adult life, I suddenly found myself thrust firmly into a weird new world of family life – together with inordinate amounts of unexpectedly free time.
Firstly, let me say I have enjoyed it. I have loved being here to make breakfast for everyone. I have really loved being here when the Mini Pig gets home from school: that fresh air smell that fills his hair and the increased noise level from the minute he enters the front door – precious moments. I have laughed aloud at the Teen and her mates as they loll around snacking after college and telling me all the gossip and funny bits. I have even enjoyed the slightly bemused by it all presence of the Man Hog – all day, every day. We’ve had a lot of fun and too many pub lunches – in between the barbed banter!
What I have realised however is:
A) Staying at home will, in my particular case, lead to diabetes, morbid obesity and eventual death. Fact. All I do is bake. Endless buns, brownies, batter-based goodies and all manner of sweet homely treats. Fantastic, some would say. But this is far from the truth. There is no consistency: said baking veers wildly from the sublime to the completely inedible. It’s anybody’s guess how some of it will turn out. I’ve produced a bun whose surface was not unlike the face of Barack Obama – go figure? Maybe a dodgy oeuf? Who knows? I’ve also produced a batch of brownies that were so hideously vile the Man Hog actually retched as he tasted one. When it’s good, I devour more than I should. When it’s bad, I devour it anyway because no-one else will and it would be a shameful waste of ingredients if it went straight in the bin. This has to stop. I must step away from the baking. And the eating!
B) If I continue to stay here, I am well and truly under the Man Hog’s feet. I inadvertently perch in “his” corner of the sofa. I tut openly when he sneaks in from the garden for a round of Hobbit-Second-Breakfast toast. I am in the kitchen cooking or ironing something when he wants to wash his shoes in the sink (a filthy habit I knew nothing about until now). The home, at least during daylight hours, has been his personal fiefdom for over ten years now. And he wants it back. Sans moi!
C) I simply cannot afford to stay at home. I see too much that needs to be done: repainting the ancient crumbly windows or, failing that, replacing same crumbly windows; a new kitchen; a complete garden overhaul; painting everything inside and then buying/making/stealing the necessary soft furnishings to go with….the list goes on and on. The Man Hog scoots away like a whipped puppy with his tail between his legs when I start any conversation with “Do you think you could just…..” I find myself chasing him from room to room with my prioritised snagging list while he harrumphs and insists he needs to check the oil in the car. The iPad glows a sickly red with the sheer strain of all the bookmarking I have done on the John Lewis and Dulux websites. I had less time before now to notice the endless decay that accompanies owning an old house but now…I see it all. It’s a little bit like Steve Austin, the bionic man….it is a house barely alive. But Gentlemen –
we can rebuild him. Or knock the bugger down and start again? Actually….put that on the snag list: New house.
D) I have discovered I’m unable to relax and am therefore not very relaxing to be around. After years of work, deadlines, ego massaging and deftly managing my own usually very limited time I now find this lack of structure means I simply cannot sit still. We went on holiday right at the start of the redundancy and that was fine – away from home I cannot meddle or control or tidy and so all is well. Back home: all bets are off. I’m literally driving the family bonkers – I think the Man Hog may even have developed a slight tic.
E) I actually need to work. The most soul-searing and honest thing that has come out of all of this is that I truly do love my family to distraction, but….without a job I am rootless. Surplus to my own requirements. Pointless. I truly like going to work and most of the time, I’m quite good at it. Staying at home – it’s a really tough job fraught with constant decision making and the potential to fail at the most basic of tasks.
So I have taken another job – a tougher one than the last and for less money, with longer hours, sporting an unknown group of people to try to win over. Daunting? Yes! Scared? A bit. Swap it for permanent retirement? Not on your nelly!
Call me a monster but I have come to the conclusion that I am a better wife, mother, friend, sister or whatever I am simply for going to work. It’s what I know. It’s what I do. It’s my function, my contribution, my commitment to the life we have built. More importantly, it’s what the family knows I do. It defines me for myself and for them. Without it, I am genuinely uncomfortable. So I’m off to do it all again – with the family’s blessing.
Moving house is acknowledged to be one of the five most stressful experiences in the average human life. Right up there with death, and we all know how that ends. As I write, I am sending hopeful prayers to the god of British estate Agents, asking him to unearth their good natures which I know must lurk somewhere beneath their seemingly rhino-like hides and have them do their jobs properly for this little family. No more, no less. Sell my house, help me find the new one and then slip quietly away clutching my hard-earned in their paws. Simple. Stress is not something I wish to invite willingly in to my life. I am not very good at it; I tend to over-react and have been known to bite people. Literally.
So why have we made this decision to up sticks and slink West by over 200 miles? A decision that will, inevitably, lead to more than a little over-crowding in my tiny stress pouch? Why would we willingly put ourselves through it? Staying put is the obvious solution, isn’t it?
I want to move. I’m done with the current status quo. For many of the usual reasons – changes in the local neighbourhood, changes in our lifestyle as a family, a general yearning for sea air, beautiful walks, friendly locals, more sailing, alternative opportunities for the kids, etc etc yawn yawn. Most of which I already have and will be sad to leave behind, but which I hope we will find again. We have made some truly great mates in our nine years in this locale, and we will miss them all horribly. Coupled with this, we know we are lucky to be thinking about moving at all at a time when many people are just looking for some job security, extra income or someone to even give them a mortgage.
So why else? The simple fact is that I need to go. Some other, less conventional, reasons are also behind the decision. Not the least of which is the hole in my home and my life since the demise of my gorgeous labbie back at the end of last summer. The house, that haven of happiness after the hellish working day, would greet me with jolly children and a waggy-tailed pooch. All that has changed since his demise. Now I come back each day – we are talking almost seven months on – and there is no joyful canine greeting, no excited yelping, no-one to sit by my side at the dining table puffing biscuity breath into my face until I take him for a walk. No stench of dog or filth underfoot either, of course, which I acknowledge to be a minor upside but not enough to overcome my sadness and sense of loss.
That’s just the inside of the house. Outside is even worse. I have tried to walk the paths of the beautiful local estate lands three times since Fred shuffled off this Earth. Each time the lack of crunching feet behind me, or a black rump in front of me snuffling through the woods, has seen me return crying my eyeballs out. I don’t do crying, I promise you. Clearly, now, I don’t do walking either. If even the gorgeous local countryside no longer holds an attraction for me, then I am as they say “stuffed”. I know there will be those among you who think I have lost my mind – he was only a dog after all – I’ve lost a lot more significant others than that. But grief is a funny thing. You can’t plan it, you can’t even really understand it. You just have to acknowledge it is there, and that things have changed irreparably.
Another reason, perhaps even more non-sensical to the majority including the Man-Hog, is my panic that life is passing me by. Too short all together when looking at my parents – surely my best source of genetic life expectancy calculation – who both sadly croaked fairly early on into retirement and with so much still left to do in their lives. I don’t want to be that person – waiting and waiting for retirement, for the perfect time, whatever that even is? I fear “not getting it all done”. I want to go while I have such a desire, some sort of means to pay for it, and the determined will to change things for everyone in my family for, hopefully, the better. The Man-Hog is lonely at home, the kids are great but too pale and chesty, and I am craving fresh salty air and a change of pace like my own personal crack habit. I want to get on with it.
There are many more, very personal, reasons why we want to go but I shan’t bore you with them. Suffice to say it has taken two years to come to this decision and I am so glad we finally have!
Amazingly, we have the support of our two children for this move. Upping sticks as a teenager is not an easy issue for most to come to terms with. The Mini-Pig girl has GCSEs to contend with this summer, something we have to factor in to the overall move plan somehow. I know about enforced moves, I had to do it at the age of 18 and I couldn’t wait to turn my back on my parents and hightail it back to where I came from. Luckily, the Man-Hog (the boyfriend du jour) was in situ back in the former homelands and it all worked out very well. But I remember the feeling of doom, of panic and of powerlessness. I have never wanted that for the children and if they had voiced any dissent for this plan, we would likely have re-considered. My kids positively embrace the idea. They are just as eager to get on with it now that any prevarication between the parentals has ended. I cannot count the number of times people have told us how lucky we are that the children are enthusiastic for this new era – I would be shocked except I am conceitedly proud of them and their ability to adapt. Living with a mother like me – the original Mrs Ants-in-her-Pants-Let-Us-Chuck-Ourselves-Off-A-Cliff-Today – it should really be no surprise. It is one less stress to have to deal with.
So, the house is up for sale – I have smiled winningly at the estate agent and am praying I had no poppy seeds in my teeth at the time! The Man-Hog and I are venturing West hand-in-porky-hand on Friday for a nose around properties in our price range at the other end. All we need now is a fair wind and some good fortune. Oh, and estate agents that do their jobs. Watch this space.
Photo credit: http://businessinsider.com
Happy New Year to all you lovely, lovely people. I hope you all managed to have a brilliant time and got some actual R’n’R in there as well for good measure.
Having finished in the office on Dec. 16th, I returned to work today. Without doubt, a massive shock to my system. The alarm clock going off for one thing – that hasn’t happened in a while. My boy has a Pac-Man alarm clock that chimes with all the subtlety of a siren announcing all-out nuclear war. Today, it is entirely appropriate as the weather outside appears to indicate the world is indeed ending. Well, the Mayans did say it would happen in 2012, didn’t they? They’re up there now, somewhere, jigging about on their little moccassined feet chanting “Told you so!” and whipping their ancient plaits back and forth in glee. The weather is forcing droplets into my already beleaguered roof – the “plink, plink fizz” noises have nothing to do with the number of Berocca tablets I consumed over the holidays and everything to do with the slowly dissolving ancient lime plaster holding the roof up. The wind and rain buffeting around my office – which, it has to be said, is London’s very own version of Tan Hill – is testing even the Everest-approved windows and attempting to dislodge the building all together. God forbid someone releases a helium balloon over in Hyde Park – at best, a hapless tourist maimed as it whisks down Piccadilly slapping faces at breakneck speed; at worst, all mobile phone masts downed within a 50 mile radius.
Armageddon aside, I want to unburden myself of some embarrassing Christmas moments – everyone has them so don’t go getting all holier-than-thou with me. My tale of woe begins in Cumbria two days before Christmas and, luxury of luxuries, with separate hotel rooms for us and the Mini-Pigs. The Man-Hog was in a state of priapic frenzy during the drive up at the mere thought of potentially 8-10 solid hours of my undivided attention. That, or he’d left his wallet in his front pocket again. We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, checked in and mounted the stairs to our respective rooms. The kids were almost as ecstatic as we were and darling daughter shooed us out of their room and announced she was taking over mothering duties for the evening including baths and bedtimes, leaving the parentals free to….talk. Such was our involvement in the…talking…we did not realize until later that the ma-hoo-ssive elderly coach party we had seen occupying every chair in the lounge on our arrival had, in fact, decamped to a function room for a chess tournament immediately below our room. Our unmuffled…discussion…did not appear to have disturbed Flossie and Enid locked in mortal “Knight 2 takes Bishop 5” combat beneath us, but nevertheless we quickly dressed and went to the hotel bar to establish an alibi. Sadly, every smirk on the faces of our fellow bar-hoppers was ill-disguised proof positive that we had got away with nothing. I suggest the hotel beefs up its sound-proofing, or invests in honeymoon villas. “Discussions” are, after all, private. Either way, I couldn’t wait to leave the next morning.
We carried on to Scotland to my brother and his lovely family near Perthshire, and were joined by my nearby sister and her family for Christmas and Boxing Days. It was so great to see them all and despite having to seat 22 of us for dinner somewhere, we all had a wonderful time. The very best part about my family is the genuine love for each other’s company we have without having to try at all. Despite not having seen my bro or sis in over a year due to distance and work commitments, spending time all together was as easy as slipping on a comfy dressing gown. As effortless as sliding into cashmere bedsocks. As enjoyable as a round of peanut butter toast eaten in the bath. Fantastic. Until…
I blocked the main loo. Not just blocked it, but bunged it up an absolute kipper. My worst nightmare come true. I railed silently against unfairly oversized portions of bubble’n’squeak, ranted inwardly about forced consumption of Yorkshire puddings, of the availability of cheeses galore together with copious jars of onion marmalade. In the end, though, I had to call the Man-Hog to assist as nothing I did was working. He, being of a delicate disposition, cannot trifle with such issues without a biohazard suit and several stiff gins so he called in my brother. Oh, the shame! Bro couldn’t sort it either, so he called in senior brother-in-law. At this point, we’re talking three grown men standing in the bathroom and examining the by-product of my too-good festive frenzy while I apologized frequently in abject misery from behind them. I don’t think I will EVER live it down. Buckets were deployed and carried openly through public spaces where, of course, everyone else was gathered still enjoying stollen and Christmas cake (they’ll regret that combo as I did – ha!). At one point, a rodding eye was threatened but I became tearful at the sheer mention and the threat was withdrawn. I can still hear them all now, laughing themselves sick at my expense. The shame, the shame.
Needless to say, we left hurriedly the next day – if I was going to block anything else, it was going to be on a motorway in complete anonymity. I even left a dress and a couple of Christmas pressies behind, such was my packing haste. This was all aside from the Man-Hog’s humiliating police incident on Christmas Eve, the blobs of turkey curry subsequently discovered down the front of my new Christmas dress that NO-ONE had mentioned at the time, and the head-crushing amount of some shameful 80s Malibu cocktail consumed by yours truly on New Year’s Eve. So, that was Christmas 2011. Perhaps next year, I can wander naked through an Edinburgh street sporting only one eyebrow or discover that I have, in fact, had the word “Prat” printed in lipstick on the back of my coat for several days. There’s surely not much else embarrassing I can do, is there?
Photo credit: http://noveltp.com
Blown away, nay sick with envy, by the news that Johnny Depp was in my favourite place in the whole world, Salcombe, this week. He was filming at Start Point on a remote beach for a Tim Burton film. Tim, himself, and bits of crew have been seen lurking in and around the Victoria Inn at Salcombe. Funny, I didn’t think old Tim came out during daylight hours?
Anyway, in a tenuous link, my brain somehow made the connection from Johnny “He Whose Babies I Would Gladly Have” Depp to the Mad Hatter, which lead me on to another piece of exciting news this week. As some of you know, my daughter undertook some work experience back in July. She went to work for a week for the lovely Jen Barlow at the brilliant Mad Hatters Fancy Dress emporium. My girl enjoyed it there so much she was more than delighted when Jen asked if she would be the “Red Queen” from Alice in Wonderland at a networking event Jen ran back in the summer. The event was a great success; my daughter was imperiously frosty as the nasty Queen, frightening small children all over the place; and a great time was had by all. Unfortunately I couldn’t get there to see her “performing” in person on the day, so am really pleased that the local news have picked up a photo and published it.
Mini-Pig Girl’s hair looked brilliant, and I would like to thank Jen for the continuing deluge of red hairspray I still find everywhere in SEPTEMBER whenever I attempt housecleaning. It particularly clings to the bathroom blind, I’ve noticed. Grrrr. Looks like we’ve had the most enormous burglary and been fingerprint-dusted by the Sparkle Fairy in every room. But a small price to pay for Mini-Pig Girl’s hairdo on the day and her general happiness.
I’ve been known to indulge in the odd bit of dressing up myself, along with the other half. All personal dignity goes out the window, of course, but it is great fun to do it. Here are some photos of a recent Abba revival night, costumes from Mad Hatters again. We lost a lot of friends with these outfits, albeit understandably. Think it was Man-Hog’s wig that offended most. Left unpleasantly curly wisps in people’s drinks as he passed. Shame.
This piece seems like an ideal time to give Jen a bit of a plug too. Mad Hatters is a fantastic selection of authentic and theatrical costumes for local hire and sale, and on-line for those further afield. If you are looking for something for a vintage show, 70s gear for a Bay City Roller party or want to be the Flapper Girl to your other half’s Gangster, you’ll literally find it all here along with a load of accessories you need to make the perfect outfit. They have over 2000 costumes sourced both nationally and internationally, so a really huge choice. If you are going to an event and you need something a bit special, please do look them up at their website: http://www.madhattersfancydress.com/ ; click on the link on my BlogRoll or follow them on Twitter at @MadFancyDress
The best bit about fancy dress is getting to keep the accessories. Man-Hog occasionally parades around naked after a late-night bath wearing nothing but the ornate cross from a cardinal’s outfit he once hired. Don’t be alarmed. I know how it looks, but we’re really not that sort of family, I promise.
But accessories are great to hang on to. That way, at any moment and with no real excuse, you too can look like a total numpty. The Mini-Pig Boy shows you how:
Pip pip till next time.
With only just over a week to go until the Teen-Tween Two start back to school, I have been musing on what we will miss about having children at primary school now that this phase of their development has ended. At the end of term back in July, my boy was so happy simply to be leaving that we didn’t dwell on what we might all miss about this institution we have been a part of for 8 years or more.
So I asked him. Here are his answers:
1. Friends that would be going to other schools and not joining him at his new school. This is an interesting one: kids have an uncanny ability to compartmentalise to a much higher degree than we mere adults. I never understood gang mentality until I applied it to this type of situation: quite baldly, if a friend is not going to my son’s school, then he’s no longer much of a friend and is not in his new “gang” which now becomes those at his new school. Despite modern technology and easy access via social networking etc., there is not a cat in hell’s chance that he will stay in touch with people he doesn’t see every day. Harsh, but true. If I applied that basis to my own life, I might never see my far-flung scattered family ever again!
2. Some of the teachers. He will miss his class teacher from Year 6, whom he loved despite the odd clash of personalities, and one or two others. Interestingly not all the teachers and, in particular, not his head teacher or one of the teaching assistant’s in his class. His aversion to some of the most influential adults in his life cannot be undone. He is adamant that he does not like them, they are not very nice people and in the case of the teaching assistant (aka “Monster”), should be kept as far away from children as is humanly possible. She, along with strange and repugnant school lunches, are high on his list of things NOT to miss about school.
3. Playtimes. Even before he has started, my boy has already garnered that playtimes at secondary school will not be the rough and tumble, football playing mayhem of his former schooldays. He manages an impressive lip-curl when he says: “S’pose we’ll be, like, talking and stuff.” Clearly talking is up there with being smeared with Bovril and licked by French poodles in terms of interesting things to do with his playtime. He will miss the greater emphasis on play at primary as much as anything: secondary school being focused on academic endeavour rather than whether you can get seven boys to fall backward in domino fashion for a full 15 minutes without a trip to A&E.
At this point, the boy’s attention span was exhausted and he needed to rest and recuperate from such a looooooong intense discussion with a grown-up. Bless him. So I turned my attention to what we, the parentals, might miss about not darkening the doors of primary school any more. Here’s our, rather more sarcastic, version:
1. Newsletters from the school. Yes, we will miss those informative missives delivered in a crumpled heap via the primary book bag each week. How will we function if not being reminded 52 weeks of the year about head-lice, the benefits of walking to school (which we do already) and the importance of reading 3 times a week (which we do much more than)? The answer is absolutely bloody fine, thanks. We have not yet felt the beginnings of early on-set Alzheimer’s nor do we have attention-deficit syndrome. So why the need to tell us the same thing week in, week out? Sometimes, when there is a different heading on the page, my husband and I clutch each other in excitement at this new world opening up in front of our eyes. Sadly, it is usually to announce that not only are there head-lice but also measles, chicken-pox and bubonic plague in the school. The let-down is immense.
2. Good Work Assemblies. Tragic will be the mornings every 10 weeks when we do not have to attend school to watch our children shuffle recalcitrantly to the front of the hall and mumble a few pre-prepared words from a card about a topic in which they have not had the slightest interest. One particularly memorable one was when the then 9 year-old boys had to explain how they had put together a country dancing sequence. They would honestly rather have had their pants pulled down in the front of the school, it could not have been more embarrassing. Fire-red cheeks and woeful tones of voice will haunt me forever having watched those poor lads hop about Munchkin-stylie in front of all the parents: definitely one to forget. While the girls probably relished such a topic, I fear it may have damaged the chaps for life. Oh – and the heat. I will miss the heat of being packed snugly next to 30 other sets of parents on chairs designed to accommodate buttocks much smaller than mine. I’m practically engaged to one or two of the other parents having shared such sweaty, intense intimacy.
3. Money. Yes, we are wondering what to do with all the extra money we will now have at our disposal as we are not gleefully filling the school coffers with cash. Without exception, not a week went by in 8 years when we weren’t asked to contribute towards, sponsor, give generously or just plain get your cash out for something that damn school needed. It was money with menaces. Not to mention the looks we got if we deigned to put a couple of tins of tomato soup in the basket for Harvest Festival. Clearly, I was supposed to make something organic with produce from the local farm shop at great expense to myself. Well, that didn’t happen. Like EVER.
Most interesting of all, perhaps, were the things the boy is looking forward to at the new school:
- Learning new subjects: he is EXCITED about learning German, has looked up fab new swear words in his dictionary already. I have started announcing “Gott in Himmel!” at the state of his room in the mornings, just to practice;
- New friends and joining up with friends he already has through football club that will be at his new, much larger school;
- Exotic school trips: he is already talking about going to Kenya although seems to have an irrational belief that he will not only contract malaria, but will in fact die from it. In Africa. Alone.
This is heartening stuff giving me hope that the transition will not be too traumatic. As for us, the thing we will really miss most about primary school is the primary school age children themselves. For better or worse, what we have here now are young adults in the making. Which begs the real question du jour: when are my husband and I planning to grow up?
Photo credit: irvinehousingblog.com
Today began early – 3.36AM to be precise. This was when the Man-Hog’s ritual cries of epiglottis-shaking joy (or horror, who can tell?) breached the decibel tolerance levels of even the dead. The dead being me. Refraining from stuffing left-over dried apricots and last month’s Land Rover Monthly up his nose sideways, I decided instead to just get up and de-camp to the sitting room.
Sleep eluded me: mainly, I’ll admit, owing to a film about rugby on Anytime; always worth a watch and a sigh of once-youthful yearning. Two hours later, the somewhat thinly veiled troubled-teenager-nice thighs-but essentially a sod-finds rugby-coach turns out to be a brick-wins National playoff-changes life-wins girl plot whimpered to its final lame-ass conclusion and I was still wide awake watching the credits roll.
At this point, toast and a comfort vat of Ovaltine with extra sugar were the only obvious choices. As I slapped the butter on so thick it melted and ran like lava into my cleavage, I lifted a silent middle finger to cholesterol monitoring, WeightWatchers and Hogboy upstairs. Diets always start tomorrow, don’t they?
Cookery School starts at 5.30AM for those who are interested. It consists of a rotundly arrogant Chef (there’s a surprise – someone really should study the chef size to over-inflated ego ratio – there’s definitely a genetic link) undercooking meat in a frilly fashion whilst his female-totty-for-the-masses sidekick smiles sweetly as she assassinates the hopes and dreams of the victims – sorry, contestants. She even CROSSES THEIR NAMES OUT on a blackboard in front of them before they leave with the Chef’s Hat of Shame tucked into their undies. Heartless harpy.
Having despatched some poor woman in tears in this manner to lay her head in her inadequately pre-heated gas oven, I was left feeling FINALLY a little drowsy. The excitement had been too much. I drifted off.
My mobile shrilling in my ear heralded the start of today’s traumas. My pre-teen son has been at Chelsea football camp since Sunday, has worked super-humanly hard and was today supposed to be heading off to his reward – a tour of Stamford Bridge complete with dressing room sweat, a potential rub-up against an actual player, finishing with a presentation which his proud parents would attend in order to worship him.
Not to be. Viral plague; dehydration from unexpected and unseasonal sunshine; and/or a surfeit of Haribos consumed in a single sitting had done for him sometime in the night. Vomit was his task and Bucket his reward.
So I set off at just before 8AM after inadequate mumblings from the man in charge of hurling minors to drive the equivalent of the Paris-Dakar Rally to collect said Puker. I’m exaggerating OBVIOUSLY. You know me by now. But at that time of the morning and with unattractively wet hair (no time to primp for fit Chelsea coaching staff) it felt far! The dulcet sound of his nodding head clunking into the stainless steel bowl I forced him to hold in front of him all the way back will live with me a long time. It was like a lackadaisical steel band who simply couldn’t be arsed to stay in tune.
Since then, my day has been filled with intermittent gagging, loud shouts from Man-Hog of “Not on the carpets, Son!!!”, a Vesuvian pile of ironing, braving the supermarket for more butter (don’t say a word) and “When are we eeeaaaatttiiinnngggg?” on a plaintive wheedle loop from the older and clearly insensitive-to-situation Teen with the Bottomless Pit for a Stomach.
*Sigh* Motherhood? Marriage? Honestly? Poke it.
Photo credit: www.tedhickman.com
I wrote this in 10 minutes flat in the bath on Tuesday evening. It’s raw, certainly, but it’s from the heart. The theme of my week, it would seem! So here it is – my ode to a family holiday in Devon.
Finding Utopia by pigletinapoke
Finding a holiday that suits a diverse range of ages is not easy. That pleases the whole family? NEVER easy. Combining both and retaining sanity and equilibrium? The Utopian dream!
Except. Nestled on Devon’s Southern-most tip lies the estuary-etched town of Salcombe. We journeyed West in April 2011 to this aesthetic gem in search of UK holiday Nirvana and, by Golly!, I think we found it.
The family age span stretches from the youngest (codename: The Prawn) at 10 years old to Uncky Mike (codename: Beg Pardon?) enjoying his seventh decade of holidays. Throw in one sulkily hormonal teenager, a City-stressed mum and Goldie-elders who’ve seen it all and want nothing but the best; phew! Frankly, you’re asking for trouble. It should have been Holiday Hell. Chaos at the very least. But it wasn’t.
Our journey took about 5 hours door to door, and was an integral part of the trip. We reminisced as a family the days when we would race each other in our lovingly nurtured VW campervans along the higgledy-piggledy A303, hoping desperately to arrive without breaking down and preferably in daylight. On the same day we had left. Today’s modern family equivalent of convoying Land Rovers was not quite as atmospheric but, thanks to the inclusion of car to car walkie-talkies which made all of us sound like heavy-breathing pervs, was nonetheless fun. Our usual hare-and-tortoise race ensued. Having marvelled at Stonehenge from afar, we paused for the obligatory rest-stop in the village of Mere, to re-convene and devour mildly warm, hopelessly crushed packed lunches.
Arriving en masse in Salcombe always brings a surfeit of emotions. The children squeal eagerly out of car windows as we round the bend and discover the view, straining to check a) the sun is shining, b) the water is as blue as they remembered (it is – South Sands beach having earned its Blue Flag this year) and c) is the surf up?
Us parentals are more restrained. I cheesily slip Morcheeba’s “The Sea” onto the stereo and its lilting melody accompanies us as we marvel at the stunning tree-lined cliffs, the almost Mediterranean beauty of homes and gardens drifting staccato-like down the hillside to the water. On a practical level, our eyes seek to check that all the stores necessary to a week in the town with varied loved ones and potential rain (we are still in England after all!) are still there; that Cranch’s sweet shop and Catch! Italian restaurant have not moved with their owners to Malaga in the intervening winter period since our last visit; and that a McDonald’s restaurant has had neither the effrontery nor planning permission to be erected on the marina.
The “Goldies” check the hill gradient up from the colourful hanging baskets of the Victoria Inn to our accommodation in lofty Cliff Road: assessing the best route on foot to do everything they want while only negotiating the hill once, perhaps twice, during their stay!
Accommodation has always been excellent. Coast & Country, based in Island Street, are our kind of holiday lettings agency, and have never disappointed to date. There are other options: the Salcombe Harbour Hotel boasts a central location, a health and fitness spa and pool with amazing views, while the contemporary South Sands Hotel has picked up multiple awards for its design and benefits from an impressive wine cellar and gourmet menus.
Given the tribe of us, however, we went the self-catering holiday let route. We pick up the keys and mount an assault on our accommodation. The view from our balcony is, corny I know, picture-postcard perfect. Some jiggery-pokery ensues over which child gets the upper bunk (youngest apparently, as he snores and she can kick him from underneath to shut him up), who gets the en-suite and where multiple wetsuits, wellies and boogie boards may be stored, until finally we’re in. And…..relax! This we do, with a well-earned glass of vino watching the sunset pinken our deck and listening to the seagulls wheeling overhead.
So what’s so special about Salcombe? Well, it has everything a family can want. Truly. There are two beaches within walking distance of the town, both sandy and safe for children with intriguing rock structures to climb and tidal rockpools to explore. In rougher weather, the resulting surf at North Sands gets quite knicker-grippingly exciting, and there are no rocks buried beneath the waves to injure young bohemians at play. Overlooking that beach is a fine establishment called The Winking Prawn – that of Cajun barbecue fame; server of fabulous Prawnetto ice-cream from its own pink van and excellent Sunday breakfast buffets. The Goldies chill out with lattes and lemon drizzle cake whilst watching the rest improve their board skills. Or not! There’s copious affordable parking to spend the day there if you wish, and even a tennis court to work off the extra calories inadvertently swallowed.
Then there’s the town itself. A proper town. With real shops that you can actually buy things in. Not just a selection of tea shops and a faux hand-crimped pasty parlour. The arty quarter around Island Street is home to various unique galleries, including the Bang Wallop! photographic studio whose work will not only amaze, but whose lovely people will immortalise a moment in your own family’s history – on a theme if you wish – to be ready at home when you return from your hols. There’s the amazing Salcombe Coffee Company whose bacon sandwiches and house-blend lattes bring a tear to the eye. And the fabulous Bibi and Mac over whose designer labels I defy you not to drool.
Then of course, there’s water – all-pervading, enticing and immediately accessible. You have to get in it or on it at some point – it’s compulsive. Salcombe is even more picturesque when viewed from the water. You can hire boats to potter about in, ribs to rampage a little further afield, join a mackerel fishing party going out to catch the big one, and there’s even regular ferries to the opposite Mill Bay beach with its clifftop walks (National Trust but worth the £5 parking fee if you drive there) and, tide permitting, up to the nearby town of Kingsbridge which boasts great Indian food, a beauty spa, yoga centre, the wonderful Crabshell Inn and a cinema amongst its manifold attractions.
For those who want to get in the car – the Goldies did sometimes go off on little jaunts – there is the pretty town of Dartmouth approx. 10 miles east, the wild beauty of Dartmoor approx. 12 miles north and historic Plymouth Ho! and its environs a mere 20 miles West.
So – is Salcombe for everyone? If your penchant is for a Kiss Me Quick hat, penny arcade, nightclub or jet-ski then, no. You won’t find them here. But if you seek quality time with your family spent against the ever-changing backdrop of the estuary; a convenient location nestled amongst the trees at the mouth of the river; a temperate climate thanks to its southerly position; views to die for out to sea; and warm, friendly locals to make your stay even more pleasant – look no further. Salcombe’s your man. Did we all argue? You bet. About what to do next and whether we should go home at all. Ever. So take it from me – go, take the whole family and who knows? Maybe, like us, you’ll never want to leave.