I don’t really do femininity. I love being a woman and am comfortable in my own skin but I’ll admit there are certain aspects of being a girl that have completely bypassed me. Pink in any form, for example, is neither pretty nor acceptable within a 50-mile radius of me. Flounces, frills, frippery and finery leave me completely cold. I am partial to a nice shoe or handbag, but that is about as far as it goes. I don’t wear much make-up, I rarely bother with perfume and yes, the stubble left languishing on my barely-can-be-bothered-to-shave legs is occasionally responsible for the scarring on the Man-Hog’s calves and the tears in his manly eyes.
Hence the past few months have been a trial to say the least. The Teen has a prom to go to in July. A rite of passage must in the Teen’s social calendar. It all began back in February when said Teen announced it was going in a long dress and “Oh, by the way…” you’re buying it, Mum. Hours spent searching the internet (instead of revising for one’s GCSEs) resulted finally in a dress that the Teen thought was acceptable and I didn’t think looked like she’d gone on the game. We agreed on it, I ordered it on-line, slapped down my credit card details and that was supposed to be that.
Of course not. How silly of me. I should have realized once the email arrived from the very perky and completely unintelligible Nancy Lee “confirming order for dless in plurple size ate”. This was the first clue that all was probably not what it seemed. The second clue was that the same dress appeared on multiple similar websites – something the Teen had failed to mention. My only comfort was that I had paid through PayPal on-line and was therefore hoping that my fears of fashion fraud were unfounded and the site was entirely reputable.
How naïve can one 45-year-old non-girly woman be? Three months on and with no delivery in sight, I sat on-line for over an hour waiting for a live 24-hour chat operator to be with me shortly. As the clock ticked towards the second hour it was clear the operator was not live. In fact, dead was probably nearer the mark or at the very least tied to a chair with a sock in her gob because it was clear that no-one was coming to the party to chat with me. I hung up and then sent a frustrated email to my old friend Nancy Lee, also to the address on the website and to one random email I found on my receipt from PayPal. You guessed it – nil response from all three. The end result was a complaint raised with PayPal and a reimbursement of my money. That was the good part.
The bad part was the Teen frothing at the mouth as July is around the corner and she had no dress. Pressure was mounting from her prom date who had apparently bought a tie in “plurple” to match her Chinese creation that was now never arriving. I had no choice – I had to take it shopping. Next to pink dresses and daily skin care regimes, shopping has to be my least favourite activity. I would rather mud-wrestle multiple Chinese chat room operators in a live on-line paddling pool for days on end than go shopping.
Probably not best to choose the day following the riotous, amusing yet completely pointless Netball Awards night, then. The day when I woke up with a hangover and a mouth like the just-raced crutch of Usain Bolt’s lycra shorts. A day when all sensible people except me were lying horizontal until their heads stopped pounding, their nausea faded and someone had produced a hearty fry-up to aid their recovery. Not me. No. I was on a train to London in 30 degree heat, rattling with paracetamol and sweating hideously. Oozing the smell of last night’s Chinese into the garish seat cushions and cursing all things oriental that had brought me to this point. The Teen was attempting to jolly me along with a proposed route plan for which shops we would visit first. All I wanted to do was lie down quietly in a pool of my own sick. Not only that but I had to suffer the wholly inappropriate chirpiness of the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pig who came with us as far as London en route to visit the Science Museum. My only comfort was that during their trip they might actually find a scientific answer to the god-awful gaseous gut explosions which seem to accompany any hangover I have these days. To anyone who was on that train with us, I can only apologise.
London. Sweltering heat. A tumult of Jubilee fetishists and early Olympic tourists to add to the usual summer contingent of gigantic Middle-Eastern women piling en masse into Selfridges. The Teen forged ahead in search of fashion Nirvana. Me – I weaved tearfully behind her through the make-up counters, trying desperately to escape Sandra from Yves Saint-Laurent who wanted to pounce on my ageing skin and rub me free of blemishes. I told her exactly where to stick her Touche-Eclat and I sincerely hope it hurt when she did.
Three stores, seven dresses and a nervous breakdown later, we had bought a dress. It was not plurple, it was pleacock-blue. Actually very nice if you like all that girly crap. But by then I was slumped into a corner of the changing room, gibbering slightly with eyes rolling like a maddened horse. Not one person offered me a medicinal gin and the Teen showed even less empathy by demanding I sit up straight and take some mobile phone shots of her in the dress. For the love of God, why? Did she not realize I was one vapour attack away from A&E?
But thank the Lord! – the dress is purchased. And it was 20% off day which was a bit of a result. As we were leaving London accompanied once again by the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pig fully scienced up and having displayed what I firmly believe was the patience of a saint, the Teen casually mentioned that her date for the prom is quite challenged in the height department and she didn’t want to tower above him, so could we go again next week and look for some flattish shoes? Grabbing her by her pink and flowery shirt, I pulled her across the train table and hissed “Don’t…even….think about it!” through gritted noodle-stained teeth. I think she’s got the message.
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.