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Mad As A Hatter!

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.

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It’s a Family Affair…….

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.

No offence, but…

This week, my girl is experiencing work for the first (and possibly the last!) time. She has fallen on her feet thanks to a good friend of mine who works in a fancy dress shop near to where we live – lucky thing! Personally, I would adore to spend every day wafting about in a Jane Austen-stylie dress and parasol, but people do tend to frown upon that kind of thing in the middle of Mayfair. But Daughter Dearest feels an affinity with all things theatrical, textile and artistic so it really is the perfect placement for her.

Asking her about how her first day had gone, she told me how she had had a difficult virginal customer service moment with a mother and her son who was, let’s just say, in absolutely no danger of malnutrition at the present time. You get my drift. They were wanting a costume for the young boy and my girl tried, politely (so she tells me) to suggest that they would have more choice of pirate outfits if they looked in the “Young Adult” section as opposed to the kids section. She worked hard not to mention his actual bulk – sorry, size. Unfortunately, it appears that mother and son were of the great “Denial” ilk.

I indulge in denial from time to time myself – guilty of enjoying one cupcake too many then bemoaning the fact that, through no fault of my own (!), I  have to spend the next three days on the cross trainer; going to work semi-naked – only one leg actually in my jeans; the other jean leg hanging slackly like an unfulfilled windsock. I could try to force the issue (and both legs in), but progressing to the office in a stiff “Herman Munster”-like waddle isn’t going to get me a seat on the board, now is it? But I digress. My point is that there are those whose lives are dedicated to such denial and there’s no dealing with them or it in a rational manner. They actually, I swear, enjoy being offended.

From a simply logistical point of view, there was no way this half-man-half-kid was going to fit into a children’s costume designed for non-Yetis, so my girl tried to persuade them again to look at a more suitable range. The Mother of All Denials immediately took the obligatory offence taken as her due in these situations. Despite having done her best to be tactful and help them out, my daughter overheard the grumpy moo telling the shop superior that she had been rude and unhelpful. My girl thought this very unfair and, if everything she says is true (she is to dramatic embellishment what the News of the World is/was to phone-hacking i.e. constantly at it!), quite rightly so. She felt she had genuinely tried to help and couldn’t understand how that had been rude. She does not have that “thickened skin” that anyone who has had to grit their teeth and deal with the general public develops. Her innocent honesty is part of her appeal.

However, this whole hyper-sensitivity episode got me thinking about society in general and what DOES constitute politeness, courtesy and good manners in today’s world. Have things skewed to such a crazy policital correctness now that such simple honest dialogue between people is no longer acceptable? Is honesty the new rude?

Some examples of “new rude” certainly exist. Quite common in their use actually. These include saying “No offence, but….” before saying something incredibly offensive in actual fact, which the listener then has to sit and take because that rider was put in front of it. Or stating something unkind about someone or something and then adding, “Just saying…” like the words tumbled out of the mouth without consent or conscious thought. We’ve probably all done it. On that basis, you would think that honesty would be de-sensitising people, as opposed to the opposite. Honesty should be becoming more socially acceptable, not less, shouldn’t it?

But rather than labelling it “new rude”, perhaps what we should be advocating is new honesty. A policy for the world at large. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. Not taking offence to facts presented to you. Where being direct is not seen as being unkind. Where truth is not taken as being impolite. I’d definitely go for that, wouldn’t you? I’m over nuances and trying to gauge reactions and situations – it’s exhausting and I really don’t have the time!

But in adopting new honesty, how do we then deal with these bods living in denial of their own realities and making everyone else feel awkward? Well, they could start by accepting facts, owning up and stop expecting everyone else to make allowances for their impossibly fuzzy view of the world. I, for one, have my issues but I try really hard not to impose them on other people and situations. They are MY issues, not theirs.

In this particular case, would the mother have preferred her rotund offspring to be encased in a too-tight costume that would have rendered him more keg of rum than ribald pirate? More laughing stock than theatrical badass? I think not. If, in the end, they cannot be helped because they don’t want to cloud that vision of themselves or a situation that no-one else sees – is that the rest of us being rude, or simply them being in hypersensitive denial?

The latest official current world population estimate, for mid-year 2010, is estimated at 6,852,472,823. Are the Deny-ers going to take them all on? Or accept that honesty is not rudeness; directness is just being straight with them – not offensive. That they are one amongst many; and try to cut the many a little slack? If I were being pedantic, I could say that such intolerance is, of itself, rude to those who are trying to be straight with them.

I’m just saying….