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A heavenly summer?

As the heatwave continues it is weird to see my neighbours’ children living my own vivid recollections of the long dry summer of 1976. I lug my tatty plastic watering can around the garden every evening, and I catch myself wishing that the pinkening sunset sky would at least have a go at gathering a few clouds to produce a shower overnight. Typical – never satisfied! (Post script – it has now rained which is perhaps why I have managed to summon up the energy to finish this post.)

We are lucky that our house remains tolerably cool, at least in parts, but we also had the chance to escape the London suburbs twice in the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, we drive for four hours to the Norfolk coast for a weekend with Mr J’s cousin and his wife in their static caravan. We are thus transplanted immediately (well, after four hours of driving, which I suppose is not technically immediate) into a whole new world. My previous experience of static caravan parks has been a little dispiriting; an appearance over the latest coastal ridge of sprawling white boxes covering a once rolling green sward offending my sense of natural beauty as I march endlessly on my South West Coast Path mission.

Here, however, I am predisposed to enjoy the generous invitation and we are swept through the entry gate in VIP style, attaching our “We’ve checked in” dangly sign to our rear-view mirror and carefully following our host through the winding site roads to the quiet corner where his home-from-home is located.

The site is enormous and I am immediately disorientated, unlikely ever to find my way back to the entrance I fear. I later disprove this theory and manage a walk unaccompanied to view the beach and sea. 

A tired reveller?

Inside the ‘caravan’ is a full Tardis experience, and a gentle (no, actually, quite a brutal) reminder that it is possible to keep a place completely box-fresh and beautiful even when spending considerable time in it. Whilst this place is not old, it has been used by our hosts and their offspring and young grandchildren for at least two seasons – and has not a scuff-mark or breakage to show for it. I secretly dread to think what this couple thought of my own scuzzy abode when they stayed with us a few years ago. Even though we had a weekly cleaner back then (and ok, I am not completely unhygienic or untidy even now), our place must have seemed terribly ‘tired’.

More importantly, this ‘caravan’ accommodation is attractive and comfortable. Our nearest comparison is the selection of rented recreational vehicles /mobile homes in which we have occasionally holidayed over the years. This is in a different league entirely. Also, it becomes obvious very quickly that we are not expected to lift a finger all weekend other than our trigger fingers on the pre-booked rifle range activity.

Caister beach accessed from the caravan park

A delightfully care-free and chat-filled weekend ensues. We are not tempted in the slightest to invest in a second property of any sort (lord knows, dealing with the one home we already have is more than enough), but we can completely see why this particular investment by Cousin P is such a hit.

A few days after our return from Norfolk, we embark (literally) on a narrow-boat adventure in the wilds of Surrey with our adult offspring. We have form for this sort of thing, having dragged the unfortunate progeny up and down various canals in France when they were teenagers, resulting in Daughter J’s only reliable French phrase (‘Ne sautez pas dans l’écluse. C’est très dangereux!’ as a result of my yelling this angrily at foolhardy French youths) and an enduring nightmarish memory of Son J’s ‘incident’ with a lock-paddle handle (best not go there) – but this was to be a gentle way of spending a day together loosely in honour of Mr J’s birthday which occurs sometime around this time of year. 

A Jillings operated lock

I decide to avoid the narrow-boat crew briefing on the basis that I am perfectly capable of steering such a craft (probably) and all the other crew family members are bigger and stronger than me, and should therefore do most of the work. I make a desultory attempt at decanting some of the food and drink from our various cold boxes and bags, but discover the on-board fridge is maxed out by only a fraction of our generous comestible rations, and go for the ‘they’ll be alright where they are’ option and instead test out the seating arrangements.

Once under way, we all revert to our ‘en famille’ norms – Mr J at the helm, Mrs J floating aimlessly around whilst Son and Daughter lark about a bit. In fact, the locks are negotiated splendidly with very little ‘sautez-ing’ and certainly none actually into the écluse. I find I am less fretful than on previous occasions, trusting that these young adults will likely have more sense and coordination than their younger selves. Daughter J is sporting very stylish canary-yellow trews and white blouse, which she miraculously manages to keep clean despite energetically operating lock-gates, sitting on the grassy banks and generally clambering around as required. Remarkable! Whose child actually is she?

I allow the others to take turns at the helm and my sole boating contribution is to hang onto a rope whilst we are rising or falling in the locks, and throw (rather well on this occasion) or catch (rather less reliably than throwing) same rope as needed. 

‘Viking’ hired from Farncombe Boat House

The views alongside the Wey Navigation are gorgeous and we spot a kingfisher, at least one heron and many many dragonflies – along with geese and cattle and the occasional tow-path rambling or SUP-ing human. A few other narrow-boats are out and we share locks several times with one – all amicable. We encounter a couple of lively groups of children, prompting the use of the French phrase under our breaths a few times but no need to use out loud, and one spectacularly stupid youth jumping from the very top of a large tree into the water, fortunately without serious consequence.

Lunch is a triumph as I wheel out a seemingly endless supply of dreadful picnic foodstuffs – until we realise that there is far too much for the small deck table (which I single-handedly assemble, to no cries of congratulation at all, which is a slight disappointment) and some of the tastier-looking items are less appetising than anticipated. No doubt when I am next required to provide a picnic spread I will make exactly the same mistakes again – I am quite predictable in this way.

A lovely day is had by all and the offspring return to their respective over-warm homes up in the smoke while Mr J and I collapse in front of the television in clammy suburbia.

As I record this, I realise that I am rhapsodising (I just checked and that IS a word) more than usual about these recent events.

From further memory delving, I now understand why.

On our first evening in Norfolk, my Fitbit had some sort of actual fit and ate its own battery. It buzzed and displayed peculiar messages but my random pressing of its many invisible buttons had no effect. By Saturday lunchtime it had given up the ghost completely and, as I had not thought to take the very specific charger it needs (because it should not have needed charging), it spent the remainder of the weekend in darkened silence on my wrist where it had to stay because I would otherwise have revealed the lily white strap mark I have allowed to develop there. Not cool.

So now, according to Fitbit, I have been defunct since Saturday … and thus presumably all of my subsequent events, activities and thoughts have been heavenly.

Hmm. Perhaps it’s just the heat.


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