No need to conquer the mountain

Scotland was lovely, despite the weather, and although I walked solidly for four hours on our only bright day – half a day really – I put on 3lbs in three days! How does that happen? I know: it was the booze and the chocolate. I took in a lot of chocolate. And a lot of chips. The menus in the village where we stayed were a tad dull. Cod and chips. Scampi and chips. Washed down with McEwan’s, not me, him. I sipped delicately on a small bottle of Sol.  Then had a Drambuie at the end of the meal. It was cold and wet.

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John found a new whisky he liked. Pronounced Boonahaben.

The walking was fine. Steep in places, but so beautiful and I did want to bag a Munro. But I am scared when it comes to mist and cloud, especially when you’re near the top and the path has disappeared into a  peaty mess. The peak plays a game of Now you see me:

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Now you don’t.

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But that pretty cloud is hovering low over the mountain and can descend at any point, throwing a poor lowlander like me into real or imagined peril. Neither of us can reliably map read.  A course in orienteering beckons.

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Anyhow we got within 100m of the top and again the weather changed and again I decided to come down. I was disappointed but I felt some consolation when I saw younger and fitter looking couples turn back. I wanted to complete the walk, but hey, it was still a challenge and lovely in the seeing and the doing. I have no need to conquer the mountain.

Home now and basking in tropical temperatures. A swim at 7.30 this morning was glorious. We swam out to that buoy, then drank coffee from a flask. Modest pleasures. An ongoing theme.

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Where is everyone?

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So sometimes it’s too cold to swim, so I indulge in a little beach art. I liked this but my companions didn’t give the outstanding feedback I would have liked. Of course, it’s not quite finished. The tail needs some more work.

Sometimes it’s too cold, and sometimes it isn’t. This is what the beach looked like today. Where is everyone?

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It’s the middle of the summer holidays and the sun is shining. Yes it’s a bit windy, conditions aren’t perfect but there’s a modicum of sand on the beach. Yesterday we (Helen, Jane, Abbi and I)  went wincing and limping over the pebbles to get to the water. Fortunately it shelves really quickly so there’s no room for indecision or pussying about. In you go and within two steps you’re up to your neck. You’re in, you’re committed.  What a relief. And it was great with strong waves and a warm wind to dry by at the end.

So where is everyone? I looked left and right and there in the distance was a self conscious dad and his small son in bright green shorts doing that boy thing of chucking stones in the waves. Nearer me was an extended family of tiny Korean looking people. All wrapped up in windproof layers, socks and trainers and an older woman (probably my age) in the inevitable poke bonnet and mooching about not quite knowing what to do with them selves. “Where’s your picnic?” I wanted to call over. “Come and share mine.”IMG_2797

Admittedly it was modest. Some reduced price Co op strawberries and lots of Kit Kats. But we’d have managed. I am remembering what you do when you go to the beach. You take food.

It was known as the Thompson picnic. Eaten huddled under towels or blankets on the beach, sea mist or no sea mist. Only rain, and big drops at that would make us desert our pitch. Other picnics were consumed in the Volvo, kids in the boot in rear-facing seats, adding their crisps and crumbs and stickiness to the prevailing texture of dog hair.  John and I sat in relative luxury in the front, sharing a flask of coffee, propped in one of those not quite adequate cup holders, steaming up the windscreen. It was all steamy and sweaty and itchy making, nothing really pleasant about it in retrospect. And the picnic was nothing special, just like a school packed lunch really: sandwiches, maybe a pork pie, crisps, box drink, fruit and a chocolate biscuit. My packed lunches would not have passed muster with today’s school diet police, but the kids ate them, or swapped them. And none of us are fat. It sounds hardcore now. But back then in the 80s and 90s everyone I knew did it. Some people had fish and chips at the end of the day: we saved that treat for the last night of our holiday.

In my quest to make the most of the summer (because heaven knows the winter comes soon enough and feels interminable) I have tried to spend some time on the beach most days. If I can bank some good warm days then maybe they will see me through the dark times. I will feel I have had a summer.

I don’t have to swim. I have enjoyed reading my book (The Night Watch – Sarah Waters) and eating flapjack. l am remembering what is was like just to be on the beach, cloud watching, wave watching, listening to the water breaking on the stones. Somehow the background noise is enough to make you feel less self-conscious, if it were completely silent on the beach, I think I might feel uncomfortable and restless. But the white noise of the pebbles and waves lulls me, makes me feel more at ease, like playing whale music to babies gives them something to fall asleep to. And the World Service gives John something else to think about, distracts him from his thoughts, in the middle of the night, but that’s another story.

Making an occasion of it is what I am writing about. So I am not just drifting down to the beach and sort of deciding to go in, or not. I am preparing. Making a flask, taking biscuits, keeping my beach stuff ready, making it easy to go when I decide to. Arranging circumstances so my chances of going are greater than if I didn’t prepare and, when I do go, my ‘beach experience’ will be enhanced.

This is all very small scale of course but I think what when we brought our families up we made an occasion out of not much. A trip to the swings with box drink and some Rich Teas! How sad does that look on paper, but it worked. They felt like we had done something that day. I felt like I’d done something. I feel for all those local kids who weren’t on the beach today. I imagine them doing some pseudo sport on a screen or with a handset. Or brow beating their parents into an overpriced trip to a funfair/theme park. They are missing out on just being kids outside. Maybe that’s what I am doing aged nearly 54. Just being a kid outside.

This is something I wrote a week ago. Same sort of theme really.  (The tail needs more work.)

Summer started in May with the change

From my nanny-knitted  cardigan

and itchy-waistband-skirt

to airy blue gingham, short socks

with Playdeck sandals.

No vest.

Home from school, gulp down orange squash and digestives,

whip off grubby socks and off for long evenings

spent circling the cul de sac on my old bike.

Wide games and handstands

“Knife, fork, spoon!” and British Bulldog.

We were having fun and we knew it.

Because winter meant scuttling to school

in heavy gaberdine

or duffle coats and stiff scarves

Baggy woollen tights needing constant hitching.

Wet play lurking in damp cloakrooms,

pinging infants gloves on threads of elastic.

Reading faded Beanos.