Friday, 29 May 2009

The Big Deal

Time on the clock has exceeded time in the mind this week, which is why I’m so tardy in writing to tell you about my bank holiday weekend. Eighty or so of us were sun-burning ourselves at my goddaughter’s churchless naming celebrations in Deal, Kent. If you haven’t been (to Deal that is) you must remedy this immediately. It is utterly charming and resides on my list of favourite seaside towns, alongside Bamburgh, Porthcurno, St Ives, and Southwold.

We stayed at a place called the Beachbrow Hotel in Deal, which has an alluring enough website and, inexplicably as it turns out, a link from ‘The Best of Deal and Sandwich’. Our suspicions should have been aroused by being asked to pay in full for the whole weekend stay on checking in, but then again, as this blog has already shown, our suspicion-arousing antennae seem oddly defective. Or perhaps even before that, when the attention buzzer played all the Big Ben chimes at 100 decibels (the manager informed me he is deaf, so if you have a problem, you can probably guess at the response you’ll get). The restaurant was closed for ‘lots of reasons’, which momentarily brought to mind the episode of Fawlty Towers with the hotel inspectors – or perhaps I’m thinking of the one with the hamster. Anyway, you get the gist.

Somehow I had managed to book a family room which contained four beds (yes I know, just like a Victorian slum house). But to be honest, by the time we left, we’d had need of them all (for reasons best left unmentioned, but which sadly had nothing to do with any sexual antics). The ensuite, which admittedly was huge, but unaccountably shower-less, had a poo-chopping loo, which was so deafening as to rouse even a sleeping baby. And more curiously, water from the hand basin also seemed to get the chop (presumably as a precaution against any particularly filthy guests), so we couldn’t even clean our teeth once the little Impster was asleep. Really, what I’m trying to say is please do go to Deal, but book yourself in at the Royal Hotel.

Now, for Babe C* (or more factually Day-wood*, as C cannot yet read), here is a little poem which I wrote during one of my two sleepless nights at the Beachbrow. When reading it, you need to take into account that a) I haven’t written a poem since I was 12 and b) I was horribly sleep deprived (but to be fair, both these points are patently obvious). Thus:

Who can say what great events
Await you from afar?
But I am certain you were born
Beneath a lucky star.

Sometimes we get our just desserts
To each her own reward:
Smile and shine through all life’s trials
And you will be adored.

And when the path gets muddier,
If you need another,
I shall try my best to be
Your fairy godmother.

For what is life without good luck
And magical surprises:
Imagine just how dull we’d be
Ruled by our own devices.

So all best wishes, little one
From me to you this day:
For every blessing you can count
May one more come your way.

*So named by the Impster (who I don’t think can pronounce all her v’s yet, given she counts ‘nine, ten, a-lemon, twelve...’)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Impossibility of Holidaying

I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth. I took my leave of K with a right-minded smugness. He would be working, I would be holidaying on the French Riviera. He would be earning, I would be spending. A pleasing natural equilibrium seemed to have established itself. And Menton lived up to its promise in many ways: I barely had requirement to remove my sunglasses the entire week, there was a frisson of glamour about its yacht-studded shores and heady prices, and the promise of reckless abandon lay tantalisingly within grasp.

Query: when is a holiday not a holiday? Answer: when it is spent with two toddlers. After all, what defines a holiday if not rest, relaxation, and time spent at leisure, free from work? And how to fulfil same holidaying spirit if one is perpetually forced to rise at unsociable hours, appease tantrums, listen to whingeing, get splattered with tomato and orange juice in restaurants, and generally be subject to the relentless repetition and routine of parenting a nearly-two-year-old? No good ever came of believing that a change is as good as a rest. One day you have children, and the next you find yourself in the midst of a dance reminiscent of something from They Shoot Horses Don’t They? Menton has a garish little merry-go-round, which simply thrilled the Impster. Riding round and round and up and down and ‘again again!’ is the perfect metaphor for toddlerdom.

I confess I was greatly relieved to see K after the 9-hour journey home. He was looking remarkably chipper, and dare I say it, had a note of right-minded smugness about his countenance. He’d spent his week in London and Manchester doing that kind of sociable working which involves late nights, Michelin-starred restaurants, unbridled luxury, vast expenditure, lazy mornings and too much alcohol. Is it just me, or is that the definition of a holiday?

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Home Tourist - Part Two

If the art of travel is to recognise why we love a place, to grasp the cause and meaning of its beauty, and to fathom its allure, then it is a gloriously subjective thing, not worth committing to paper. (Rather like this blog. Yet I do, so I will. Is that the same as saying ‘I blog therefore I am?’)

Elizabeth Gilbert , in her book Eat, Pray, Love, says that every city has a word which defines it, and that word is also the word going through the minds of most of the people in that city. Such as, Rome = SEX; New York = ACHIEVE; Stockholm = CONFORM. And she suggests that if your word doesn’t match that of the place you’re in, then you don’t really belong there.

So after my day of home-spun tourism, I got to wondering what makes Winchester, Winchester, instead of, say, Salisbury? And I’ve come to the late conclusion that it might be ASPIRE (as opposed to a spire, which Salisbury most impressively and irrefutably does have).

Edgy is certainly not a word one would use to describe Winchester - it is full of white middle class people, all trying to have something slightly better than the very nice things they’ve already got. Its only edge is a ruthlessly competitive and slightly smug one (people expect their toddlers to get French lessons at nursery).

But while I loathe its provincial smugness, I confess I love the reasons for that: its beauty, its sense of privilege, its boutique shops, marvellous hairdressers and fabulous farmer’s market. Yes, I am perfectly at home here, and no wonder. For I aspire to all best wishes: to idleness, happiness, expensive haircuts and one day being able to write a decent blog.