Camping: Never. Again (until next week).

Camping. It’s basically just wiping toilet seats, dry retching, eating crisps and arguing, isn’t it? How many times in one holiday can you say “You CAN’T want a wee again already?” or “Have you finished yet?” or “Don’t go in THAT one!” or “You’re not hungry because you’ve eaten eight bags of crisps,” or “We can’t stay together if you think this is a holiday.” Precious moments spent choosing between the shower cubicle with dead flies or the knot of thick hair. The dry retching into the sink as you clean your teeth. The omnipresent smell of cooked egg. We camped for the first time as a family a couple of weeks ago.

It started well. Before check in we’d had a really splendid lunch at The Watch House cafe in nearby West Bay, a place famous for Broadchurch. Our tent was erected in sunshine and as we watched a glorious sunset a group of fun-looking people were kicking off a huge BBQ. WW leaned in, pointed to a lovely, be-shawled, wind-swept, smiley woman wearing the EXACT SAME red sandals as me, and said “She either lives in our village or she’s on TV.” “SHE’S ON TV” I assured him, recognising her deep guffaw as Kerry Godliman, who played the truly wonderful Hannah in Ricky Gervais’s Derek. Comedy gold, a red sun, a bottle of wine and my comedian-endorsed red sandals!

I practiced casually nodding and saying “Nice shoes” for the next three days, a killer line I failed to use as our bladders/bowels/ablutions/dirty dishes failed to synchronise. But the children were making friends with Kerry’s kid in an adjacent playground, and I was planning our future dinner parties with Ricky Gervais, we had pasta on the boil and all was well. I sipped Pinot Grigio alone, in the tent. The wind was beginning to get a bit, shall we say, flappy, as WW chased the children round a freezing pitch black patch of grass with a ball.

The next day, the driving rain was fierce, and cold, and sideways and yet WW leapt out of the tent and began cooking sausages and tomatoes to absolute perfection, his face being lashed by the rain. Not one to sit back and let someone else do all the work, I reached into the bag for some sliced bread. Unfortunately the bread had been in the cool bag with the ice that had now melted. It flopped down into our plates like a wet sponge. We cleared it all away and forgot to make a cup of tea.

Later, in the playground, my glands throbbing and my throat smarting, I overheard two men talking about a dog that had run off the edge of the cliff a week prior. “Lethal up there,” they were saying, gruffly. An air of doom started to descend, followed by a clanging headache. “Let’s go swimming!” said WW, pointing to the indoor pool we were fortunate enough to have on site. Everyone loves a public swimming pool right? Especially one with a one-in-one-out policy, that lets half your family in with your whole family’s swimming stuff, leaving you standing in the changing room with nothing to change into. I had to creep fully-clothed round the edge of the pool, ignoring the “Only swimming costumes to be worn beyond this point” sign and knock on the men’s changing rooms to retrieve my costume.

And who doesn’t like swimming pools that have no lockers so you have to put all your lovely dry clothes into a damp plastic container and store it on a shelf at the edge of the swimming pool, causing you to drop your partner’s boxer shorts on the wet floor as you leave the pool only for him to shout “My pants are wet!” at you as you scurry back to the changing rooms, hiccuping back tears? The tears weren’t because of the wet pants, no, I couldn’t care less about his wet pants, but because once we were all in the pool, I started to feel really, really strange. I had burnt my wrist on the oven at home a few days before and the burn turned bright yellow in the pool. I could see people eyeing my neon wound with suspicion and I immediately diagnosed myself with septicaemia. All around me were families throwing each other in the air and teaching the correct breaststroke technique and laughing, and I was swilling around in their chlorinated bum scum which I was suddenly convinced would be the last conscious experience of my 44 years here on earth.

And there it was again, the line so often muttered when we go to a public swimming pool. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I said to WW. “I’ll ask reception where the nearest doctor is.” As some sort of karmic payback for wet pants-gate, I got to the showers to discover I hadn’t brought my bag with my clean clothes and my shampoo in it. I had to climb back into my now wet old leggings and stretchy top, now festooned with strangers’ pubic hair, and return to the tent, in the rain, to retrieve my bag, before returning to the shower block with murder in mind. I washed away some of the torment and felt calmer as we drove to the nearest pharmacist who told me to visit the Minor Injuries Unit. I told WW to drop me there and go and get the kids some lunch as I’d undoubtedly have a wait on my hands. So off they went into Bridport and I was told I had an hour’s wait. An hour to myself sitting in a warm in a chair. This was only now becoming a holiday. I saw a man walking back to his chair with a cup of tea, at the exact time as I realised I’d left my purse in the car.

Exactly a parched hour later a nurse rolled up her sleeves to reveal an arm of oven burn scars similar to mine. “Ah, I know all about these,” she chirruped, before glancing at my luminous throbbing wrist and saying “That’s normal healing. Have a nice rest of your holiday.” Back in the car WW was in a stew. “What a waste of time, we’re going home tomorrow,” he said.  “No we’re not, we’re going home the following day,” I corrected him before realising I should have kept my mouth shut. But then he pointed to the footwell and said “Your lunch is down there,” and as I reached down and peeled back some paper to reveal some cold chips and curry sauce, I knew this holiday wasn’t over yet. “Charmouth now, for fossils!” he announced. On arrival, BUB.3 had fallen asleep in the car. “Oh no, what a shame,” I said. “She must be tired from sleeping in the tent, I’ll have to stay with her.” I was already winding my seat back and putting my feet on the dashboard before I finished the sentence. I watched their distant figures holding buckets and running towards the sea and back again and I gently closed my eyes to sleep. Which I did, for forty blissful minutes.

The day ended well, with a lovely meal in Lyme Regis. Blog posts could be written about our sea edge location, the wonderful behaviour of our children, the delicious food we consumed. But that’s for another day (never). The night ended with me taking a wee in a crab bucket that leaked, someone opposite us tent being completely flattened by the wind, and overhearing the Dad in the tent next to ours shouting to his sniggering kids: “I can STILL smell it!”

The next morning we decided to have breakfast in the onsite restaurant to reduce the risk of wet bread. We went for Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, both of which arrived on untoasted bagel, dripping wet with egg juice. Nevermind, we’re here for fossils, not dry bread, we thought and sped off to Seatown, a beautiful spot on the Dorset Coast. Parking by the incredibly well-positioned Anchor Inn I went into order myself a cup of tea, leaving them to make a head start on the fossil hunting. It was a heavenly five minutes to myself.

Fully braced, we walked along the pebbled beach and fished out ammonites and rocks that looked like animals (a teddy bear! A whale!) before heading to Lyme again to spend the children’s spending money. Up and down the high street parents were all having the EXACT same conversation. “The toys were rubbish, they were better in the WHSmiths, let’s go there.” and “Next time shall we just camp in the car park of Smyths toy store?” We finally emerged with a Nemo bracelet, a marble egg and a fossil, a rich trawl compared to some of the rubber items we had been presented with. Relief flooded us, the children were happy, so back to West Bay for an ice cream…and crabbing. What? It was wet, cold and windy but, to my delight, it seemed that yet more fun was to be had. I strode off to buy a new crabbing bucket and we stood in the rain fishing crabs out of the harbour. “This is just the BEST most awesome day,” said BUB.1. It was awesome, I had a morning cup of tea, fish and chips for dinner and just as we were all dropping off to sleep, we were treated to the audio of a fantastically brutal war film being watched at full blast from a nearby tent that had arrived earlier that day.

Before our departure from the campsite the next morning, I showered with BUB.3 and as she was getting dressed she shouted: “Mum, what’s that red thing on your pants?” Her voice echoed around the shower block for all to hear. “It’s Elmo darling,’ I responded, looking at my “novelty” Elmo knickers. I had to stop myself following up with:”Hey everybody in the shower block, I’m a  44-year old woman with a big red Elmo on my pants, I’m not having my period. In case ya’ll were wondering!”

I don’t know if there’s been a lower point in my existence but I’ll find out this week. We’ve just booked to go camping in West Wales for four nights.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Poo Lagoon* (*or Bank Holiday at the public swimming pool).

Further round we dance, ducking under buckets of cold water, ricocheting off of obese men’s stomach, rippling past frenzied children kicking, mouldy crocodiles and a demonic stork, we make it back to the baby beach, apologising to everyone we get kicked in the face by.

Bank Holiday Mondays. Sun blazing through a London pub window, dust sparkling in the glare of the midday sun, the first drink arrives. Or a walk around Hampstead Heath, arm in arm, settling on a pub with a cosy nook and a glass of wine. Telly and bed.

But wait, what is this fresh hell? I have children. So I wake up this morning to WW telling me we’re all going swimming today, to the only swimming pool that has ever closed for refurbishment and reopened grimmer and more disgusting than before. The BUBs are bursting with excitement, so we find towels (WW forgot them last time and had to dry the children with his jumper), make sandwiches, and go about leaving the house.

We see the queue of people snaking out of the building as we approach, so I send WW back to the car to get everybody’s coats because the freezing wind is rattling around our necks. Twenty minutes later, at the front of the queue, we discover we don’t have a £1 coin for the locker and the staff can’t help (“No cash back, sorry, next please!”). So WW dashes to the bowling alley to get cash out to change at the desk. We play an impromptu game, sparked by the fact that BUB.2 has decided to sit at a different table to us as we wait for WW. “Hello little boy, are you lost? Would you like to come and live with our family? I’ll be your Mummy!”. “Yes, OK!” A woman at a nearby table gives me a sidelong glance but I’m warming to my theme. “Let’s see if we can find a lost Daddy! Oh look, here comes one in a blue jumper and a scruffy beard and he’s carrying some loose change!”.

Once inside, I’m the only one who has forgotten to wear a swimming costume under my clothes, so what follows is five minutes of “Mummy is naked! She’s completely naked! *INSERT MY ACTUAL FULL NAME* is completely naked!” shouted from the cubicle.  We fill two lockers with coats, sandwiches and towels. BUB.3 wants a wee. We wade through what can only be described as an inch of human scum to get to the cubicle. Once in the pool, along with 673 other people, we decide to take a swish around the lazy river or the “lagoon” as it is optimistically called. Before we can get there, a bastard monkey deposits a bucket of water over everybody’s head, and I am struck in the eye by a spurt of foamy white water emanating from a rusty looking pipe at the entrance to the lagoon. Clutching BUB.3, we bob around the corner and past a screaming cauldron of children, going bat shit crazy (and possibly relieving themselves) in a little lagoon nook. Further round we dance, ducking under buckets of cold water, ricocheting off obese men’s stomach, rippling past frenzied kicking children, mouldy crocodiles and a demonic stork, we make it back to the baby beach, apologising to everyone we get kicked in the face by.

BUB.3 realises my worst nightmare and wants to go in the bit with the baby slide, which is populated by people who think it’s appropriate to wear elaborate Pat Butcher-style earrings to a public pool. Somewhere you crouch down in a foot of tepid water and turn your head sideways every time a stranger’s bum crack passes within an inch of your mouth. I hang my head in shame as BUB.3 decides to walk up the slide (“DANGEROUS. GET DOWN.” That is my voice, being a grown up). Then BUB.2 escapes the big pool and comes to use the baby slide too, only he’s actually physically longer than the actual slide so the momentum is never really there, an embarrassment only alleviated when a boy of at least 13 with hairy legs has a go. We can’t go on the proper water slides because the queues snake round past the toilets. We decide on another bask around the lagoon, a decision I regret as soon as the frothy, rusty pipe ejaculation hits me square in the face.

Back in the safety of the baby beach, which has now reached a temperature of 150 degrees, BUB.3 says “I’m hungry.”  Oh angel child of mine, you heaven-sent goddess of wisdom, you gift of life, you treasure, you fairy-winged saviour of mankind. “The BABY is hungry. We’ll have to get out. Did you hear? She’s HUNGRY everyone”. The “baby” is three, but that’s not the point. I gather everyone around and head for the Changing Village (has anything ever been less village-y? Where is the post office? The tea shop? Any of the basic facilities of a human settlement?) and find a miracle.  The holy grail of public swimming pools. A family changing room (cottage?). It’s not ideal, the bin inside it is bursting out with used nappies and sanitary towels, and WW suggests we put a bag on it because he has lost his mind and there is just one sodding hook for a family of five. “DON”T GO NEAR THE BIN” I scream. It only takes us the best part of an hour to get everyone dry, and dressed and sitting happily with a bag of crisps. I’ve only had to shout “DON’T TOUCH THE BIN” fourteen times as we manoeuvre our five bodies around the family changing room which would be big enough if we were the Sylvanian Family.

And then the words that come out of my mouth almost every time we go swimming. “I’ve GOT to get out of here.” It’s me, opening the door, grabbing BUB.3 and making a girl’s dash for the loo in the “Vanity Area” (if vanity means leaving great hunks of wet hair for people to step into, then it’s perfect), to avoid the human sludge in the pool-side toilets. There was nothing vain about the person who got there first and decided diarrhoea and flushing were mutually exclusive activities. Dry retching, and hoarse from shouting “DON’T TOUCH THE SEAT” we dry half our heads with the 20p hairdryers and make our way to the car, where all three children demand feeding.

Still retching, I vow never to eat again. We head for Costco, where we all down a hefty slice of pizza (*ahem*) before dragging the tired kids around a warehouse-sized shop, being forced to buy three whole sea bass (another story, another blog post) and a bumper bag of Cornettos to keep the peace. Home at last we chop a head off a fish (BUB.1 has a new hobby, like I say, it’s another story) and I beg WW to go the shop for wine but he tells me to try sparkling water. I weep openly and head to the fridge where I find an old can of Stella which I have three sips of before BUB.2 spills it. Fish head boiling in the pan, the children in their pyjamas, WW puts on some Brazilian music and we all start juddering around the kitchen, which is fun until I catch sight of my belly jiggling to its own rhythm. Flinging myself on the floor, I start to do some emergency sit ups, only to have WW and BUB.2 doing their Brazilian dance over me, legs akimbo, shaking their bums over my head. And laughing. With a fish head boiling on my stove, we are all laughing.

Because in between the dry retching, the human gunk, trampolining off men’s arses, the spunk face wash, the bum cracks, the bodily hair, the sanitary towels, the faeces, the greasy pizza, the boiled fish head, today was actually one of our better family days out.

 

 

 

Rhyming with Wine

I didn't know I almost drowned until I read this

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

One of the most important articles I have read as a parent was this one a few years ago and any article since that reinforces the point that drowning doesn’t look like drowning.  That drowning doesn’t wave its arms in the air, shouting. It sinks, silently.

P1020202

Before I read the article, I didn’t know that I already knew this. I knew this because years ago I was rescued from a situation I didn’t even know I was in. Swimming in the shallow, calm, turquoise water at Boomerang Beach in New South Wales, one of my friends was suddenly paddling quickly towards me on his surfboard, scooping me up onto it and pulling me back to the sand.

He might have saved my life, but at no point did I think that’s what had happened. Until I read this article.

I had been aware that my feet were no longer making contact with sand and I could feel a sort of whirlpool beneath them out of which I couldn’t seem to tread. I was incredibly close to the shoreline, where my friends were standing with their surfboards, laughing. I tried repeatedly to step outside of the whirlpool and find solid ground, but it just wasn’t happening. I thought it was only a matter of time before I managed it. It wasn’t a strong current, I wasn’t far from the shore and I knew I was only inches from the bottom.

I was watching my friends, smiling at them, wishing I could swim a bit closer to join in the conversation, but no one seemed to notice. Except this one guy. He had noticed and although I never asked him specifically, I can only imagine that he had noticed that I was still. I wasn’t kicking or using my arms and I was silently staring at them. I must have been focused on just keeping my head above the water.

If he hadn’t grabbed his board and come to me, I don’t know how long it would have been until I could no longer do that.

At no point did I feel I could cry out. I just smiled and hoped they’d notice. I think it was more than me just being very British. “Oh please don’t bother yourselves, I appear to be stuck here and I can’t get out but really, I’ll be fine.” I now believe I couldn’t cry out because, as the article explains, my respiratory system was focusing on breathing.

But I didn’t feel that. I just felt a bit removed, a bit left out. I wanted to get back to them, but I couldn’t.

I used to wonder how children in swimming pools could just disappear to the bottom without their nearby parents hearing or seeing. It’s because it happens quickly, silently and without fuss. We must watch our children in the water at all times. * Even if they are playing quietly. Even if they are close, so close you could touch them.You need to watch because you probably won’t be able to hear it if it happens.

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

*To know exactly what to watch for, and to truly understand drowning, please read the superb article.

My Random Musings

I didn’t know I almost drowned until I read this

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

P1020202One of the most important articles I have read as a parent was this one a few years ago and any article since that reinforces the point that drowning doesn’t look like drowning.  That drowning doesn’t wave its arms in the air, shouting. It sinks, silently.

Before I read the article, I didn’t know that I already knew this. I knew this because years ago I was rescued from a situation I didn’t even know I was in. Swimming in the shallow, calm, turquoise water at Boomerang Beach in New South Wales, one of my friends was suddenly paddling quickly towards me on his surfboard, scooping me up onto it and pulling me back to the sand.

He might have saved my life, but at no point did I think that’s what had happened. Until I read this article.

I had been aware that my feet were no longer making contact with sand and I could feel a sort of whirlpool beneath them out of which I couldn’t seem to tread. I was incredibly close to the shoreline, where my friends were standing with their surfboards, laughing. I tried repeatedly to step outside of the whirlpool and find solid ground, but it just wasn’t happening. I thought it was only a matter of time before I managed it. It wasn’t a strong current, I wasn’t far from the shore and I knew I was only inches from the bottom.

I was watching my friends, smiling at them, wishing I could swim a bit closer to join in the conversation, but no one seemed to notice. Except this one guy. He had noticed and although I never asked him specifically, I can only imagine that he had noticed that I was still. I wasn’t kicking or using my arms and I was silently staring at them. I must have been focused on just keeping my head above the water.

If he hadn’t grabbed his board and come to me, I don’t know how long it would have been until I could no longer do that.

At no point did I feel I could cry out. I just smiled and hoped they’d notice. I think it was more than me just being very British. “Oh please don’t bother yourselves, I appear to be stuck here and I can’t get out but really, I’ll be fine.” I now believe I couldn’t cry out because, as the article explains, my respiratory system was focusing on breathing.

But I didn’t feel that. I just felt a bit removed, a bit left out. I wanted to get back to them, but I couldn’t.

I used to wonder how children in swimming pools could just disappear to the bottom without their nearby parents hearing or seeing. It’s because it happens quickly, silently and without fuss. We must watch our children in the water at all times. * Even if they are playing quietly. Even if they are close, so close you could touch them.You need to watch because you probably won’t be able to hear it if it happens.

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

*To know exactly what to watch for, and to truly understand drowning, please read the superb article.

My Random Musings

In at the deep end

Some queries posted on Mum forums and email support groups could have left me doubting my credentials as a responsible mother but actually made me want to stick pins in my eyes.  None more so than the woman who queried how “loud and echoey” a local swimming pool was, fearful of the effect the experience might have on her son. What?

I largely go with Big Jan, the round, rambunctious health visitor in Bondi Beach whose group I joined until Bub.1 was eight weeks old. When a trembling new Mum said her baby didn’t like having her nappy changed and cried uncontrollably Big Jan said “Tough. I don’t like washing up.” And isn’t that the rub? Babies are born into this world and have to learn to live in this world.

I do worry for the children whose Mums who spend good money on baby wipe warmers, for instance. What does this teach them?

I inadvertently toughened Bub.1 up by taking him to baby swimming lessons at Icebergs in Bondi Beach. I thought it would be something to tell his kids one day. It was unfortunate that his first lesson coincided with a nasty spat of weather that caused a tsunami-like swell into the icy outdoor pool on the flanks of Bondi Beach, causing him and the other four tiny pupils to turn a bit blue, even in their cute little baby wetsuits. But he survived to tell the tale.

Some kids in the Home Counties could probably use a dip in the Pacific to sort them out, is all I’m saying.

Swimming lessons: In at the deep end

Some queries posted on Mum forums and email support groups could have left me doubting my credentials as a responsible mother but actually made me want to stick pins in my eyes. None more so than the woman who queried how “loud and echoey” a local swimming pool was, fearful of the effect the experience might have on her son. What?

Some queries posted on Mum forums and email support groups could have left me doubting my credentials as a responsible mother but actually made me want to stick pins in my eyes. None more so than the woman who queried how “loud and echoey” a local swimming pool was, fearful of the effect the experience might have on her son. I was looking for local swimming lessons for BUB.1 and just thought “What?”

[pullquote] I inadvertently toughened BUB.1 up by taking him to baby swimming lessons at Icebergs in Bondi Beach. I thought it would be something to tell his kids one day.[/pullquote]

Baby swimming lessons at Bondi Icebergs

I largely go with Big Jan, the round, rambunctious health visitor in Bondi Beach whose group I joined until BUB.1 was eight weeks old. When a trembling new Mum said her baby didn’t like having her nappy changed and cried uncontrollably Big Jan said “Tough. I don’t like washing up.” And isn’t that the rub? Babies are born into this world and have to learn to live in this world.

[pullquote]Big Jan said “Tough. I don’t like washing up.” And isn’t that the rub? Babies are born into this world and have to learn to live in this world.[/pullquote]

I do worry for the children whose Mums who spend good money on baby wipe warmers, for instance. What does this teach them?

I inadvertently toughened BUB.1 up by taking him to baby swimming lessons at Icebergs in Bondi Beach. I thought it would be something to tell his kids one day. It was unfortunate that his first lesson coincided with a nasty spat of weather that caused a tsunami-like swell into the icy outdoor pool on the flanks of Bondi Beach, causing him and the other four tiny pupils to turn a bit blue, even in their cute little baby wetsuits. But he survived to tell the tale.

Some kids in the Home Counties could probably use a dip in the Pacific to sort them out, is all I’m saying.