Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Coming home from Dartmouth

I always feel that coming home from holiday is an emotional as well as a physical journey, a movement away from that pocket of time when things are different.  I suppose the idea of a holiday is that productive activity is stripped out of life, but the more I think about it, the more the reverse seems to be true.  So much worth remembering takes place.

We’ve just got back from Dartmouth, which is my absolute favourite place in the world.   There is something about having the water by you all the time.  I grew up in Swansea, where the beach was always just out of the window and never more than half an hour’s walk away, and water and the light around water just does something hypnotic to me.  The kids hate the drive to Devon but love Dartmouth, and we’ve all been looking forward to it so much I’m just amazed that no-one came down with some obscure childhood illness that is usually reserved for holidays.  This time, the second we came down the hill past the naval college and could see the coloured houses across the river at Kingswear, Katie started bouncing up and down in her carseat, declaring ‘Babble houses’ (translation: Balamory houses.  She has a point).

We’ve been going to Dartmouth or the South Hams for the past few years, so for us there’s this comforting combination of routines to look forward to and new places to be explored (more on this in some other posts).  Every morning we have this custom that one of us will get up early with the kids while the other lies in.  The first up (who actually - and surprisingly - has the better deal) does the croissant run.  This involves going to Alf Rescos, which is just the best coffee shop in the world, it has this cavern-like interior, a flame burning outside when it’s open, and this intense combination of breakfast smells hitting you from every direction.  And the staff in there are brilliant, they seem to actively watch out for Katie’s discontent and step in with something to distract her.  Which is just slightly different from the reaction a noisy 2 year old normally gets in public spaces!  After that we potter around the town, enjoying being up early with the special light and stillness of the river, pick up the papers in the newsagents which also has an old-school joke section (Harry got slightly obsessed with whoopee cushions this week), and get freshly-baked croissants from the French bakery.  It’s no real surprise that I’ve put on weight this holiday.

This was a holiday when Charlotte and Harry suddenly seemed much older, and easy company.  Suddenly they wanted to watch films with plots and action, and we consumed the first five Harry Potter films, cuddled up on the sofas together, Charlotte taking particular delight in the clever earnestness of Hermione and hearing about the various famous actors in these films (it seems we are cultivating a bit of an Alan Rickman fan, she may have to be watched for dastardly boyfriends).

It was a week when Thatcher died, and freed from work I had time to read the papers and reflect, and to miss dissecting it all with my dad.  (I did a politics degree years ago and it at moments like this when it becomes impossible to regress my latent political geek.  Charlie banned me from talking about it after the first couple of days or ranting.)  My brother texted me from Paris to tell me that she’d died; we were in a restaurant at the time with no wi-fi.  And I was stuck by the difference from hearing John Smith had died while in the middle of a seminar on my masters course.  That really did feel like the end of hope, the Tories had been in power for so long and the loss of such a good and honourable man who could have turned things around felt devastating.  Thatcher’s death was more of a mixture of anger, remembering what she’d done, apathy, and - let’s face it - a little pity because no one should really die alone.

It was a week when Harry discovered chess, resolutely refused to spend any money (he is saving for a house!), and got the short straw sitting in the middle seat of the car where his little sister continuously poked him in the eye whenever he tried to sleep.

It was a week when we broke with our two dinner-time sittings and ate together all week, and mealtimes were the one time when Katie seemed relaxed (or relaxed in a flamboyant way.  Content then), Harry tried marginally more food than usual, and Charlotte hung back at mealtimes to engage in more adult conversation.  It was also – marvellously - a time when domesticity was more flexible, and with Charlie about and without routines to follow, everything felt manageable and repairable.

It was a week when the wi-fi was poor, and consequently we used time differently.  I read two books, one of them Sonali’s book about Steve, which said more than I could ever adequately summarise here about love and loss.  I wrote lots for my blog, probably much more than I’ll ever post, and even squeezed in a bit of work time which felt productive and unstressful.  Strangely, I have felt totally unstressed about work and there being no job in sight after August, just excited about the project I’ll be starting on after Easter.  I had an idea for an article or book I want to write, something that feels substantial and necessary.

And just silly things I’ll remember about the holiday – the seagull doorstop that Katie wouldn’t put down, Charlotte’s face when she threw a pot on a potter’s wheel, the church bells and their late-night practicing giving Katie the perfect excuse not to go to bed, the early morning water and its endless rise and fall, watching shops open up from the breakfast bar, and the luxury of books, and a truly comfortable bed!  And the house, I loved the space and tallness of the house, less so its low ceilings, although the repeated scarpelling did remind you to slow down in the way you moved about.

Katie’s memorable moments have included working up a particularly excellent Richard Rabbit from Peppa Pig impression, inventing the More Chair game for special implementation in stately homes (it may not catch on), and developing absolutely hardcore levels of whinging when moved from A to B at a pace which didn’t suit her.  There was no pushchair for the week, which has prompted epic rebellion now back in school run mode, so may have been a slightly ill-advised strategy.  

Dartmouth forever.

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