Castles and coves

We love the sea. We love it in the morning, when the coast is fresh and empty and still sparkling with dew. We love busy midday sunshine beaches, when everyone and their dog lays claim to a patch of sand. Best of all though, we love it in the late afternoon, when the striped windbreaks and bright buckets are packed away and the coast empties of tired children complaining of sand in their shoes and the long walk home.

From about three o’clock the sand is at its warmest and the sun still high enough to revive you after the chilliest of dips. John invariably heads in for a proper swim, while the children splash about or jump the rollers. In and out, wet and dry and wet again, stopping for an ice-cream (madness) or reaching for the flask of tea (far more rational in these parts), the swimming and sandcastle making goes on until about six, when people start clamouring for their tea, and John lights his little Trangiar and the sausages are soon fizzing and popping in the pan. A bread roll, a salad or two if we’re feeling fancy, and everyone is full and warm and ready to doze on the long drive home.

We’ve visited several beaches over the past couple of weeks. In Cornwall we had a couple of balmy evenings in Poldhu Cove, where we were not the only family to turn up and start cooking supper on the sand. Kynance Cove merited a fast and furious visit, leaping through the icy breakers on a moody morning. Having decided that the water really was too cold and that I would only go waist deep, I was swept off my feet on more than one occasion, much to Ilse’s delight. We needed fish and chips – sat in – to warm up after that particular swim. Sadly we didn’t manage our usual Devon bathe from pebbly Beesands, with the gale force winds blowing us into a cosy cafe for a wet-and-wild-night-of-camping-recovery breakfast instead. But we did make a special pilgrimage to a site John has wanted to visit since he was about ten years old: Tintagel Castle, and its cave-speckled cove beneath.

If you’ve ever visited Tintagel, you’ll know that the castle itself involves no little toil up and down a lot of steps, and the soaring temperatures on the day of our visit meant that the cove beneath was packed with people cooling off after their endeavours. We pottered about for an hour or two, looking into local shops and sampling the superb pasties from the cafe by the ticket office, and by the time we traipsed back down to the cove it was almost empty. We were the only people in the sea, with a few families on the shore, their knicker-clad little ones squealing with glee as the cool water washed over their toes. It was our last day in Cornwall before a drive north through the gathering night, and perhaps my favourite day of all. A castle and a cove, pasties and a cream tea: everyone was happy, which made me so. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer end to our little southern holiday.

So when John announced that he’d like to spend an afternoon and evening at Sandsend, near Whitby, I was only too happy to comply. I packed a basket or two with sausages, a couple of salads from our bursting garden, and a chocolate cake nestled in my tin, and we had one more glorious afternoon by the sea, all of us this time, mucking around in the sand and admiring the crystal clear water. Seb built a birthday monument for his dad, Fliss and Ilse stood on the empty steps and belted out some Abba, Ben and I admired the many shoals of little fish, different types of jellyfish and the odd transparent crab. John, of course, went for his swim, and then we had our hot picnic tea before heading home to sandy showers and fresh clean sheets and beds that rocked gently in our sleep.

A party in the dark

Eleven is a wonderful age. Young enough to knock around together as a ragtag gaggle of boys and girls, old enough for a party outside on a pitch black December evening in the week before Christmas.

Somehow, on the short journey between school and home, the children morphed from the responsible pupils who had led the carol concert into a band of experienced backwoods people. In no time at all they were gathering sticks with which to prepare their supper, building a fire and polishing off great slabs of sticky chocolate cake. And while they’re young enough to be happy spending time with Seb’s parents, grandparents and siblings, they’re old enough to follow instructions with a knife and sit safely around a campfire. After the cake they wound twists of dough around clean peeled sticks to bake over hot coals, then speared sausages on sharpened sticks to roast and nibble while hot and dripping fat. And all the time, between each bite it seemed, the game that they were playing developed just a little more into something uniquely theirs and of the moment.

Perhaps December isn’t the very nicest time to have a birthday: everyone is rushing around in the cold and the dark, getting ready for the bigger birthday to come. And yet, played to its strengths, it worked out beautifully this year. Dark by four, the evening seems endless to children who measure time in terms of sausages consumed. By six o’clock there had evolved a game involving hidden monsters at the end of the long garden, and a safe place by the shed, and more rules than I could follow. And, judging by the shining eyes and the number of times they ran up and down the garden, I think the party in the dark was a success. Nobody wanted to go home, even though the leaving was tempered by gooey marshmallows and other final treats. Bathed and pink and clad in his pyjamas, Seb declared it the best birthday that he’d ever had. Well, that’ll do, then. Happy birthday, my love.

In the pink

The race is on, for spring is the season of so many things. It’s the most important time in the gardening year, of course: miss it and you’ll wait a whole twelve months for a second chance. The season of shaking off the old and the woolly, and reaching for cottons and silk. The season when so many of us feel the need to mimic Mother Nature and create. The season of waiting: for reliable sunshine, for warm evenings, for fresh vegetables from the field and garden. It’s the season of eggs – of both the double-yoked and chocolate varieties. Of Mother’s birthday, and Meg’s, and Victoria sponges piled high with jam and cream. For some, it is the season of revision while exams wait patiently at summer’s door, immutable and stern. For others it marks the winding down of the school year, as homework becomes more and more sporadic and spelling books linger unwanted in the bottom of satchels. There are better things to do, while the sun is shining – or so they tell me. And who can blame them, when on a bright day the whole world is in the pink and the children chatter and play like birds in the hedgerows?

The days are busy, and we fall into our beds with willing exhaustion. Sleep is swift and deep, pulling us down, down into its currents. We wake in the morning to plans which have formed overnight without our knowledge. Then the rush is on to finish all those many tasks before we get to the one thing we longed to do: to sew, to write, to wander round the garden in the fading sunlight. Each moment is as important as any other, whether we are eating or kissing or just walking idly along. If this were winter I would reach the evening hours and declare an end. I’d pick up my knitting and stitch steadily through the quiet dark until it was time for bed. But this is spring, and after supper there are more hours in which to do all those things you haven’t managed yet. A second bout of music practice. Sewing name tapes onto summer uniforms. Ticking another item off that merry list which never ends: the list of the living, the doing, the being.

We’ve had our fair share of springtime colds, of sore throats and headaches and general grottiness. Some of us are still under the weather, delightful and changeable though it is. Yet even then, even with sniffles and tired bones the spring has urged us onwards. And there’s nothing like a cold to remind you of how wonderful it is to feel well. We’re better now, thank goodness, and in rude health once more. Ready to meet up with other people, to bake a cake and make hand drawn birthday cards which open back to front. Ready to sing, in chorus if not in harmony, of happy birthdays. To make the best of this, my favourite of all the seasons now that we, like the flowers the house is filled with, are in the pink once more.