It was late on an August Friday evening that three excited children and I sat at Newcastle airport waiting to fly off on holiday. We weren’t going abroad but to Exeter – it just seemed so much less hassle to jump on an aeroplane and arrive in Devon an hour later instead of being stuck on the M6/M5 with three children who were likely to get bored and start fighting.
I have to admit I’m not the world’s best flyer. Like so many people, I think, there’s something completely illogical about being in a metal tube in the sky, even though I’m the daughter of an aerodynamicist so know the basic principles of how these things work. However I love the vantage point of seeing the world lying beneath you like a map: on the way down we flew over Leeds, Liverpool and North Wales in the dark, the lights of the Wirral divided from those of Liverpool by a dark band of river. On the way back it was light so the distinctive shapes of England and Wales were even more clear.
My sister met us at Exeter airport and we drove down to the English Riviera – to Paignton. It’s part of the world which my crowd-hating parents steered us clear of when we were younger even though we only lived an hour or two’s drive away. We were staying in a house which had been recently completely refurbished to provide accommodation for 10, and was on a site with the owners’ house, three other cottages and a swimming pool (Blagdon House Country Cottages). Needless to say whatever the weather the children insisted on going swimming at least once a day, and several times I had a battle to get them out when my fingers had turned green with cold (‘Yoda fingers’ according to Edward) and it was time to get on and do something else. I’m so proud that my oldest two are such confident swimmers though, and that Edward is getting there – I was still nervous into adulthood.
As you’d expect from an English summer, the weather was mixed but on the whole most days were dry and several were warm and sunny. There was only one day, when we went to Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway, when Bella and I did not take jumpers or waterproof jackets and both suffered (not in silence, in her case!). It struck me how much National Trust properties have improved since I was a child. You no longer have to traipse round looking at paintings, china and furniture in museum mode, but the experience has become more interactive and also the outdoors seems to have more on offer as well, with playgrounds and games. This was especially the case at Killerton, which we went to on our last day.
Although we didn’t play on the beach at all we went on steam trains and boats and explored castles and houses. Dinner in Brixham near the Golden Hind was popular, where we watched a dog on a first floor windowsill (now called De Locus Dog by Edward and Alex), as was crabbing from the quayside in Dartmouth.
And the heroes? While we were crabbing Bella managed to drop the bucket in the water, which was several feet below us, and Edward burst into noisy tears. On hearing Edward, a lovely man in a pinkish coloured T-shirt with pointy ears (the man that is, not the T-shirt – I think he may have been an elf) manoeuvred his boat to fish it out for us, throwing it up to a cheering crowd on the quayside and to an impressed five-year old boy whose tears had been stopped by this hero. Then on the ferry back to Kingswear, as we went past the Royal Navy ship anchored in the river and I was encouraging Edward to wave, two Royal Navy officers looked through their binoculars at us and waved back – and one then raised his cap and saluted (I think my Mum was a little envious as she said something about liking the Royal Navy uniform best of the forces uniforms and how smart it is… which is similar to my boss assuming that I like going on inspections of Fire Stations because of the firemen in uniform. Actually I’m not a great ‘uniform’ fan – it’s a bit too formal and smart for me – but it was rather an ego boost being saluted). Having a five-year old, like having a dog I guess, can be quite an ice-breaker…
We finished the holiday with a lovely few hours and an al fresco meal at my Uncle’s and his wife’s. They have a fantastic garden, including a stream and an adjacent field with cows, for the children to run around in and there are all sorts of things to discover including wooden statues carved – impressively – with a chainsaw. My uncle also has an infra-red camera so was later able to send some images of a fox and a hedgehog eating our leftovers that night.
It wasn’t exactly a highly relaxing week as the children fought and wound each other and everyone else up (especially my parents) – but it did make me think that the French custom of taking the whole of August off is rather a good one, and if I can afford it next year, that is what I would really like to do – and spend time going around and about doing exciting things and exploring places with my children.
I even have a bit of a tan. And when Edward found he had left Darth Vadar and Chewbacca at the holiday cottage, the obliging owners posted them back the following day. There’s service!