Parenting, profundities and humour

Surfing…. — August 7, 2016


I have a long held desire to learn to surf. And by surf I mean on a board in the sea not on a computer on my sofa. Which I can already do.

I have always loved the sea. I have lived in many places in my life (at the last count 9 towns in the UK) and only one was in shouting distance of a beach. And the UK has lot of coast. For someone who loves the sea I seem to have a tendency to inhabit the interior of our island. Circumstances I suppose.

The only time I did live near the sea was when I was between the ages of 5 and 10 and for some reason we didn’t go that often. I think mainly because the walk from the car park to the sea was a long, soft sand trek that left us all exhausted. Although it was through one of the last remaining strongholds of the red squirrel. We must have gone sometimes because I have vague memories of dunes, those squirrels and lots of sand.

My paternal grandparents lived near the sea near Weston Super Mare and we did go to the beach there. My overriding recollections are of donkies and the three mile hike over the beach to the sea. The tide went out a very long way.

We also used to holiday on the south Devon coast every year. Our hotel was another quite long trek from the beach, along buddleia lined pathways which were covered in butterflies, past the Copper Mine where we spent many happy hours feeding machines with pennies and over the railway which skirted magnificently around red sandstone cliffs. I remember hours of bobbing up and down on waves with my bottom in a rubber ring. And I remember my dad’s wooden body board.

I like waves. I like the wild magnificence of the seas around the UK. I like cliffs and rock pools. Groynes encrusted with barnacles. And even seagulls. Although not the one that terrorised Eldest aged about three by knicking his sausage roll directly out of his hand.

The problem with the UK’s coast is that the sea is cold. As I get older I react more and more badly to the cold. I don’t venture in the sea in the UK that much anymore. I cannot imagine how I spent hours in merely a swimsuit in the Atlantic as a child. But I did. The North Sea is worse.

When the kids were still quite little we went on holiday for a couple of years to the Vendee in France. Our campsite was literally on the beach. We would get there early every day and come back at lunch time for a siesta and then go back for the afternoon. I did hours of body boarding.

The waves were immense and very rideable. It was the first time in my life I managed to catch a wave in shoulder deep water and ride it all the way to the shore until my knees were scraping the sand. Awesome. I could have spent even more hours doing it. But the kids were little and needed watching. I needed to time share that with my husband. And body board to the schedule of their desire for regular meals and naps and my attention.

And also the air temperature was unreliable. The second year we went the weather was not great. Too far north. We tried Biarritz for more likelihood of high temperatures but the waves there were far too big for us amateurs.

We then ended up at the Med. On a Greek island. Because we were sick of unreliable weather, self catering and caravans. Sunshine was guaranteed the views were stunning and the food delicious but we needed to leave our boards at home. The Med. Like a large lake.

We did a year in Cornwall. Again great body boarding. Ocean absolutely freezing.   Middlest and Edlest had a surfing lesson and managed to stand up within the hour. And that is when my desire to graduate from a body board to a surf board really took hold.

This year we have come to the south of Portugal where the Atlantic coast meets the Mediterranean coast. I had high hopes. The town we are near is apparently the surfing Mecca of Portugal. Unfortunately our hotel and its beach are on the ‘wrong’ coast.  Sheltered and perfect for families. Not quite what we were after but still lovely. And it is only a short drive to the right coast.

Yesterday we had an all day surfing lesson. We got picked up by a suitably fit, young, tanned and tattooed man who looked like he had been plucked straight off the beach. On the drive I discovered he had two children and his wife was pestering for a third. He wanted the benefit of my wisdom. Had it been hard? Should he consider it? Tricky conversation to have in the front of a mini van loaded with surf boards and over excited kids, not all of whom were mine.

We got to the beach. The car park was full of camper vans and beaten up Corsas loaded with spectacular numbers of surf boards and beautiful young people. We got into wet suits in the car park. Never an easy or dignified process especially when being gawped at by hosts of beautiful young people. And then we hauled all the boards and our kit to the beach. And wow what a beach, I could hardly wait to get in the sea.

First, though, we had to go through the warm up and instruction. We had to be those mad fools pretending to paddle and mount our boards on dry land.

And then in we got, the water warm, the waves beautiful.

I tried. I really did. For three hours. I managed to sort of get to my feet once. For about three seconds. Somewhere between step two (push up with your arms) and step three (get your back foot on the board, the one tethered complicatedly to the end of the deck) it all went wrong. I ended up on my knees toppling sideways. Knees had not featured in the instructions. But then I am neither strong enough nor supple enough to go from lying prone to both feet, whilst balancing on a wave. Apparently.

And tugging that board around is seriously hard work. Dragging it through the waves and realising that with each breaker you have lost all the ground you had just made. I tried lifting it out of the water which is my body board technique. Not so easy with a 6 foot piece of whatever they are made of which is attached to your foot. Density akin to lead.

In the end I gave up and just body boarded on the surf board and I managed to catch some brilliant waves all the way in. Which was cool but not really what I had hoped for. I am not sure what I had hoped for. The ability to transfer my body boarding skill to surfing I suppose. Clearly the two are not related. Well not for me.

All three of my kids took to it, typically, like ducks to water. And all of them were reliably standing up all day. Even my husband managed it a few times. Well done him.

Anyway I enjoyed the day. Not the part were we had to haul all the kit and boards back up to the van. But the rest of it. And I am glad I tried. The kids appreciated that I tried even though I am so ‘old’. And they remain convinced they saw me standing up. I think they must have me confused with another lady in the same surf school outfit. There were a lot of us out there….

Last night I nearly fell asleep in my pizza and was in bed by 8.30. Today I cannot move. All of me aches. From my neck downwards. I am bruised and battered. My left foot hurts from something.

So tomorrow, after a day spent flopping by the pool, we are off in search of a body board and a suitable beach. And I am going back to what I know. And love.

For it is a truth that 46 is too old to be a surfer chick. There is hope for Youngest though. Who did cut a dash in her wet suit standing up gracefully all the way to the shore. Blonde hair streaming. All rash vest and board shorts and brown, supple limbs.

You go girl.



Sea Legs — July 21, 2015

Sea Legs



Today I did something I have never done before in my 45 years.

I dived off the side of a boat into the Aegean Sea. In fact I need not be that specific. I have never dived off a boat into any sea or even ocean before.

You may be imagining a quite glamorous scene as you visualise me diving athletically yet gracefully into the pleasantly warm azure waters of the Aegean sea off the beautiful coast of mainland Greece. I would hate to disabuse you of that vision. But the reality was probably not as glamorous as your imaginings.

I did have on a quite flattering bikini it is true, but also my bright pink rash vast. I was also trying to keep an eye on three kids flinging themselves haphazardly off various railings. And avoid other people’s children doing the same, and the Russian in budgie smugglers. My husband still has sea water streaming out of his nose whenever he bends down around three hours and lunch later. And I ate my pita and chicken souvlaki in a state of stickiness from the sea salt. But still, it was quite a rush.

There is one main reason why I have never ‘dove’ off a boat. And that is that I hate boats. Specifically I hate sea faring boats. I have, in fact, enjoyed a number of boat based inland holidays on canals, lakes and broads. But I don’t do the sea. Because I get very sea sick. Indeed.

This cruise came complementary with our holiday package. I was prepared to persuade my offspring and spouse onto the other option, the romantic 30 minute sunset cruise which never leaves the bay, but the lure of the three hour trip which, we discovered, included an hour of swimming off the boat was too much of a temptation for them. So I reluctantly agreed. To the relief of any couples heading out at 8.30pm tonight a deux.

I had been told by the holiday rep that the Aegean was often very calm. I think her exact words were mill pond.

That isn’t exactly how it turned out. It was actually quite rough. So I sat on the deck for the first hour or so concentrating on the horizon in a bid not to vomit. I succeeded. Luckily.

I don’t have many successful boat experiences. Once on a ferry from Dover to Calais with a very old friend I was sick eleven times. Count them, eleven.

My mother is the same. We always sit on the deck. In silence. Concentrating. Regardless of the weather. We took the train to Holland when I was twelve. We sat on the deck of the ferry that this entailed in the pissing down rain. Or it might have been spray it was difficult to tell. I was still sick. Copiously.

We can be travel sick anywhere. In fact we were both sick on a boat trip from Sorrento to Capri. It was rough though honest. And I have found that once one person ‘goes’ the floodgates tend to open. There was quite a queue for the solitary loo.

Luckily my fellow passengers this morning were stalwarts. There was one little boy who started to feel dodgy right at the end. I contemplated parting with my air sickness bag which is permanently in my hand luggage rucksack. Thankfully I didn’t need to as just as he turned green we got near enough to shore for the swell to subside. I find that having an appropriate vessel to be sick into goes a long way to making sure I do not actually vomit.

Reminder to self to stock up on those bags on our flight back to the UK in a few days. I am down to my last one courtesy of some Milton Keynes roundabouts and a Disney World roller coaster overdose.

Travel sickness is horrible. I get it not only on boats but also in the back seats of cars and on pendolino trains.

Historically trains have been a safe haven for me, I spent my childhood on them and they have conveniently positioned lavatories in extremis. Based on this fact and my refusal to ever go on a ferry again we decided about three years ago to go to Biarritz on the train.  Suffice to say the SNCF pendolinos were not great for my sickness. And they were so full with the French going on holiday that those lavs involved a clamber over many bodies and haphazardly piled luggage… I got out my bag on numerous occasions. Eldest’s Croque Monsieur was a particular crunch point.

So anyway I braved the boat for my kids. I wasn’t sick. And the thrill of diving into that sea made it all worth while. And their faces when they surfaced each time too.

Fabulous. There are worse things to risk vomiting into a bag for.

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