OK, so here’s the thing – and I know this is controversial and may sound weird since I spend all of my holidays out here in the Med, but I hate the whole sunbathing-on-sandy-beaches thing. I do, I really do. Beaches should be so fabulous, but they are so stressful.
For starters, there’s the stripping off thing. This tummy of mine was never designed for a bikini, or for public scrutiny. When it’s out in the fresh air, I spend lots of time looking at it, thinking that one day it might be different, but somehow that day has never arrived. Believe me, it’s a lifelong disappointment. Even when I was a kid in those seventies bikinis with the plastic ring bits, I’ve never looked that good in a two piece. Three hefty pregnancies haven’t helped, either.
Anyway, so caught up have I been in pool and shutter painting, that when the kids begged loudly enough to be taken to the seaside, I realized to my horror that I wasn’t even remotely beach ready – if you get my tufty drift. Fortunately, Denise had a spare half hour.
Denise runs a beauty clinic in posh Portals which is an air-conditioned paradise for the buffed, botoxed, bronzed brigade. As I stood on the thick carpet in reception, I took one look in the mirror at my unkempt bushy eyebrows and almost screeched out loud.
But you can’t screech in Denise’s. The whole place is wall-to-wall soft peachy fluffiness. Peach towelling beds and peach walls and there’s piped pan-pipes playing loud enough to drown out the scraping of feet and the ripping of wax and plucking and all the other peachy bits that goes on behind each peach curtain. Considering the levels of pain that goes on, the place is as peaceful as a church.
I guess I set a new low for them, because when I lay on the bed the thin, beautiful Spanish girl took my foot in her hand and looked at it as if it were a dead thing washed up on shore.
But, boy she was good. Half an hour later, I was more-or-less bikini ready. (Before you ask, I’m not quite old enough to declare myself a swim suit person. That’s really throwing in the towel and I’m too vain for that. That would be like telling the kids I’m forty!).
So soon I’m on the beach, breathing in, doing that leaning down with your elbows behind you thing that they talk about in Grazia, making all sorts of vows to myself about when my sit-up regime will start.
And everything would have been fine, if I could’ve assumed that position, except that wasn’t possible. Because the second big disadvantage of any beach trip is my kids.
Don’t get me wrong – I love them. I love that they love the beach, but from the second we arrive, it’s carnage. Clothes are flung everywhere as they wrestle into bikinis (in which they all look amazing, I might add) as I trot around after them squirting sun-cream and muttering about hats and sunglasses and armbands as they slip out of my grasp into the water.
Within seconds they’re back with a barrage of questions: Can I have my flippers/goggles/bucket/spade/towel? Can I have an ice-cream/ drink/fishing net? Can we get a banana boat ride/slide-pedalo/sun-lounger? Will you look after my crab/shells/OMG what is that?
I settle each demand and think about how I might open my book, but guess what? The towel-draggers are hungry and they want the picnic I’ve bought in the cool box. And thus begins the hell of making sandwiches. Thus called because I turn into a witch and everything I produce is full of sand.
But that’s not the worst bit of my summer beach experience. Oh no. Being hot and sweaty and covered in sticky melon juice is nothing compared to the private ego bashing that the beach trip involves. Because everywhere you look, people are reading books and I can’t help but pathetically hope that one of them is reading my book.
Emlyn keeps reminding me that my book isn’t even officially until next week, so it’s unlikely that I’ll see the airport edition anywhere, but I can’t help scanning each book cover and marvelling at what the public at large are reading and battling with chronic writer’s insecurity. My spouse watches me nervously. He knows from experience the consequences of accosting readers on the beach.
I guess I haven’t recovered yet from my J R Hartley moment at Gatwick when I asked for my book and the kind lady in Smiths waved me to the back of the shop, saying that the pile at the front had gone. A blessing at least, but seeing Forbidden Pleasures alone on the shelf surrounded by so many other books, made me experience the kind of crowd claustrophobia I last experienced trying to get out of the O2 arena.
It’s my baby and it’s special. I rescued it and sidled up to a girl who already had several books she was dithering between. ‘Get this,’ I urged her, thrusting my book at her. I went on to explain the roller-coaster plot and how it would be perfect for the beach. How I’d written it just for people like her. ‘But I’m on holiday with my boyfriend,’ she said sceptically, ‘I doubt I’ll get much time to read. I just want something that makes me look good.’
As the saying goes, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.