Tag Archives: summer

The Truth About Summer



And here it is…I give you…Summer.  Ta da!  After a couple of false starts, it finally feels as if the rain is over and summer can begin.  Brighton certainly thinks so.  On the way back from the school run, I saw people with towels under their arms, walking towards the sea like zombies, pre-nine o’clock.  What is this?  The Med? 


You can’t knock the dedication of the sun worshippers.  These are the girls and boys, who know that they can strip off and lie on a beach in a bikini or shorts all day, reading a book, or lying with headphones on, just simply looking great.  They make the art of doing nothing seem not only impossibly glamorous, but blissfully effortless too.


I never been one of those people. 


Don’t be fooled by the sun-worshippers.  In my experience, of all the seasons, the summer bills itself as the most effortless, but is actually the most effort.  And once it starts, there’s no respite from barbeque preparation and beach trips.


And there’s personal effort required, too.   Whilst everyone else is oooh-ing and ahh-ing at the weather, the bikini season fills me with dread.  I always think that when summer hits,  I’ll be ready.  I’ll be waxed, tanned and sorted with funky little skirts and tops, but it never happens.  The sun comes out and Bam! I go into a full-scale panic.  That denim mini-skirt?  With these legs? You’ve got to be kidding. 


Then I go through the guilty stage and start muttering to myself: Why didn’t I go on a diet when it was raining? I could have been to Pilates, yoga three times a week and now it’s too late, because any second now I’ll have to expose upper arms.  Thighs even.  Eek!


I scour women at the school gates.  Oooh, she’s got nice Birkenstocks.  Are Havaiana flip-flops still in?  Why is she wearing that T-shirt and not sweating?  Actually, why is nobody apart from me sweating? 


It’s not the stripping off thing that worries me about summer.  Don’t get me wrong, I like nice weather, but during the day I’m indoors working and looking at it through the window.  Nobody talks about it because we’re supposed to be happy, but looking out at nice weather, when you’re too busy to be in it, is slightly depressing. 


No doubt, I’ll do what I usually do and pluck an old favourite frock from the cupboard and hit the English Riviera in my large sunhat and shades, assuring myself that it’s OK, because you get all sorts down on the beach.  There’s even some whiter than me.  Besides, it’s hardly a fashion parade, when a beach trip is a military operation with three kids and a husband in tow.


Within minutes of arrival, I have replicated what looks like crash site as the kids strip off.  Then I field-marshal multi-directional questions, delving to the bottom of my bags for sun cream, hats, jelly shoes and swimming costumes.  In seconds they want sandwiches, drinks, crisps, then it gets chilly and they all want jumpers and towels.


As the carnage spreads and my entourage race around with pots of sea water and squirty water guns, and slimy sea-creatures for me to examine, the tanned girls in their skimpy bikinis and little towels usually leave.  I should feel sorry for them, but I don’t.  Go on, love, that’s it.  Go and read your book in peace.  Skinny cow.

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Beach blues


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.

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Carry-on Camping

It seems to me that packing is the curse of the modern woman.  At this time of year, it’s all we talk about.  Packing to go on our holidays, or away for the weekend. We’re always packing. Lots of women I know even pack all their husbands’ stuff when they go away on work trips!  They’re like the serious elite packers.  I’m pretty in awe of those girls.

But why do WE do all the packing?  We’re modern and liberated and equal, until it comes to suitcases, when we revert to age-old stereotypes.

How have the men got away with it for so long?  They always criticize our packing, but never do it themselves.  Or, for that matter, even contemplate the unpacking.

Personally, I hate packing.  It stresses me out. And even though Emlyn has, on occasion, sweetly offered to do all the packing himself, that’s not a solution either.  It would be MORE stressful trying to delegate the task to him than doing it myself.

I’ve tried various techniques, but the best one for me is not to think about it until the last possible minute and then to go for it.  Ruthlessly.  I refuse to pay the extortionate fees for taking bags in the hold on airplanes and so now my packing is like a logistical brain twister as I try and fit everything into five tiny hand luggage bags.

But there are some packing scenarios that require much more thought.  And this biggest packing task of all is the one for the camping trip.  That separates the girls from the women alright.

When we were kids, we always went camping for our summer holidays.  I remember leaving our house and returning to it at least five times, as we’d always have forgotten something essential (even the dog once), as my parents got more and more irate.  But I also remember sun-filled days in the Gower, and falling asleep to the sound of the adults laughing late into the night.

For a long time, I have eschewed the camping trip as far too much hassle, preferring instead to throw myself at the mercy of easyJet to take me and my offspring abroad for some sunshine. It wasn’t the camping I feared, but the packing for the camping which put me right off.

But recent times have made me reconsider this foreign holiday stance and I’ve reconnected with my inner camper.

In the old days it was a field and a tent and you made your own entertainment, but nowadays one goes to a music festival to get the real camping experience.

Look around and you’ll find out that everyone is doing it.  Loads of people I know have signed up to Bestival years on the trot, but I’m relatively new to this malarkey.

Anyway, last weekend we trotted off to a field up the far reaches of the M11 to a child-friendly festival. It was so epically fab that I can’t help feeling that I’ve peaked a little too soon for the summer.   Three nights of next to no sleep, serious partying and full on fun have wiped me out.  And the kids too.

But despite a young girl at the sausage sandwich tent, who I overheard whispering to her companion, ‘Man, I’d never come to a festival when I’m like, forty!’,  I can see why going to a festival with your kids is so popular.  It’s like family therapy.  The kids have fun and the adults have fun at the same time.  Rules are relaxed.  Bedtimes are thrown out of the window, along with teeth cleaning and washing. It reconnects you all in a shared experience which brings out the best in you all.  And the kids get to see their Dads’ dancing at an age where they have time to get over the shock.

But of course it starts with the packing row.  Everyone has a camping packing row.  It comes with the turf.   Because the camping pack-up always requires two people.  You to gather all the stuff, him to pack it in the car.  It goes something like this…

Him:  ‘What on earth are you doing???  The car is FULL.  What is all this STUFF???  There’s no room.  We’re ready to go.’
You: ‘We’re not even remotely ready.  There’s still all the kitchen stuff to put in as well.’
Him: ‘What kitchen stuff?’
You:  ‘Du-uh! Cutlery, plates, bowl, cereal, tea bags.  You know, all the stuff.  And all the bedding too.’
Him:  ‘Bedding!  Bedding!  Jesus Christ, woman!  Who do you think I am?  Houdini?  There’s NO ROOM.  You could have told me before.’
You:  ‘If you paid even the slightest bit of attention, then you’d know we’re only a quarter of the way there on packing.’
Him:  ‘What! What!  Oh my God!  What is that HUGE bag?’
You: ‘Clothes!’
Him: ‘Clothes???  What clothes do you need?  It’s camping for God’s sake, not a fashion show.’
You:  ‘Believe me.  This is the bare minimum.  Pyjamas for all three kids, spare knickers, socks, jeans, jumpers, swimming stuff, shorts, t-shirts, hot weather gear, wet weather gear.  For your information, I’m only taking one change of clothes.’
Him:  ‘Ahhhhhh!  You’re deliberately sabotaging the packing.  Now I’m going to have to reconfigure the boot.  And you know damn well that if we don’t leave in half an hour we’ll get snarled up on the M25.’

Sound familiar?

But I think camping is worth it, in the end.  Even just for the weekend.  By the time we got there, hot and bothered with the kids sweating under piles of pillows and towels, the packing row had receded and excitement had taken over.  Out came the tent and the table and chairs and we set up our home from home.

Soon my Blackberry had run out of juice and the outside world seemed like a far off country.  The kids had shot off, already forming gangs, whilst we sat back in the camping chairs with a beer and our gang of mates to do some serious people-watching.  We effortlessly took it in turns to watch the kids whilst we went off to explore the music tents and came back to the late night campfire to giggle – especially at the saucy silhouettes of some amorous campers in their tents.

Fortunately we were mostly blessed with the weather, until the last day when we had to pack up in the torrential rain, so the house is now full of soggy tent and bags of muddy clothes.

My beloved spouse had to reluctantly admit that we did, in fact, use every single item we took with us.  But he still didn’t help un-pack. Except for the car, of course. Just the same as my Dad always did. And his Dad before him. Because – just like the loft, according to the comedian Michael McIntyre – that’s a male preserve, where the real hard work’s done.  As if.

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