Year 2009: Chapter 3
Saturday 1st August
Spend the day chilling at my parents' semi in Leigh-on-Sea, praying that this shitty weather will clear up by tonight's
If anything, it worsens, scuppering fantasies of sizzling kebabs under a balmy summer's evening. I feel like suing Mother Nature and the rest of her mean-spirited family.
At lunchtime we cram everyone into the Clio, dad wedged in like an anorexic sardine between the child seats, much to my daughters' disdain. We take them to Hadleigh Wildlife Park to stroke some pigs, bond with goats and chase some chickens. Our party lies about the age every toddler and OAP upon entry, which constitutes everyone except me and this flagrant crime is reciprocated by an reproachful glare of incredulity from the prim and punctilious sixteen-year old lass manning the ticket office, destined for a lucrative career as a parking attendant or a tax inspector. For Christ sake, we are only here to see a few farm animals...
Anyway, we manage to just miss the inevitable showers and I demur avenging Daisy when a snotty two-year old Jezebel wantonly throws sand in her startled face. It is her first lesson in the cruelty of humankind. There will be more little Daisy, there will be more.
In the evening, I don my dipsomaniac hat and get pissed.
I mean really Oliver Reed/George Best pissed.
The occasion is Carolyn's annual birthday soiree, whereupon a hardcore group of childhood friends gather to celebrate another passing year in our host's life, drink copious amounts of cheap wine from any plastic cup handy, devour Carolyn's vodka jelly with juvenile glee (this yearÕs jellies shaped out of a rabbit mould) and watch the deluge wash away hopes of an al fresco barbecue. Thanks to the downpour I spend the first half of the evening with a plastic cup of wine on constant refill, trying to prevent Carolyn's oven from catching fire. I fail and the sausages are not amused.
A Darwinian selection of childhood friends has whittled them down towards a predominantly female cluster of pals whom I have
known for most of my life. Perhaps this is the reason for such salacious candour and why within minutes we are already
ensconced in a deep and highly comical discussion on the more licentious extremes of fornication, even before the first
tranche of sausages have been served. I am thereby enlightened by the delightful sexual acts of "tromboning" and
"monkeyface". I am certain that neither practice was studied in the Kinsey Report. I only suggest Googling them if you are:-
a) an avid fan of Sexcetera
b) you are not reading this with your computer monitor facing your boss
c) have a filthy mind...like most of us it would seem.
We get absolutely hammered. Before you know it, our debauchery has descended into dancing to late-1980s hip-hop: Beastie Boys, Eric B & Rakim, LL Cool J, Stetsasonic and the epochal Young MC and we are dancing as if our life depended on it. Most of us are approaching our forties and the solitary twenty-something is visibly disturbed by a group of investment bankers, wives, mothers and indeed, wine critics, making ridiculous shapes to "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn" and "Talkin All That Jazz".
I sincerely hope that I do not awake with a hangover...
Sunday 2nd August
Wake up with a stinking hangover straight from some Faustian purgatory that Marlowe himself deemed a tad OTT.
Which level am I?
Head throbs as blood tries and fails to circulate, in fact, I think it is coagulating around my temples. I saunter downstairs, chew on some Frosties, and then pop down Leigh Old Town with dad to inhale some fresh hair. It is a sunny, refulgent morning and just about as idyllic as Essex can possibly be. I buy some fresh fish straight from the plastic box brimming with ice from this morning's catch, some skate wings, salmon, trout and monkfish cheeks.
I return home questioning my level of inebriation and then drive Lily and Daisy to Belfairs Woods to meet Pip and his family. Pip isn't there, so I walk along to a bit if light Sunday morning equestrianism since it is only a quid. I plonk Lily on her dappled white pony, cute in her black hard hat and slightly regretting her imploring to go on a horse. But off she trots, clippity-clop and she looks quite a natural up there, so knowing luck she will be threatening to leave home unless there is a pony in the back garden on Christmas morning.
Pip, his wife Naoko, their son Jamie and an old friend Tin (who I ventured to Burgundy with back in 1998) eventually arrive and we walk over to the playground where I try my best to muster up enthusiasm as my hangover sets in for the day. A roast dinner revivifies the metabolism and feeling a little more alive, drive home to Guildford to end Tomoko's respite from motherhood and watch the beautiful "Man On Wire", the docudrama detailing that miraculous tightrope walk between the World Trade Centre towers in 1974. I feel vertigo just watching it on TV. Somehow I end up watching Die Hard 3, which is a somewhat underrated sequel. By this time, my migraine wants to go to Bedfordshire...
Monday 3rd August
Spend the morning doing a phone interview for a magazine article. It takes a long time, just over an hour and just as we broach the more intimate details of vinification, Daisy wees on the carpet in the living room. So whilst I am jotting down fermentation temperatures and their philosophy towards biodynamism, I am mopping up Daisy's contribution to the interview. Do other wine writers have to cope with calamities of such magnitude? I spend the rest of the day editing the older chapters of this very journal whilst vainly trying to ignore a festering migraine that takes a hot knife to the inside of my skull and twists every fifteen minutes. In the evening I watch Rupert Everett's excellent documentary on Lord Byron: entertaining and culturally enriching.
Wednesday 5th August
I have been shortlisted for the prestigious Louis-Roederer Online Wine writer Award. Recognition at last! What next...an Emmy? The Pulitzer Prize? A Nobel Award for Peace?
This evening I attend a very lovely 1982-themed dinner at the two-Michelin star restaurant "The Square". A few off-liners have convened with a mouth-watering array of twenty odd 1982 Clarets with a couple of outrageous Sine Qua Nons glued onto the end by their residual sugars. I am rather stressed when I arrive but it has been a slight crap day...Tomoko being denied her driving license by an over-zealous, pedantic examiner...the pharmacist packed the wrong eczema cream of Lily and Daisy...etc...etc... What I need is some 1982 Bordeaux and tonight we are served up legends such as Pichon-Lalande and Leoville Las-Cases, lesser know 82's such as L'Arrosee and an odd Pavillon Blanc de Chateau Margaux (which exceeds my expectations by a long, long way.) There is about a dozen of us in attendance, there are no women as usual and as I tuck into my daube of ox cheek accompanied by several exemplary Saint JulienÕs, I cannot help feel a pang of guilt envisaging Tomoko eating her Japanese natto, ruing her mistake at a right hand turn. I am feeling jaded by the end, so I down my glass of SQN The Strawman and catch the slow train home to Guildford.
Thursday 6th August
You know holiday eve? You spend the entire day completely stressed out trying to tie up loose ends? Well, today is that day. My stress is compounded by viewing our first 'des res' in Merrow. After three years of renting and the inevitable price crash collapsing in our favour, it is time to dip my toe back into the property market, even though I despise the whole wretched, unscrupulous business. The estate agent is pleasant enough, but cannot help pressurizing us that somebody else has already made an offer and that 3,045 desperate families will be viewing on the weekend. I switch off immediately: the three bedroom detached is nice but not ideal and certainly not worth stressing over.
Anyway, tomorrow, hooray, hooray, it's a holi-holiday!!!
Friday 7th August
Everybody now, in your best Cliff Richard voice: "We're all going on a summer holiday...no more worries for a week or two..." Well, actually a week to be exact and moreover as we set off for Devon along the Hog's Back, the air is thick with drizzle that triumph over the windscreen wipers who swish back and forth to no avail. The good news is that having monitored the BBC weather forecast over the previous week and deduced the opposite of whatever the meteorological service predicted, I feel assured that we will be driving westward ho! into clement, sunny climes, a first for this dismal British summer.
Yes, I am finally taking a "staycation" because I am feeling rather burnt out. So far this year I have written and
published over 300,000 words on Wine-Journal, rewritten 30,000 words for the Bordeaux Vintage Guide, written the
chapter on New Zealand for a forthcoming guide, composed 50,000 words for my book on Pomerol and rewritten about half of
this diary, an unforeseen gargantuan project once I realised that to be brutally honest, I could not write when I started
back in 2003. You might as well say the same thing now given that I changed every "realised" to "realized"
until I realised (or is that realized?) that realize should be spelt realise.
Whatever...I am knackered, my brain needs some R&R. It is not just the writing that is tiring; it is trying to write with originality and wit that is so mentally draining. I need to recharge my batteries and moreover, it would be nice to spend some quality time with my children who are strapped into the back seat of the Clio demanding to know whether we are there yet... after two miles.
The first brilliant decision that I make is to eschew motorway. I have elected the lesser known A303, which slices an almost direct route from Guildford to Exeter via the southern counties of England. Apart from a small haemorrhage of traffic due to a council worker shutting down a lane to cut back a hedge, it is plain sailing all the way.
We stop at a Little Chef, alas, not one of the Heston Blumenthal makeovers. If it is, then the best that the three-star Michelin chef came up with is an "Easy Starter" breakfast: fried bread, backed beans, a sausage and a couple of rashers. If it had all been pureed, frozen with nitrogen and served upon an alabaster fig leaf to the sound of two pangolins making love, then I would have detected the influence of the masterchef and even if it had, I would still have demanded my free lollipop for finishing my plate (no such inspirational motivation for finishing your plate was present at El Bulli when I ate there last year...perhaps this is the key for the Fat Duck becoming numero uno in the world instead of numero duo?) Anyway, the Little Chef meal is not bad at all, especially given the last time I offered my custom, I walked out without paying the bill in disgust. But my fry up is perfectly acceptable and it is perfect for Lily and Daisy. Plus they get their free lollipops and one for their dad, just to check their taste has not altered since the early 1980s.
Devon itself is a beautiful part of the country, all rolling hills, expenses of verdure, breathtaking coastline and of course, delicious cream teas. The only problem with Devon is driving along its capricious country lanes, which not only twist and turn with wild abandon, but are predominantly carved into the countryside so that they are bordered with thick hedges that constantly obscure your view. You have to drive with your sixth sense, in case a tractor towing 30 tonnes of pig manure is hurtling towards you.
Our accommodation in Halwell is wonderful, an upside-down converted barn, bedrooms on the ground floor each with ensuite, the upstairs and open plan kitchen and living room with just about every amenity you could ask for. As with every holiday, our first trip is to the supermarket to procure provisions, today an eco-friendly Sainsburys that promises more by its snazzy architectural design, than it delivers on the inside. My parents are staying in their caravan just a mile away and pop round to have a look (secretly, I think my dad would quite happily snuggle up on the sofa rather than spend his entire weekend sleeping in the awning with Frank the Most Stupid Dog In The World.) I rustle up a quick pasta, read the visitors' book for ideas and remark upon previous vacationers a) unanimously smitten by the accommodation and b) displaying a penchant for composing War & Peace length epics about their memorable holiday. In fact, some of them are so verbose that I wonder whether they spend the entire week writing their magnum opus and leaving them five minutes to look at the beach?
Tired from the driving and after downing a bottle if Waipara Pinot Noir, I collapse on the sofa. I can feel the residual fatigue that has built up over the past year being leeched out of my body, faculties shut down, limbs turn to jelly and I snore 'til kingdom come...
Saturday 8th August
Wake up to a perfect Devonshire morn, the sun streaming through the windows, not a cloud to blemish the sky. Lily and Daisy wake up at the crack of dawn, Lily insistent upon watching the Peter Pan DVD for the squillionth time, Daisy Pavlova practicing her ballet routine in the bedroom, interpreting Devon through the medium of dance and very moving it is too. I drive the tiny tots up to my parents' caravan that is an absolute bugger to get to, but probably worth it for the magnificent vista of the south coast; glimpses of turquoise sea peaking out amongst the rolling verdure and arable land that stretches for miles and miles. With sprogs safely dumped, Tomoko and I drive down to Dartmouth, an idyllic coastal, naval town that is mixture of Ballymory, Trumpton and Chelsea, so that we can check out the monthly farmersÕ market. As usual, this market is a fraction of what we anticipated, but we manage to pick up some sausages from a farmer whose accent is sufficiently Devonian and sufficiently incomprehensible...plus he wears a flat cap and sideburns.
We drive back to base and in the afternoon, tootle down to Kingsbridge since a previous tenant has recommended the cream
teas in the Visitors Book.
Hmm...not bad, but bit of a rip off, notwithstanding a surprisingly stiff sea breeze the buffets our table located at the back of a medieval church. We walk down the steep high street to the quayside only to find the tide is out and then have to traipse back up with Daisy demanding a piggy back as her legs are tired and she cannot cope with the ascent. Nor can I darling, nor can I, but I donÕt crumple into a heap on the pavement. At least not yet.
In the evening, Tomoko and I exploit the presence and proximity of grandparents and in dire need of a break from parenthood, enjoy a very tasty meal for two at the Normandy Arms in Blackawton. Nothing fancy, but locally produced meat is on the menu: simple fare, thoughtfully served. The neighbouring table are having a less enjoyable meal, both remaining completely reticent during its entire duration until the man storms off mid-main course, leaving her to foot the bill. I would offer my finely honed relationship counselling skills, but I fear it may only make matters worse. The moonshine is decent enough, a Margaret River Shiraz bullshitting about its 14.5% alcohol and possibly kept at too warmer temperature by the Normandy Arms, but to be honest, I am off-duty and just polish off the bottle and then phone dad to come and pick us up from the silence and serenity of a Devonshire village at gloaming.
Sunday 9th August
Wake up sans hangover, quite a surprise given the blockbuster Margaret River Shiraz we polished off last night. I drive down to Dartmouth to buy some bread from Saveur and the pervasive tranquillity that ekes into every nook and cranny of this village soothes and calms oneÕs sensibility, the waters glistening in the early morning sunlight, the roads empty, an omnipresent silence save for the squawking of early rising gulls.
Returning back home, Tomoko rustles up a hearty breakfast and then with parents in tow, we drive to Becky Falls on the east of Dartmoor. Apparently I was here twenty-five years ago, although to be honest all the childhood waterfalls wash into each other after a few years. After a minor calamity with a missing wallet, eventually found giggling mischievously under the driver seat and having almost gotten away with stealing two cartons of children's tropical juice (until supergrass Daisy dumps hers in front of the cashier) we tackle the easy "blue" route around the babbling brook and woodland.
(Lily discovers fern, obviously happy with her new ounce of knowledge.)
I take an obligatory paddle with Lily, who complains that the water is too cold...I mean, what do expect up on Dartmoor? As we walk around the circuit, my parents notice wooden boxes, markers that house a ink illustration: a fern, a fox or an owl and they proceed to tattoo themselves from head to toe, much to the amusement of another family who use the stamps appropriately in a special booklet. They must think they have stumbled across the natives from Deliverance.
Misappropriation of ink stamps notwithstanding, the forty-minute walk is most enjoyable even if Daisy refused to walk the final leg. I take her to watch the captive owls on an emergency wee-wee sortie and as she looks up at the magnificent creature, she is entranced by the spectacle of its keeper feeding a bludgeoned rat for its high tea. Absorbed in watching the owl rip off its flesh, I wager that Daisy will either never entertain the notion of vegetarianism, or will recall this precise moment as the catalyst.
We drive across the poetic wilderness that is desolate Dartmoor, a sighing vista of heather and thistle; tors deceivingly appearing manmade and pagan, lending the landscape a sense of eeriness that inspired Hound of the Baskervilles. Families of doleful wild ponies mill about the roadside whilst stupid sheep nibble grass whilst the traffic zooms past their brightly dyed behinds, team red and team blue. Mountains are extroverts; dramatic and regal, sculpted by God, towering above the elements. Moorlands are taciturn; shrouded by mist, pot-marked my bogs and burdened with secrets; dwell on the hopeless of it all. Mountains a prima donnas yearning for the limelight and superlatives...moorlands would prefer you leave them alone. I love moorlands, give me moorlands any day.
We stop briefly the famous clapper bridge at Postbridge that traverses the River Dart. Funny to think that we are walking across this antediluvian piece of infrastructure that similar families would have done a millennia before, albeit without the half-Japanese fruit of the loins. Again, Lily demands a paddle in its icy waters and whilst I join her, we have the vicarious thrill of watching a Croatian teenager guide his younger, wild-haired daughter across the icy, fast flowing waters. Everything goes according to plan until 3-metres from the bank, whereupon she loses her footing on the slippery stones and falls in up to ger shoulders. I know I shouldn't laugh, but it was all so predictable. The older brother lifts her sodden sibling out whilst her floods of tears flow down the River Dart and out into the Atlantic. At least she now know why they built the bridge.
We take the scenic route home, scenic being the only available option in Dartmoor. In the evening I cook up my signature dish of lamb steaks seasoned in rosemary, lemon and olive oil with sun-blushed tomatoes for my parents. Dad insists on his meat being well done i.e. with all the flavour cooked out, whilst mum arrives with a back-up saucepan of runner beans and carrots, just in case her son's culinary efforts fail to comply with her draconian gustatory regimen. They must suffice with leftover cheesecake for pudding, puddings not being my "thing" and they leave around ten o'clock since they will be heading back to Leigh-on-Sea the following morning. Judging by his clean plate, dad's lamb was suitably overdone.
Monday 11th August
The weather has told volte face. I open the curtains to sheets of drizzle. Bugger. After a brief foray into Totnes to pick up some victuals, thus embroiling myself in an hour-long traffic jam after losing my sense of direction, we head down to Plymouth to visit the National Aquarium Museum, apparently the largest of its kind in Britain.
The problem is that I have been beholden to perhaps the most spectacular aquarium in the world: the Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise Aqua Museum. Not only was it ten times the size of any aquaria that I have been to, but it seemed as if a slightly more lax regard to animal welfare meant that at that time, elephantine creatures were crammed into a smallest space available. In fact, they would probably cram a pachyderm into a fish tank if it could hold its breath long enough. (Incidentally, this is where I witnessed a sexually frustrated walrus with an erection that has made me feel inadequate ever since. The fact that it was being witnessed by a goggle-eyed ten-year old pig-tailed schoolgirl in her sailors uniform made it all the more disturbing.)
It's all a bit underwhelming really. They make the fatal mistake of locating a children's rough 'n tumble adventure course in the entrance. This means as much as you try to talk up the prospect of jellyfish, shoals of carp and a few seahorses, all they want to do is expend their pent up energy clambering like an amphetamine fuelled chimpanzee through tunnels, sliding down tubes and generally running amok in an untrammled fashion that they could never dream of at home.
Perhaps I am becoming inured to aquaria. You get your requisite blowfish, clown fish and stingray but once you have seen one you have seen them all. Plus none come close to the horny walrus. Thirdly, aquaria overwhelm and pummel the senses into submission. It is the disorientating darkness, the fish sailing overhead, the hordes of screaming kids whose ululations echo off the glass, the neverending maze-like course you have to follow to the exit, the claustrophobia...Christ...I think it must be a landlubber's form of the bends. It is some relief when we break the surface and exit the aquarium.
The evening is spent watching Daisy perfect her Kate Bush dance routine and Lily form a makeshift den from a duvet, within which she has secreted the cottage's entire collection of DVDs and VHS videos (how quaint). Before going to bed, I hold a debriefing about the day's events with my daughters, the high and lows, what we learnt and what tomorrow holds. I then read them a story from the cottage's "library". For some reason, they revel in a book called "The Fox", which does not spare the gory details of running amok in a chicken pen, notwithstanding their mating to produce their cubs. I am surprised neither Lily nor Daisy has requested to go hunting during their stay in Devon.
Tuesday 11th August
This morning, the weather has turned volte face yet again and we are blessed with another perfect sunny day. We drive into Totness, a town known for its hippies, as evidenced by the shop selling bongos, the sighting of numerous middle-aged men with long unkempt, beaded hair and innovatively shaved beards plus the fact that the Rudolph Steiner Centre is located on the outskirts of town. I am sure I spot Anne-Claude's car parked next to Lalou-Bize's, but I cannot be sure. I am intrigued to go inside to see if Herr Steiner's body has been exhumed and reincarnated by means of a bucket of Maria Thun preparation or whether a wicker man has been constructed in the rear garden, just in case a biodynamic neysayer trespasses. But that might be like entering Waco.
Anyway, apart from a concentration of hippies, Totness also boasts some lovely artisan bakers and butchers, plus a surfeit of
cream teas that are all difficult to resist. We opt for Anne of Cleves because their cakes seem to bulge with calories but
having missed breakfast, I opt for a fry up whilst Lily goes for a humungous chocolate cake, most of it ending up smothered
round her mouth. We then buy Lily a lurid fuchsia swimming costume, a bargain at 75p from Peacocks and then we head down to
the Blackpool Sands.
Blackpool Sands' car park is full. A tousle haired teenager mans a painted sign that says "Car Park Full" and power has obviously gone straight to his head, judging by the smug grin plastered on his face as he turns away crestfallen holidaymakers trying to appease their fulminating, plastic-spade wielding offspring, ready to bludgeon their parents to pulp upon hearing the news. Plan B: we head to Slapton Sands, which is sparsely populated with absolutely no difficulty parking. Upon stepping onto the beach we immediately discern why: this is the downmarket Blackpool Sands, the beach full of pebbles that lacerate the soles of the feet instead of silken sand that tickles the toes. Having planted ourselves as far away from the dried dog poo as possible, we spend a couple of hours on the beach of which 118 minutes spent lobbing pebbles into the sea, Lily and Daisy favourite futile pastime bar none. We could leave them there all year, come back and find them with a few billion pebbles to go, before their goal of throwing every single one into the Atlantic has been achieved.
I go an order some ice-creams, patiently waiting my turn in the 20-minute queue. I order four small cones and the ice-cream
vendor seems disdainful when he hears my order.
What the hell does he expect?
He is an ice-cream salesman manning an ice-cream van on a Devonshire beach on a sunny day in August.
Does he expect me to go a la carte and order a double hotdog?
Does his ice-cream van boast a Michelin star?
Does he harbor aspirations to be the Heston Blumenthal of ice-cream salesman?
Just four dollops of your finest creamy Devon ice-cream please, and let's have less of the old attitude. The ice-creams are of course, melting all over my paws by the time I reach base camp. But they ice-cream is worth the sticky fingers and the petulance.
We drive back to Halwell and in the evening, I cook rump steak procured in Totness that morning with red peppers and onion. Simple but satisfying. Before Lily and Daisy go to bed, I re-read them the bloodthirsty follow-up to "The Tiger" called "The Fox", that likewise features animals eating each other and inferred carnal activity.
Wednesday 12th August
The Gods must be smiling upon the Martin family holiday, for the sun doth shine once more. After a quick breakfast, we head
for the coastal resort of Dawlish, where I spent countless sepia-tinged holidays as a child.
It is a sentimental journey for sure; I make no bones about that and by my own calculation it must be 24 years since I was last here...an entire lifetime it would seem. However the years roll back as a rusty Dawlish Station comes into view, still overlooking the beach and the dramatic rusty cliffs. The heart of the town remains the river populated by black swans flanked by gardens and bedded plants. I look at the black swans...perhaps this is where the economic turmoil began? It takes a couple of attempts to locate "Aller Farm" where we used to stay, when my brother and I had the run of the working farm and I would idle away many a balmy afternoon damning up the streams with stones. I guess that was my own futile pastime as I never did manage to reach the hydroelectric power stage. Innocent times...what larks!
Tomoko comments that the town reminds her of Leigh-on-Sea, which might explain why we came to Dawlish without fail between
1977 and 1985. We stop for a Panini and then head for a "Butterfly and Otter Sanctuary" in Buckfastleigh.
Whatever became of my raving days in Ibiza, up to my neck in foam off my tits dancing to acid house? When did it descend to...otters? Do otters rave perchance?
Somehow we enter without paying the seven quid entrance fee and walk straight into the tropical butterfly farm...well...I
presume it is as my glasses are completely steamed up and I am pushing Daisy's pushchair straight into the turtle pond (to
the turtles' chagrin.) The papillons are quite amazing, fluttering around our heads, disowning their caterpillar youth and
slagging off moths. Then it is off into the adjoining otter sanctuary, although getting a glimpse of the creatures proves to
be a challenge and I spend most of the time holding either Lily or Daisy aloft so that they can see over the wall.
I learn the sapient points about otters: they have sharp teeth and stand on their hind legs like well-trained poodles when
they want food. The bearded otter keeper is priming me with all the information I could ever wish for with respect to my
otter friends, but my brain has switched off and is focusing upon what to eat tonight.
Maybe otter tartar?
Yes, tonight we are off for to "The Seahorse" in Dartmouth for our posh meal. Matters get off to a great
start as the maitre d' proffers small 'mermaid' carrier-bags to amuse Lily and Daisy and with them expertly taken care of,
I order a intriguing mature Muscadet and share a freshly caught sea bass with Tomoko, which at £22 per person, had better
be the best charcoal-grilled sea bass I have ever eaten.
It is the best charcoal-grilled sea bass I have ever eaten.
Indeed, Lily and Daisy are enjoying their Michelin-starred fish 'n chips so much that Daisy starts demanding her portion of our £22 per person sea bass. I mean, when I was her age I considered Birds Eye fish fingers to be haute cuisine and here before me sits my two-year old offspring with a quid's worth of sea bass in her mouth. This is what happens when you give a baby Le Pin 2005 as an introduction to wine. I mentally deduct £22 from her pocket money that is due to commence upon her 4th birthday, which means it will take her 3-years to get back into credit.
Thursday 13th August
The final day of holiday tends is always veiled with melancholy and today is no different. This morning we take the kids to the Dart Valley Adventure Park, where teenagers can burn off excess energy through SAS-style assault courses, without the live ammunition and mandatory six-month tour of duty in Halman Province. To be honest, it is focused towards 8-16 year olds, but a mini death-slide for tiny tots, where they sit in a suspended seat rather than dangle for their dear lives by their wrists, dutifully incites squeals of delight and expressions of sheer joy that make all the ardour of bringing up a child worthwhile. I also check out the "snake slide" with 2-year old Daisy even the minimum age is four and you are not allowed to have children on your lap.
Sod that. It's the closest I will get to dangerous sports this year. However, the G-forces caused by my expanding
middle-age mid-rift means that I exit the tube at 50m.p.h flat on my back with my daughter wondering why her father is
imperilling her life at such an early juncture?
We have a light lunch and then return to base camp where Tomoko begins packing. I take Lily and Daisy down to Blackpool Sands because I feel that I would have denied my offspring a proper Devon holiday without building a sandcastle. Given that it is later in the day, I am assuming that this time we will be able to enter the car-park without one of Saddam Hussein's ex-Republican Guard stationed by the car-park. Still, we have to pay three quid for the honour of parking and finally...finally...armed with bucket and spades, we will spend an hour on the hyped up Blackpool Sands. Therein lies the lie, dear reader.
Sands my arse
There is not a single grain on this ersatz "beach"...it's all bloody pebbles. Someone has attempted to build a sandcastle out of pebbles and all they achieved was a pathetic flat-shaped cone, as if the beach has acne. Admittedly there is about 16 square metres of imported sand to appease the children with sandcastle-shaped aspirations and so we exploit this patch of Sahara and start digging holes, though only down about 12-inches before we hit the canvas bottom.
Daisy expresses her views by a panicked expression, uttering "Oshiko!" and if you don't know what that
Japanese word means, then her dribble of wee through her Sleeping Beauty pants onto the precious sand, should provide ample
explanation. The other mothers tending to their children attired in regulation chichi kiddie wetsuits give me a collective
look of molten admonishment.
Hey, it's not me pissing all over the sand.
I peel off her underwear and leave it to one side. Five minutes later, the micturating sequel is rendering another part of the sandpit out of bounds.
We abandon thoughts of sandcastle and walk down to sea to throw stones.
"I want to go to wee-wee," warns Lily. Bloody hell. I dig a small hole with my hands, plonk her bum inside and tell her let it flow. She sits there for five minutes in deep contemplation before a sang-froid: "It's done."
Then she gets back to throwing a few more pebbles into the Atlantic.
In the evening, I replicate my lamb steak with sun-blushed tomato dinner accompanied by an absolutely delicious Chateau La Fleur-Petrus 1999 that encapsulates everything one could wish for in an unpretentious Pomerol. Tomoko retires to bed to read some more Haruki Murakami, I retire to the sofa to veg out with Big Brother 10.
Friday 14th August
A holiday is not over until one switches off the ignition upon arrival home. That arrives all too swiftly since the A303 is once again free of traffic jams. We stop once again at a Little Chef, although their Olympic Breakfast does not quite hit the spot as their Early Starter, notwithstanding the stodgy mushroom and my toast being burnt. We arrive home in the afternoon, I check my e-mails, order a Chinese and go to bed.
A thoroughly enjoyable time has been had by all although I will say this. As I mentioned, I was desperately seeking some
long overdue rest and relaxation and on paper, a week in Devon should have been the perfect remedy. However, factor in a two
and four-year old, and one must face up to the fact that as a parent you have to work even harder than at home, that the
holiday is more theirs not ours. So whilst it warms the cockles of my heart when Lily and Daisy express how much they
enjoyed Devon, both Tomoko and I are bloody knackered.
We could both do with a holiday.
Saturday 15th August
A day of settling back into our house, ordering in some food, cleaning, tending to some work matters and so forth. I take Lily and Daisy to a local playground in the afternoon along with what seems like half their toys: fluffy rabbits, comfort blankets, a small jewellery box, a Sleeping Beauty carrier bag of 'secret' essentials that only a two- or four-year old girl would understand and the proverbial kitchen skin. I rustle up a chicken chasseur in the evening and Tomoko and I hold a debriefing meeting apropos our sojourn to Devon. Conclusion: a success.