A cup full of surprises

“Surprise!”
It’s a word that either brings joy and excitement or trepidation and wariness – depending on your perspective.

I like surprises… well I like ‘good surprises’ like a bunch of flowers, an unplanned evening out or unexpected visitors at the door.

On one particular birthday I arrived home from work to find the drive lit up with fairy lights and a large pair of knickers decorating the front door… I knew something was up. When I stepped inside I saw a large group of friends, some from far away, who were all grinning at me as I stood by the open front door. It was unexpected and there was lots of laughter, except I felt a bit work weary and in need of a change. I was ushered upstairs where clean clothes were waiting and it was the start of a lovely Bridget Jones themed party that helped take the edge off turning 40.

Out sailing last week, it was also drawing towards the end of a long day. We’d set sail mid morning and the wind was strengthening. It was still a few miles to go before we would arrive at the safety of our next port and the bows of the boat were dipping and crashing through the waves. The sea that had been calming, seemed to be building up for heavier weather. Suddenly a dark shape caught my eye as it disappeared under the boat, then another and another and out across the other side two dolphins jumped in unison their bodies glistening in the late afternoon sunshine. We smiled and laughed – it was a lovely surprise and helped us on with the last leg of the journey.

Sometimes it’s the little things like this that surprise me. They offer a glimpse of joy when I’m not expecting it.

I’m constantly surprised by the beauty of the sea and the changing coastal scenery around our home where there always seem to be unexpected views and finds, from abandoned boats to useful bits of driftwood. Today was no exception. sea viewOn a walk to the beach I’d been keeping an eye out for colourful painted rocks hidden around the island. One ingenious army wife came up with the idea of painting some rocks and leaving them in various locations for children (and adults) to find… it’s called Thorney Rocks and has its own Facebook page. Coming across the hidden gems now makes walking round the island even more engaging as we wonder what surprise rocks we’ll spot in unusual places.

I didn’t notice any rocks this morning, but sitting down amongst the pebbles watching the receding tide I spotted something yellow and ‘unpebbly’. It turned out to be a tiny teacup. I don’t know what made me look down or how it got there… I suppose it must have been left by a forgetful fairy after a beach tea party!

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Anyway it was a good surprise, but easily missed. If I’m not careful surprises pass me by because my head is so full of ‘to do’ lists and issues I don’t have time to look around and see them. They may not be the gob-smacking surprises that leave me gasping for air, but they are the kind of unexpected sights or detail that prompt a smile and offer a glimpse of joy.

P.S. If you’ve lost a tiny yellow cup the size of my thumbnail do get in touch, I have it safe. It is currently part of the beach treasure trove on the bathroom windowsill…

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A visit to the Dolphin

I’m always a little wary about walking into a pub alone… silly I know, but it dates back to childhood and being told that nice girls didn’t go to pubs and definitely not on their own. However, tonight I decided to brave it.

The sun had been in and out and mostly in all day, but by about 6 o’clock it finally made up its mind and decided to stay. The fields all around our barn were bathed in that golden light that descends at the end of the day and on the horizon a deeper band of blue was beckoning me. I hadn’t been down to the sea since arriving a couple of days ago and decided with the tide up, it was time I paid it a visit.

It was almost 7pm by the time I set out for the half hour walk across the fields, through the village of straggling thatched cottages and past a ‘dangerous’ herd of cows (apparently they had chased my daughter a week or two earlier) and then down a path through the woods to the mouth of the river Erme. I reckoned it would still be light by the time I got home and I was right – just!

I had slid a £5 note into my pocket just in case I wanted a drink at the pub on the return journey… that is, if I was brave enough to go in on my own.

At the slipway onto the beach a young couple were walking barefoot across the sand and the sinking sun was glistening its rays across the rippling water of the incoming tide. Gentle rollers were crumbling onto the beach and the slate and rust coloured rocks were gilded with sunlight. I was pleased I had come down, even at the last hour. This was Devon at its most superb. After soaking up the scenery and talking to God about it all, a Fisherman arrived and then two canoeists, followed by a couple who perched on one of the rocks to watch the sun go down. It was time for me to head back before it got dark.

When I arrived in the village, I thought I deserved a drink. After all, I’d climbed the hill through the dusky wood and disturbed a dear and I’d boldly marched past the fearsome cows and all before supper.

Inside the pub was packed with diners and I shuffled my way round to the ‘locals end’ where two men had pulled up stools, one reading a paper the other engrossed in his phone. I recognised the barman from a previous visit and we chatted briefly until he plonked a welcome pint of cider on the bar in front of me. .. so far so good. No one had asked me to leave because I was a woman on my own.

A man with a ginger beard and a lumberjack shirt appeared from the side door and ordered a pint and I shuffled up not wanting to hog the bar. Then another older man with glasses jostled past and placed a plastic box on the bar beside me, while he struggled to remove a jumper. I stared at the box and then glanced round at the blackboard… ‘Fridays open mic night… fish Sundays… Mondays darts…’

I looked across at the man next to me and surprised myself by saying out loud, “Is it darts tonight?”

That was all it took… he smiled and asked if I was on holiday and I explained we’d recently moved in locally… all of a sudden the other man with his nose in the paper came and introduced himself and started chatting, then a taller man walked in who I had met at the pub once before. Miraculously I remembered his name and we began chatting about his visit to see his new granddaughter in the Midlands and then someone else was telling me about the church and the parish boundaries and another about what was going on next week and by the way, did I play darts?

I decided not to take up the offer of joining in the darts.
1. Because I had no money left to buy any drinks – although they all offered.
2. Because I am very bad at throwing – darts especially.

Walking back up the lane and the along the fields ‘home’ I was hungry but warm. I was warmed by the open friendship I had experienced in that short time in the pub. Never mind the most wonderful scenery, what made me feel most at home is the fact that I had been welcomed by some of the community and this summer I hope we will be making new friends and taking our first steps into life in Devon.

It turns out going to a pub on my own was the best thing I’ve done in a while!

 

 

 

To camp or not to camp

Camping is like marmite. You either love it or you hate it. But even if you love it, at some point you’re going to end up hating it.

Despite having dropped plastic boxes caked in grass in the garage, loaded a pile of damp clothes into the washing machine and kicked sleeping bags and airmats into odd corners of the house because I haven’t the energy to put them where they belong, I’m still feeling fairly positive about camping. The last load of washing is drying outside and when we packed up the tent it was bright sunshine, so we don’t have to wait for a windy day to air it on the lawn to stop it growing mold… such is the lot of a seasoned camper.

Last week we headed off for our umpteenth camping trip beside the sea in Devon. What could be more wonderful? Two days before ‘D’ day we decided we couldn’t fit everything in the car plus an extra passenger and would need to order roof bars so that we could take a top box. This wonderful invention allows tall people to store beach things and anything sandy high up out of reach where they will never be seen again, until you come to unpack at the end of the holiday and discover that’s where the badminton rackets, beach ball, windbreak and umbrella were after all. The roof bars arrived and were carefully assembled, but unfortunately didn’t fit the connection with the roof box. Problem one. No time to order new bars, so alternative bars had to be purchased locally, which also didn’t fit. Problem two. Third time lucky the bars were exchanged, fitted and the box was on top and the car was ready to be packed. Another problem was the fridge. Problem three. Tents don’t have fridges unlike their superior caravan cousins. So cool boxes/bags had to be bought (and returned due to unsuitability)… We began to wonder – is it really worth it? Why are we going camping? What about air B&B?

 

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7 reasons I love camping:

  1. No housework
  2. Minimal cooking – due to limited pans and burners
  3. Waking up to blue skies
  4. Sitting out under the stars drinking… wine mostly
  5. The perfect view from the tent of a curving sandy bay and rolling waves, with an island in the distance
  6. Smelling fresh grass and BBQs 24/7
  7. Not feeling guilty about fried egg and bacon for breakfast

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5 reasons not to go camping:

  1. The possibility it may rain
  2. The long walk to the toilets in the middle of the night – or stinging yourself on nettles seeking alternative loo point by the hedge
  3. The beds – there aren’t any
  4. The cool box, that isn’t, and smells of cheese after 24 hours
  5. Filling the water bottle, carrying it up the hill back to the tent and then realizing you needed to go to the toilet
    Oh and also… leaving the Fairy Liquid beside the communal sink – returning half an hour later to find a half used Co-op bottle in its place!

On balance, I think camping is a good thing. Our children love it. We endure it and I expect we’ll be back again next year… after all there are 7 good reasons to go. And I forgot to mention the sunsets!

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scavenger season

We’re all scavengers at heart. Who doesn’t like picking something up for nothing and making use of it? I love it, as do other members of the family. And what better place to do a bit of scavenging, than on the beach?

Since we moved here the shoreline around the island has been an endless source of treasures and surprises all rolled into one. If you like collecting driftwood, shells, pebbles and odd bits of this and that blown in by the tide, you’d love it here too.

This weekend there was some major scavenging to be done. It was almost a salvage job, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s call it ‘Op Groin’ or ‘Operation Groin’ for non-military types. The start of the operation was some weeks back on another beach where an interesting piece of wood was spotted protruding from the wet sand as the sea retreated into the distance. Sunday afternoon dog walkers passed by without a glance, until someone began digging and digging and digging… without a spade too! Some time later, along time later actually, a giant oak groin/beam was uncovered and claimed by the digger. Determined not to loose his booty he hauled it across the beach into the dunes and buried it. This short sentence does not accurately describe the Herculean effort it took or the toll on clothes and hands and patience, by those of us who advised against it. Once in the dunes, photos were taken of the ‘secret’ location so Pirate-like he could return to collect it another day. End of the first part of Op Groin.

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Several weeks passed. Christmas came and went before Op Groin went into full swing again. More troops were recruited to help with the next sortie. There was some doubt about whether the buried treasure could be found, but ‘sniffer-dog-like’, the damp wood buried in the dunes was uncovered again and four healthy volunteers shouldered the weight and carried it down the beach, along the footpath and back to the recovery vehicle on the road. Success is a six foot beam drying in the garage.

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But it wasn’t all over. This beam needed other similar pieces to be really useful. Fortunately, two more likely items were spotted quite recently nearby, so this weekend Op Groin Part 2 swung into play. The battered wood was spotted quite quickly this time, not buried, just lying on the rocks. And while the storm clouds brewed overhead, I helped manhandle the pieces into the vehicle, at the same time as rescuing an old football and some interesting pebbles, before we piled into the car as the heavens opened. Two more immense beams are now drying in another outside store. Thank goodness that’s over!

Today on a cycle along the beach keen eyes spotted a mast leaning at an odd angle from the shore. We headed over, careless of brambles and mud, wondering what a large boat could be doing so close in. It was a sorry sight. A large, rather lovely yacht was marooned on the beach, lying on its side, all out of sorts its hull imbedded in the sand. We later discovered that this yacht was swept ashore just a few hours after Op Groin had ended. Now, that would have been a very big salvage operation. Fortunately for the owners our prime family scavenger had returned to London by the time the boat appeared. No one’s too clear about the law of salvage, so we left the boat safely in the hands of a couple of frolicking seals.

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As for Op Groin, thankfully the operation didn’t leave any casualties, apart from sore shoulders, and one day the wood drying in the garage may be turned into a beautiful table or a bench or even a bed… we can but hope.

Which shoes?

The big question is which shoes? You may smile, but it’s an important one for today.
Today I have to be smart. I have to be professional, but not flashy. I have to be comfortable, able to walk without tripping over or dying to slip off my heels. I also want to feel good.I’ve spent the past two years mainly in flip flops or no shoes at all. Court shoes and heels practically never made an appearance. I remember trying a pair on in preparation for a big posh day and thought my feet would explode. Lately, I’ve been alternating between slippers and wellies or walking boots. 
Yesterday I enjoyed a very muddy wet run to the beach and back. My trainers have never looked so black – but I loved it. It was a fantastic feeling splashing through standing water in the tracks, jumping between mini lakes and the banks and finally giving up on trying to stay dry I ran straight through the flooded marshes to the shoreline, cold water creeping through my socks and squelching (delicious word) in the bottom of my shoes. There’s something invigorating about running through mud and water and laughing or singing and looking forward to the shower when you get home.

But today it is suede court shoes on my feet – now much cleaner than they were yesterday. Today I must be careful not to ladder my pale stockings and I must sit in a more ladylike way – no tucking my feet up under me or stomping through puddles – these must be given a wide birth. Today I am on a top secret mission to the big city.

The interview looms. Ssh! The outcome may dictate which shoes I’ll be slipping into in the months ahead… 

   
 

sea addict

I have to confess. I’m addicted. I can’t go a day without it and I’m afraid I may get a little shaky if I don’t see it. I didn’t realise it could be so addictive or I’d have been a bit more careful. Photographs don’t do it justice – they don’t capture the smells and sounds that make it such a wonderful ‘drug’.

I never imagined moving to live beside the sea would be so delicious and leave me craving for a sight of it every day. This afternoon I ‘ran’ to the beach (not the kind of running you do when being chased by hungry lions – just the kind that keeps pace with a slow cyclist). I knew it was going to be beautiful when I noticed golden blades of grass casting sharp shadows on the sand in the dunes. A bright white sun was starting to slide towards the horizon across the channel lighting up the ripples in the muddy coloured sand as the rays danced across the water. There were shallow dark pools on the wide expanse of empty beach. In the distance a solitary sailing boat bobbed mid channel and high up in the distance a flock of migrating birds swooped and swirled in a cloud, before disappearing out to sea.

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This is a special place. The only sounds were some strange sea bird noises and what I think might have been baying seals on the sandbanks. This afternoon it was as quiet as a nature reserve. I had the beach to myself. The light was unreal in a golden ethereal way. It felt like it was going to be the kind of night for smugglers to pull up their boats and haul their contraband up the beach…the kind of night for stories and secrets to be shared around a fire on the cool sand while the waves creep closer.

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I’m not sure how or why I’ve developed this addiction to ‘see the sea’ over the past few weeks. I could also describe it as a love affair because no matter what the state of the water – dark and stormy, grey and choppy or calm and blue – I can’t help but love the view. I even love it when the tide is out and messy dark green sea plants are left exposed, with the channel a remote blue strip beneath the boats. There is a reassuring rhythm to the tides. I’ve been waking up trying to remember what state the tide will be at – we can’t go far around here without noticing if it’s in or out. Now we’ve stuck a tide chart up in the kitchen and most days someone checks out the tide times and heights.

The sea here gives me a sense of space and freedom as its wide-open skies wrap around the island. It’s a sea of possibilities. A reminder that there are so many stories out there as people set sail or launch into open water – a lone fisherman inspecting his nets, an anxious sailor battling against a retreating tide, or a man on a motorboat heading into the deep. It’s a place of inspiration too. There are mysteries here to unravel and stories to be told… even crimes to be solved. I’m going to indulge my addiction for now. After all it’s not expensive or unhealthy and I have a suspicion the sea has something to tell me. And most of all – we live here…

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Blackberries and a beach

What makes you smile, even when things go wrong? For me, this weekend, it was unending hedgerows of blackberries and a beautiful beach.

Moving house and moving countries was always going to have its moments. We’d anticipated some of the problems including parting with the wrong stuff for 6 weeks going by container ship, collecting the cat from Heathrow, buying a new car and sorting out phones and internet. It turns out there was more…

No sooner had we set off on the journey south, in a packed car to our new island home, when the phone call we all dread came saying our daughter had been in A&E after miraculously surviving being hit by a bus. Still, it was an emotional call as everyone was in shock and suddenly life felt very fragile and the worries of removal vans and packing boxes seemed less significant. What you need most in those situations is just to be able to give someone a hug – distance and circumstances have meant the hugs will have to wait till this weekend. Just before we left for our flight back to the UK we also heard the sad news that a friend who had been ill had died quite suddenly. It made me realise our lives are in God’s hands and each day is precious – none of us know what’s around the corner or what the next day will hold.

And just as we were settling in, amassing our list of ‘army quarter’ deficiencies – from a faulty cooker to windows that don’t close – the next little hiccup occurred. The cat, who has already survived being abandoned as a kitten, being hit by a car and now flying 5 hours from Cyprus to Heathrow with other orphaned pets, worked out how to unlock the newly installed cat-flap. Our plan to keep him in at night had failed and he was on the prowl in the dark in a strange new country. We thought he had worked out how to find his way back to the house after his first night escapade on Thursday, but the next day he didn’t appear or the next. A weekend that should have involved relaxing and exploring with the family became a search and rescue mission. Search parties were dispatched from dawn to dusk, armed with cat treats and torches. ‘Missing’ posters were printed and distributed door to door. On Sunday afternoon we were beginning to feel as if something bad had happened and we might have to adjust to life without our strange sandy cat. So we headed for the beach around the corner on paths lined with blackberry bushes and I thought about baking a crumble on a happier day and basked in the sun in the shelter of the sand dunes.

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A little while later there was an urgent call that a sandy cat had been spotted near the road by a wood. We raced to the spot and tramped through undergrowth spotting a pair of wary eyes and a sandy tail hidden in the long grass. Was it Simba? We couldn’t be sure. The cat didn’t respond to our calls and moved further away. We couldn’t get close enough to be absolutely sure it wasn’t him and wondered what had made him so frightened. We tried to approach from the other side of the wood and as I crunched through deep undergrowth and trampled down waist high nettles, I thought about snakes and what might be underfoot. But this is England now – not Cyprus! The abandoned cat eventually disappeared deep into the undergrowth and we had to abandon the quest. We decided to leave food and water and a box… just in case and return the next day. At dusk we made a final sortie along the beachside path, through the boatyard and back by some large houses at the edge of the airfield. Our voices were growing hoarse with calling out and listening in case he was trapped somewhere. Just as we were about to cross the road back to our house we heard a faint cry. A fluffy bundle appeared from the bushes and the cat that was lost was now found.

We’re not sure what has happened to the cat in the woods, but people say he lives in a nearby barn. So we’ve retrieved our food bowls and box and left him to it. I’m hoping our dramas are over for a few days. Our cat is sleeping safely on a chair by the window and apart from nursing some giant mosquito bites we’re all in one piece. This weekend the whole family arrive, our ‘walking miracle/accident victim’ included. We’re looking forward to blackberry picking and I’ve even found an old apple tree nearby so blackberry and apple crumble is on the menu. That’s something to make me smile.