Moving on…

A letter to the new owners of this house:

Welcome to your new home. If you can be just a fraction as happy here in this rather grand, elderly house with its unbeatable location and its creaking, gurgling idiosyncrasies as we have been you will have made the right choice. Estate agents like to describe it as having ‘kerb appeal’ and judging by the attention it is given from passers-by this may be correct.

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When we first came to look at it twenty years ago we’d no clue it would be located on the cliff top, a short stroll down a zig-zag path to the vast sweep of Bournemouth Bay, since there was no mention of its position in the small, black and white advert in the local newspaper, merely a smudgy photo of the front door. It seems incomprehensible now that a sea-front location would be unmentioned. Upon entering the house I experienced that immediate recognition that this was the house for us, even though Husband needed convincing.

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To begin with it was locked into an earnest, seventies style décor and many of the original. 1920s features had been replaced with teak-effect and wood chip wallpaper but the beautiful staircase and elegant doors were all there. We set about alterations, combining three rooms to provide the spacious kitchen/dining area that is still a popular choice today. Much later, longing to be elevated to a level where we could enjoy a sea view, we had a section of the roof cut away and the loft converted to provide a crows’ nest. It altered the appearance of the house in a way many would consider a travesty but has been the room we’ve lived in the most. The garden is unrecognisable from the bland space it was and now boasts mature borders, a beautiful pond, trees, a summerhouse and two patios. The old garage is adorned with Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea and a riotous tangle of honeysuckle, jasmine and ornamental hops tumble together from the fence.

 

Every home carries in its fabric stories of the inhabitants down through the years-even if they are untold. Here there have been wedding celebrations [two], arrivals, departures, parties, Christmas gatherings, murder mysteries, milestone birthdays, air show gatherings, musical soirees, a new generation coming along to explore, visitors, a burglary, barbecues and so much more.

My homecoming from work was always a joy, the sky becoming vast as I came nearer, the sunsets stunning and the winter gales a thrill.

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Our next home is a complete contrast, having been built much more recently with a light, contemporary interior, loads of glass and an open-plan design. We are swapping our sea panorama for a view over the river and the water meadows and the garden is a wedge of lawn leading to a small wooded area containing giant trees. The historic centre of the provincial town is just a few minutes’ walk along the road. Will we be as happy there as we have been in the old house? It remains to be seen.

 

 

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A Long Tale of Long Tails

                Despite the blazing sun, white sandy beach, extensive, tropical gardens, azure sea, herds of cushioned sunbeds and unlimited mango shakes, after two days of lolling around reading ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ [which I can highly recommend when travelling to foreign climes] I was itching for some activity.

                ‘This hotel is too posh for us’ was Husband’s pronouncement-a judgement I considered perhaps appropriate for him, but did not necessarily relate to myself.

                The fact was, the hotel-or rather the ‘resort’ as it liked to be known was certainly ‘posh’, in that it boasted two infinity pools, a spa, three restaurants, numerous bars [including one of those incorporated into a swimming pool], a fitness centre, beach barbecues, those low platforms with cushions for lounging around, coy, individual nooks furnished with pairs of sun loungers and a range of accommodation including private suites with personal pools etc

                That it was plush and luxurious could not be ignored. Neither could the problem that it was a taxi or a long tail boat ride away from anywhere we wanted to visit or activity we’d like to undertake.

                We set off for the nearest town, Ao Nang- a busy seaside resort awash with tourists; not unlike Torquay in high season, but with hot weather. Along the shore throngs of long tail boats bobbed gently in the waves, waiting to take eager tourists to a variety of destinations. We bought our tickets from the booth at the end of the promenade and were amongst the waiting passengers swept down on to the beach and into the sea to heave ourselves up a crude ladder [a dousing is unavoidable] and into the boat.

                A few minutes later we were chugging past an astonishing array of limestone outcrops and fascinating, sculptural cliff formations dotted with tiny fringes of beach as we made our way to Railay Rocks-a popular magnet for tourists; as demonstrated by the multitude of boats jostling for position on the beach. Most were disgorging visitors, some of whom were shouldering luggage in an attempt to keep it dry as they waded ashore.

                If you ignore the ‘walking street’ with its cafes, bars, shops and trinket sellers and walk through to the other side of the peninsula [ten minutes at most] you come to a bay furnished with mangroves. You turn right and walk towards the end and right again to encounter a warren of fantastic caves with dangling creepers and hoards of cheeky macaques; continue through the cave complex to a beach so beautiful as to be almost unreal, although predictably busy. Here there were more boats, some sporting fast food menus-fresh roasted corn, spring rolls and burgers. There were more caves, this time bizarre forests of enormous phalluses replacing the monkeys.

                Later we walked past the burgeoning hotels, bars and [strangely] a Thai boxing ring, around the mangrove bay to the other end. It was wilder, quieter with pockets of discreet accommodation. Later we joined the assembly of waiting passengers on the beach for our return to Ao Nang and our shuttle back to the opulent splendour of  the resort.

 

When You Know you are Out of Your Depth

Amongst the plethora of entertainment, leisure activities and sports events organised by our town, which besides being a place of residence, I should add, is also a seaside resort and  tourist magnet, is a ‘long swim’. I was treated to a preview of this phenomenon yesterday evening during a ‘shortish’ cycle.

I am an admirer of those who are adept at swimming; those who are as at home in the water as they are with their two feet planted on the land. I envy them. They can dive carelessly from boats into the Aegean whilst enjoying their day cruises in Turkey while I can only watch from the safety of the deck and pretend I’ve a water allergy. They can fling themselves wantonly into the waves and disappear into the froth as they submerge, reappearing without spluttering, coughing, shrieking in terror or vomiting up the seawater they’ve ingested. This expertise all looks cool and elegant. Even in a hotel swimming pool fellow guests complete slow, unhurried lengths from shallow to deep and back, flipping over to view something or undertaking that mysterious ‘treading water’ thing that I’ve never mastered.

It isn’t that I am unable to swim. I can. In my twenties I spent all of one winter learning in a class of adults, shivering in an Olympic sized pool, taught with great patience by swimming teachers who understood the panic experienced by those who have lived all the way to adulthood without having mastered the aquatic arts. I kicked, I glided, I even dived with enough encouragement. But the incontrovertible fact remains: I do not enjoy the water. I do not like to have my face submerged. I cannot throw caution to the wind and submit my stature to depths deeper than its height.

In circumstances where the temperature is so hot I need to cool off I may climb laboriously down a ladder into the shallow end of a swimming pool, providing there are no more than about two other adults there-[no children-children splash ]. I might hang there, clinging to the ladder for a few moments before climbing out. I might even undertake a cautious flap across the width at the shallow end, within reach of the side, executing my undignified, unorthodox version of breast stroke which involves numerous, panicky gyrations with my head stuck above the water. On reaching the other side I grab whatever ledge is there, make for the ladder and thence to the safety of the sun-bed.

Most people can swim these days, having learned at school or from holidays abroad. But I was raised in a small village by non-swimming parents. Our holidays were camping jaunts taken in farmers’ fields and a day at the seaside was an occasion involving buckets, spades, sandwiches, rolled up trousers and knotted handkerchiefs on heads.

There is one positive outcome of my land-lubbing childhood: it is that as soon as my own children could walk, and long before they started school, I ensured beyond any doubt that they learned to swim, so whatever sins of parenthood I may have wrought upon them they have no qualms about taking to the water.