This weekend started with winning a pub quiz. I guess we are all getting along a bit and have a fair few facts under our belts.
Then on Saturday we went to the seaside. About six drinkers-without-incumbents were supposed to be going, but in the end I fucked up on some dates and it was Matt, ‘Midge’ and me on the train at Victoria. The queues to get tickets were stupid, I mean stupid*. Nobody would tell me whether there would be a revenue collector on the train, I knew if we got fined I would seethe for the entire weekend, so I queued, commiserated with the similarly-discount-entitled pensioners behind me, loudly declaring that They would drive me back onto the roads, and planning arguments to persuade Matt and Midge to sit in First Class.
We were going to Broadstairs, Thanet, Kent. Unlike much of the South East coast there’s sand (which I prefer) and not only that, there’s everything else you might want at the seaside. There are flower-strung chalk cliffs, a lighthouse, smuggling history, several bays each with its own character and features including rock pools, surfing, hewn tidal swimming pool – well-placed toilets, festive beach huts and the Dickens Museum (Bleak House is there). The restaurants are mostly fish and chips and Italian. So despite intentions to explore, when we go to the seaside in our corner of England we almost invariably end up in Broadstairs – and if the tide is in (unlike here) Stone Bay is good for swimming.
So we got to the town, had a veggie burger and the best chips I’d had all year sitting up on the cliff-top footpath in the town looking out to sea, backed by the fragrant roses overflowing through the railings of a little public garden, bathed in hot sunlight and flanked by two men singing unfeasible A-ha covers, accompanying themselves with a banjo and a guitar. The Irish women to our left sung along loudly and demanded Irish songs, to which one of the men lied “But all our songs are Irish”. Although I laughed a lot and sung choruses thickly through my chips, I managed to not spit any food down myself that day – Matt and I have been shaking our heads in disbelief recently, finding ourselves daubed in ketchup, sprinkled with crisp crumbs, mushy peas etc.
Then Matt and Midge extracted authorisation to watch the rugby in the Barnaby Rudge. I had an hour paddling and lying on the beach looking straight up at the gulls and kites in my field of vision and listening to the squeaking of the children. Wetsuits seem to have come down in price. Good idea at this time of year. The weather was perfect – hot sun, cool breeze, warming sand. I returned just as a very young man retched up a blue pool – of Wkd, I’d guess – on the steps. After a brief conflab, I decided to get Matt and me some swimming stuff, cos stupidly we’d assumed we couldn’t swim because, well, this is England and there are icebergs until the last two weeks in August. Midge had brought his. One thing I learnt this weekend (from a slightly uncertain source in a shop which dealt in homeopathy) is that beyond about factor 20 you don’t get much benefit from sun cream, that most of the benefit is anyway through reflection.
England lost the rugby by a whisker on the last goal-thing. Shrug.
Back to Stone Bay we went. The tide was starting to go out (it gets hard to swim at that bay when the tide’s out because of the rocks, but while it’s in, it is a beautiful sandy beach). Matt and I went in while Midge minded our stuff. I’m not sure why it was so warm. Perhaps there was a sandbank in the bay which had allowed the sun to warm the water. The sands round Thanet move a lot, which is why there’ve been so many wrecks. Anyway, it was lovely, and we played with the frisbee and swam for a long time.
Then our friends who live in a nearby village arrived and took us back to their place. We ate at their local pub, then after that closed, sat in their garden looking up at the layers of stars and counting satellites. We slept in their tent because their house is a building site at the moment. It was fresh but there was a double sleeping bag. Fantastic if short night’s sleep woken by the heat at about 7 (opened all the flaps), the lakeland terrier at 8 and some abysmally-rung church bells at 9. We decided to have a barbequed breakfast, and by the time that was finished and washed up in the bath it was 2. We got on a train at some station in the middle of nowhere at about quarter to four and back by 6.30.
The weather remained better than good. This is your English summer; you’d be mad to go anywhere else**.
* I have a goldcard which entitles me to 33% off and my fare up to boundary Zone 4. I have to queue and buy a ticket from a ticket officer in order to get this discount. I can’t win – either they rob my time or they rob my cash. Bastard Network Rail. Anyway, the queue for the Quick Ticket machines were also mad. And you know, after all that, how much my discount was? 55p. 55p. And the moral of this story is a) check prices on the web to see what your discount is and b) buy your ticket far in advance and have it delivered.
** We are going to Green Man again, this time better equipped. A Lazy Joe camping chair and rubberised army surplus hooded poncho, plus (possibly) modern beach windbreak. Green Man is of course in Wales.