Warning – the post contains images that some readers might find upsetting.
It had been a glorious day weather wise but the forecast for the next few days was really rather grim and although we arrived in sunshine clouds were already worryingly close by and the prospects were depressingly bleak.
Before travel I had rather recklessly accepted a challenge from Kim to sometime this week take a dip in the North Sea and although this was only mid March I had rashly accepted. There was a £10 bet resting on this and as I was not about to part with £10, even to Kim, especially to Kim, so I decided that it had to be done straight away.
Bloody Hell it was cold. It reminded me of family holidays sixty years ago.
Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach in those days and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea. If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm. Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.
As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is these days considered even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.
It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean. I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach! That is seriously true and being so far from the South Pole I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.
I claimed the £10 bet but Kim reneged saying that I hadn’t fully submerged so it didn’t count and the bet was off. I was too cold to dispute the finer points of the claim.
As promised in the weather forecast the next two days were desperately awful with rain, sleet, snow and high winds whipping in from Scandinavia so for much of the time we were confined to the caravan which was painful but not as bad as swimming in the North Sea.
I have horror memories of caravan holidays. When I was a boy the family went to caravan holidays all of the time. Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which, I seem to remember was most of the time .
They had no bathroom so we had to use the communal camp washroom facilities, it had no electricity so we couldn’t watch TV, it had no kitchen so we couldn’t cook breakfast and it didn’t have heating so when it was cold it was really cold. The only thing it did have was a bottle of Calor Gas and a one ring hob for boiling a kettle and for lighting hissing gas lamps at night which attracted insects and created so much condensation that after an hour or two, water was dripping off the ceiling onto our sleeping bags on the floor and we were sleeping in a puddle.
As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me. They took us for a seaside in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of Calor Gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining.
I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and our accommodation had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen. So we we filled the fridge with wine, cooked a Shepherd’s Pie that Mum had prepared previously, closed the doors and hunkered down for a couple of days in the comfort of our caravan.
As it turned out it wasn’t bad weather all of the time, only about 95% of the time out so in between blizzard like Arctic showers and savage North Sea winds we did manage to get out for an hour or two.
I especially wanted to go to Aldeburgh because last time that I was there I had a mind to have some fish and chips from a highly recommended chippy but this was in August and there was queue which lasted well over an hour and however much I like fish and chips I wasn’t prepared to line up for that long.
Today there was no queue so I breezed in and ordered and took them away to the beach to eat them. I sat myself on the sea wall with an uninterrupted view out over the North Sea, the colour of a day-old bruise, rippling away to the horizon under gunmetal skies. I unwrapped with anticipation and immediately received the anticipated aroma which, once released smells of all the good things in life in the same place at the same time. The very warmth of it felt like a reassuring defender against the chill wind coming off the sea.
As it happened, the fish was good, the chips were poor, I enjoyed them but I wouldn’t queue for over an hour to buy them.
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