You probably all know by now that, even by British standards, we have had a lot of rain. Our beautiful green and pleasant land has been lashed by vicious gales and storms and many mighty old trees have fallen. We haven’t been able to get out much due to the kind of winds that could take your entire weight if you leant into them, but this morning was lovely – a fickle change of weather into an apparently sunny and warm spring day – so we went for a walk down to our local beach. The route takes us through a small and really pretty golf course, which is notable for its beautiful trees. There were many casualties: a huge Douglas fir, which must have borne witness to generations of golfers, lay uprooted, and a gorgeous willow which we had admired so many times in passing, lay across a lawn, callously torn out of the ground and slung on its side as if suddenly deemed surplus to requirements. It was heartbreaking.
We knew there had been damage to a whole row of beach huts – I realise in the light of what has happened across the rest of the UK this looks like very small fry indeed – but it is only rarely that folks like Stephen and me get to see, at first hand, how terrible and uncompromising are the elements once unleashed. As we got closer to the beach we were shocked by the damage – the wood from beach huts destroyed further down the coast had been dragged along the beach by the sea and crashed with shocking force underneath huts that were otherwise unscathed. Railings marking the edge of the promenade were bent and broken where the waves had dumped tons of stones and detritus onto them. It looked like some kind of demolition derby. Huge chunks of asphalt lay as if dropped from a great height. Presumably the force of the waves broke up the promenade and dumped pieces of it further up as the waves broke. There was subdued conversation amongst the many sightseers as each contemplated the immense and unstoppable might of the elements. Teams of volunteers were out en masse as well as the army, who were collecting up huge piles of brightly coloured splintered wood; many of the huts were only lovingly repainted last season but now they are reduced to a pile of matchsticks. Some of them have been in families for generations, and an area had been set aside to display the contents as and when they were washed up, so they could be reclaimed by their owners. A poignant reminder of happier and sunnier days.
Highcliffe beach is beautiful, and it is proudly cared for as an important part of our heritage and our tourist industry, and I felt incredibly sad to see the devastation down there. However, there was also an amazing sense of team spirit, almost tangible to those who came, like us, as observers. And some interesting sights, that I have judged differently than I would have done, pre-cancer. Isn’t it strange how these experiences change one’s attitude? A lady was sitting in her sun chair, tucked just inside one of the remaining beach huts, out of the wind, but in full sun. She was happily reading a magazine and drinking her coffee, whilst around her seethed organised chaos. I wasn’t the only one to notice it, as several people had stopped to take pictures. I wasn’t quite that brave. Presumably they were all shocked to see somebody, apparently able bodied, clearly relaxing in the sun whilst everyone cleared up around her. I was about to join that critical camp when I noticed how slim she was. And the headscarf. And all of a sudden I understood why the people around her were smiling and chatting to her while they worked. No sense of ‘here’s a shovel, get on with a bit of work, why don’t you?!’ No. More a gratitude that she was feeling well enough to come and sit in the sun to keep them company. It is moments like this that stop me with a jolt and a bit of a gulp. I was doing the same thing last year, at our friend’s beach hut. How could I forget so quickly?
Actually, my body hasn’t forgotten, even if my mind seems to have blanked it out and moved on. I have been excitedly making very good use of my free membership to the Littledown Centre; I now regularly make it to my Hydrofit class and Wellfit circuits, and tonight I’m off to a treasure of a hatha yoga class I have discovered. Sunday evening is a bit of a weird time to attend a class, but this is all made easy because we have a slow cooker. Absolutely the very best thing we have ever bought. Definitely better than the hoover. But possibly up there with the dishwasher. We prepare a lovely stew earlier in the day and leave it to gently bubble for about six hours. So Stephen gets some peace and quiet and I go and chill out at yoga and we eat when I get back. Result. My Libra Ascendant loves it when everyone is happy. But I digress. I’m finding that the exercise is definitely stirring things up. We went away last weekend to a place that had a swimming pool and a games hall to die for (more of that in a minute), so all of that activity, combined with my usual classes, seems to have prompted a massive and most unpleasant rebound detox. I am back to feeling very toxic, with chemo on my breath and a very upset GI tract. All of this made me feel pretty low, and it was exacerbated by what I suspect are some menopausal hormones still floating around that weren’t destroyed by the chemo. Or maybe they are part of my new bionic body. I don’t know, but I wish they would go away. Nobody really talks about this so I need to do some investigation. Anyway, there were tears aplenty a couple of days ago as the greyness that had been accumulating finally came to the surface, and crashed like a massive wave all over Stephen. I really am getting so bored of all this, as I am sure is he, although he is such a darling he never shows it. However, I do honestly think that the only way round this is through it, so in typical cardinal style, I am just keeping going, on the basis that there will come a day when there is no more chemo to come out. I jolly well hope so, but at least by that point I will be incredibly fit.
Have you heard of Moonfleet? It is a children’s novel written in 1898, full of swashbuckling smuggling and devilry on the Dorset coast. Stephen found out from a recent newspaper feature that there really is a Moonfleet Manor, which served as inspiration for the author, John Meade Faulkner who stayed there while he was writing the book. Situated right on the famous Chesil Beach, it was originally built as a farmhouse around 1600, then renovated and added to through the centuries as the new owners saw fit. It is now owned by the Luxury Family Hotel group (which we certainly didn’t realise when we booked it!) and takes the form of a massive sprawling house with annexes and huge lounges with roaring fires. They needed to be roaring when we went there, I can tell you. The room originally allocated to us was on an exposed corner, facing the beach, and as we were shown into it, the receptionist said she figured we wouldn’t get much sleep as it was bucking and creaking like an old ship – so they had moved us further back into the building. Even that room was creaking and groaning but very atmospheric as opposed too insomniac-inducing. The whole place was decorated in a really random fashion, sort of driftwood meets shabby chic, with huge treasure chests or unusual statues at every turn. But in a tasteful, lived-in way. Honestly. After a very quick sortie around the gardens, we discovered we couldn’t in fact stand up in the wind so we set out to explore the Verandah, which is an ex cowshed (judging by the smell) converted to a huge games room. There were a few families in there, but SO many things to do.
We regressed by about 40 years and threw ourselves into table tennis, pool, air hockey (do you remember that?!), bowling, trampolining, playing the old honky-tonk piano….then as the other families left, exploring the never-ending passageways which lay behind the hall. Doorways led into rooms, which led into more passageways, all contributing to the feeling that we had stumbled through a famous wardrobe into a magical children’s paradise. An abandoned umbrella in an otherwise unfurnished back room. Who was there, and why? In the course of our wanderings we discovered a massive four poster day bed, covered in rich, oriental fabrics and cushions. Was it really there just for children to clamber over? We had discovered that this was a family hotel like no other I had ever seen. According to the information in our room there were teams of trained nannies for all occasions, ready to whisk your little treasures off whenever required to a diverse selection of activities. Oh yes. At no extra charge, Luxury Parents can book a Sunday Lie-In. How amazing is that? Nanny pitches up at 8.00 on Sunday morning, relieves you of your precious cargo, and hey presto! You have a child-free morning with breakfast in bed. So incredibly civilised.
One of the diverse activities on offer is the swimming pool. Although there were several little darlings already in there when we arrived, red cheeked and excited from our exploring, they left very soon, so we were at liberty to play with all the pool toys. The pool was the perfect depth, four feet six inches, so it was good for swimming as well as games. I tried to play volleyball but my frozen shoulder isn’t quite better yet, so we resorted to playing ‘catch’ with a blow-up beach ball, and believe me, leaping up and down out of the water to catch the ball is very tiring, especially after swimming a few lengths. Yes, my shoulder is sufficiently recovered that I can now swim in a straight line! So excited. I took one of the foam tubes to show Stephen what we do with them in Hydrofit, and we were soon racing each other across the pool, giggling like school children. What a brilliant afternoon J. After a quick sauna we repaired to our room for a well-earned rest and to change for dinner.
Which was where we truly got to see some of these luxury families in action. Oh boy, was that fun. We were enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine in one of the lounges, trying to ignore the irritating noises coming from an electronic toy a few sofas away, where Luxury Mummy had decided to record luxury daughter’s experiences from the day. ‘Look at the camera darling. Now, what did you like best in the crèche today?’ Luxury daughter (four-ish) replies, ‘Em, well I really liked the toys’. Luxury Mummy, ‘And what do you like about the hotel?’ Luxury daughter, ‘Em, well I really like it because it is quite like home, but a little bit different’. I am sure another probing question was on its way when Luxury Mummy rapidly changed track, with, ‘CHARLIE, IF YOU DON’T STOP THAT THIS MINUTE AND BEHAVE YOU WILL GO STRAIGHT BACK TO YOUR ROOM WITH NO DINNER!’ Luxury Daddy appears, ‘More wine, darling?’ It was so much fun. We got to see a lot more of them at dinner as they were seated a few tables back from us in an otherwise empty restaurant (this was very off-season, remember). Well actually I heard it as I was facing away, but it was very entertaining. Luxury son had to be escorted on several trips to the bathroom as he was apparently suffering from a sore tummy, but we learnt that all was finally well as Luxury Mummy proudly announced he had produced a good result on his last visit. As witnessed by Luxury Daughter. Dearie me. I assume he was fully recovered by the next morning as he was busily stuffing a chocolate muffin in his mouth when we arrived for breakfast.
We did actually have a lovely time. Staying at Moonfleet Manor is like going back to some bygone era, but with none of the air of ‘Please Don’t Touch’ that afflicts many of our national treasures. Everything is touchable and very lived-in. We can’t wait to go back, but it will definitely be very off-peak when we do. I don’t think I can face too many Luxury Families in one go!
Our hearts go out to everyone who is suffering hardship through this horrendous weather. Thinking of you, wherever you are.