Thursday had been designated as recovery day. We left College Boy in bed and drove the familiar route to Tesco to stock up on essentials and goodies, for Lovely Hub’s oldest friend was visiting at lunchtime with his five-year old daughter. They were staying with his family for a few days so the timing was good.
CB had announced his intention of staying in bed all day because that London had taken it out of him – and besides – he didn’t like little kids – especially girls. We were instructed not to disturb him until the house was clear of visitors again.
It was good to see such an old friend; good to see how his daughter had grown into such a bright, happy little girl and what a wonderful dad he had turned into. I was flagging by the time lunch was over but the three of them had boundless energy apparently so with my grateful blessing, they went off to the seashore and I – to my bed. Hub took his camera so I have photographic evidence of what a good time they had; climbing on the rocks they both knew as children, teenagers and wayward young men.
My afternoon sleep was disturbed by a malfunctioning intruder alarm. CB never heard a thing. I cooked dinner for Hub and me but CB prepared his own and put way too much hot stuff on it. His overloaded system rebelled and he went off for another lie down so that when another of my cousins turned up that evening with her eldest son, CB was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t really matter as he would undoubtedly have become restless. Listening to us reminiscing and catching up on family news leaves him cold. The eldest of my Auntie P’s daughters, this particular cousin is especially cherished; we spent a great deal of time together when I was younger, she introduced me to volunteer work in a children’s home which ultimately led to my (sometimes) chosen career in social work. She also introduced me to a man who worked there. She fancied him but I got him – although after a year of his grumbling and dissatisfaction, I dumped him on the day before New Year’s Eve by throwing a parcel of cooling chips in his lap and slamming his car door so hard that the window smashed. During the year we were together we went for a week’s holiday in St Ives. The high point of the holiday was coming home a day early. Who would have thought that it was possible to argue from St Ives to Southampton without a break.
Apart from introducing me to the Welsh version of the Grinch and consigning me to a life of having to care about other people too much, my cousin has also been there for me in the most difficult of times; she and her mother drove all day to be there when my Lovely Mum had a stroke and came back two months later to support us at the funeral. When Ronnie died she was there for us too, driving up in dreadful conditions with her new partner and another of my much-loved cousins.
I had smatterings of information from Facebook about her new partner and he was even better in actuality but my curiosity was piqued and I needed to know more. Like many of the people in my family, my cousin has overcome adversity and emerged phoenix-like from the flames. In a brave but sensible decision, she and her husband put an end to a marriage that was no longer good for them. They have managed to stay friends and ensure that their children do not suffer from the break up as so many other children do. She set about rebuilding her life; she ran, got slim and took up sailing, acquiring a whole new lifestyle in the process and much later, a new partner.
I admire her for her courage, for her tenacity and for the fact that she has always been a giver. She looks extremely good right now, fit, healthy and with a natural tan to die for. Just as it had on our second night, the talking went on till late, many questions were answered but there was much laughter too. I managed to stay upright when walking this cousin out to her car. I slept well that night.
Our last full day and one that has a rosy glow of happiness around it. CB had recovered from his hot stuff overdose of the night before and agreed to accompany us out to the Forest to visit Auntie P and some more of her family, another of my cousins, and the jewel in the crown for me – Exbury Gardens. A place that I go to in my head when everything else turns to mush. There is something about Exbury that sums up the South of England; driving through the Forest to get there, the lush gardens and the Beaulieu river running through, the sound of the seagulls and tantalising glimpses of the sea and the Island beyond. Hub and I went there long ago, before the boys were born. The image I hold in my head; sitting on a stone bench warmed by the sun, grass beneath my feet, a slight wind bringing the salty sea tang and the gull voices close by. I can shut my eyes and be there whenever I need to but even the most vivid memories need refreshing.
Every time we go home for a week I intend to get back to Exbury but this time we managed it. We took Lovely Mum’s box of treasure with us and it was a delight to see Auntie P, her youngest daughter and her granddaughter rummaging through and finding items to enjoy and remember Mum by. CB was mollified by the presence of their dog (too small for him but a dog nevertheless).
We set off in convoy to Exbury; it was wonderful to see the vast stretch of heathland that epitomises the New Forest for me, and for Lovely Hub too. CB couldn’t remember having seen it before and he’s right; he probably was a lot younger the last time we drove out this way.
Lunch in the tea shop at the Gardens and a very kind lady allowed us to sit in the annexe opposite the main cafe so that the dog could stay with us. She was so well-behaved – unlike her human counterparts who did much laughing and scoffing of scones and Dorset Apple cake. We decided that after lunch Auntie P and I – having a dodgy hip and a dodgy knee between us – would embark on the buggy ride round the Gardens, whilst the more active members – including the dog – took a leisurely stroll and met up with us later.
Our buggy driver was excellent; just the three of us on board, she was a wonderful elderly lady with a wealth of knowledge about Exbury and could sling that buggy round corners better than Lewis Hamilton. We went into hidden nooks and crannies that most people never see. I found the vista that I’d been longing for and my equilibrium was restored.
We bumped into the rest of the family a couple of times, then ravaged the gift shop for Exbury fudge and gluten-free biscuits to take back to work. Goodbye hugs all round and off for another family visit on the way home.
Just a few miles up the road and the home of my lovely cousin who held the big fat family wedding of last year. CB was in his element – another dog and this one was more frisky than the last, egged on by my cousin’s small son and a much-loved squeaky toy. We were so comfortable that we stayed longer than planned. The hardest part of this holiday has been the tearing away from people that we love so much and wish we had more time with.
Hamble called however and a visit from my big bruv and sister-in-law; a blissful end to an even better than hoped for week. Well it would have been but there was an anguished call from UB, who had been off on a jaunt to Manch and managed to lose his door key. We would normally leave a key with our friends and neighbours but forgot this time. Very kindly they offered UB a bed for the night and I promised faithfully that we would set off early and get back home as soon as we could. Being the sleep-all-day student that he is, I could foresee a slight problem as our neighbours are often up and out with the lark now that they are retired.
Just before eleven that night I had a phone call from UB – fashion plate that he is – he was wearing skin-tight jeans. so tight that he didn’t realise his door key had slipped into a hidden pocket, only to be found when he was getting ready for bed. He said his ‘thank you’s’ nicely (he’s always polite – even when being fluently sarcastic) hopped over the garden wall and tucked himself up in his own bed at last.
Pressure off, packing up the next day was a rather more leisurely business, and we didn’t leave till late morning, with a slight detour to say goodbye to Mutti and Farty and check on their appliance wiring – spaghetti junction in miniature. Lovely Hub sorted things out whilst CB and I had a nice chat with Mutti, and I managed to leap into the car without have to touch skin with Farty at all. He had annoyed me by calling me Miranda when I arrived – I am not at all convinced by the air of confusion he contrives. We escaped – la!
Lunch at Burger King and a very fast and uneventful journey home with Hub the only one awake – fortunately. The horrendous task of unpacking the car and redistributing the piles of belongings around the house began – not to mention the mountain of washing that had built up courtesy of the poor drying weather.
Family reassured that we are home and safe via phone, text and email; UB awake and bleary-eyed and once all the PCs and laptops are up and running, kebabs ordered and cider poured, we are content again – but oh, how we miss you lot down South xxxxxxx.