As 2019 begins to run out and the days and nights become increasingly darker and colder, a certain dispiritedness set into the bones, not even Christmas or a General Election can banish the reluctance to engage in any physical activity and the urge to do nothing becomes ever more tempting. As I now have quite a few years under the bonnet it really does take some effort to crank the engine into life and banish the devil on the shoulder, whispering dissentious phrases into a growingly receptive ear. Do I not remember sprinting out of many a winter changing room dressed only in shorts, shirt, socks and boots, onto a soaking muddy rugby pitch into the teeth of a bitingly fierce north wind and loving every second of it? Did I really feel that ‘alive’ or was I just that ‘foolish’ to believe that numerous broken bones, innumerable bruises and cuts were worth the price? I have my memories and mostly they are good ones, it’s that just sometimes when it’s cold, wet and windy, I want to be left to immerse myself in them in front of a warm wood burner. Not too much to ask, is it?
On the 11th Nov., I accompanied Jamie to the Nationwide Building Society, to discuss his taking over the mortgage, now that Ashton and he have parted company. I was there as a guarantor in the unlikely event it became necessary to secure the loan. I was very impressed with the way Jamie negotiated his way through a process that was not straightforward. He had all the necessary paperwork at hand, knew the answers to questions asked and like-wise, satisfied himself with his own appropriate questions. A very professional performance, and I felt quite proud of him. This was not the same little boy whose world ended when he left his cuddly seal on an aeroplane on returning from holiday!
Jamie had booked that week off work, originally we were planning on another road trip, Singapore and Israel had been discussed, but sorting out the finances on his house took priority. Instead, after his meeting, he travelled down to London for a few days and spent some time on his FX Learning business with meetings and training. He returned on the 14th and we drove up to March Chapel in Lincolnshire and checked into the Duckthorpe Grange B&B. I chose this accommodation because it was close to the focus of our trip, the seals at Donna Nook Nature Reserve. Every November and December, grey seals come to the Donna Nook coastline to give birth to their pups near the sand dunes; a wildlife spectacle which attracts visitors from across the UK. Hopefully, this trip will relieve the trauma of losing a little cuddly seal, left on a plane, a long time ago!
The weather in the UK had been atrocious all week; on the morning of our departure Sue had attempted to drive to the cinema in Kettering but had to return due to the roads being flooded, it didn’t bode well for our journey. We left around 1pm and arrived in the dark, early that evening having splashed our way through too many flooded roads to count. I didn’t know my little Fiesta could swim so well!
Soon after checking in, we headed for the White Horse Inn situated in the village. After a filling meal of Steak and Kidney pudding and chips, we settled down to watch England thrash Montenegro at 7:0 in the bar with just a few of the locals. Strangely, by the time the match finished, there was only the landlord and us two left watching the game in an otherwise empty pub. I assume they are not sports fans in this part of Lincolnshire.
After a rather sophisticated breakfast (that’s the best description I can give) we drove the short distance to Donna Nook.
This time of year on the East Coast it is usually bitterly cold and today was no exception, thankfully it wasn’t raining. We parked up along with just half a dozen or so, they expect around 4000 visitors daily, when the weather is good and at weekends. After a short walk over the dunes, we came to the low-fenced barrier which keeps the humans and seals apart. The seals seem nonchalant of their two-legged observers and many lay right up against the flimsy wood and wire railing affording easy and adorable photos.
Seals, pups and bulls lay among the sand and marram grass as far as the eye could see. We walked the full length of the observation area taking photos and discussing the commotion in front of us. Huge bulls engaged in charging and fighting, small white pups awkwardly exploring their surroundings and mothers sunbathing, listlessly keeping an eye on their little blubbery treasures. All the time a caterwaul of noise, with the most recognisable being, ‘MUM’ (I am hungry, feed me!!!!)
The saddest sight was a poor pup laying next to its mother, eyes wide open and obviously dead. The mother staring at us with doleful eyes, enough to break your heart, nature is raw and cruel at times.
In another incident, a gorgeous white pup laying alongside its mum is the target of another distraught mother, desperate after the loss of her own and intent on seal napping. The terrified youngster did the sensible thing and flopped desperately out of the way up a small dune as the two matriarchs fought ferociously. Thankfully, it was a rightful outcome and the insurgent flopped a little way off, no doubt waiting for another occasion.
Several huge bulls wallowing in a mud pool grabbed our attention when they suddenly roared and rising up to their full height charged into each other, biting viciously where ever they could get purchase with their teeth. Mothers and pups alike scattered as tonnes of testosterone-full bulls slipped, slithered and charged into each other, intent on damage and domination, remarkably fast for their size and frighteningly dangerous for those caught nearby. Then as soon as it began, it ended. No whistle, no yellow or red cards, what was that all about?
Thoroughly frozen through we headed back to the heater in the car and drove to Mablethorpe. The website describes it as, ‘a traditional seaside holiday resort on the Lincolnshire Coast with Blue Flag award-winning sandy beaches. Safe and friendly, Mablethorpe is perfect for a family holiday and just as popular with more mature visitors during term time.’ We have visited the resort as a family during the summer and the best I can say is that it lacks character but has a beach. In November, you don’t want to go on the beach! We sat in a seafront café drinking hot chocolate, looking at the waves crashing onto the shore and chatting at length about the sights and sounds of the Donna Nook grey seals.
Warmed, we ventured a walk through the town centre before stopping to play a couple of games of ten-pin bowling in one of the arcades. I lost both games, I was robbed!
It was dark by the time we returned to Duckthorpe Grange. We ate again at the White Horse, though the ‘mixed grill ‘order was a definite mistake. Not for the quality or presentation but for the sheer quantity of food. In the description it did state ‘Not for the fainthearted, we should have paid attention. I could only manage half of mine, though Jamie (bless him) nearly completed his penance and suffered for it the rest of the evening. We discovered that though the locals were not soccer fans, they did appreciate darts. It must have been darts night as all the locals were engaged in the game, either playing or watching a match on the two TV’s. Leaving with bloated stomachs we left them to it.
The drive back to Harborough was a much quicker and drier affair, in daylight you could see why great swathes of the country were under a flood warning. Much of the low-lying ground I passed was now a series of lakes, with flocks of feathered wildlife taking advantage of the freshly drowned landscape. A deceptively pretty sight, yet I think any burrowing creature may have a different viewpoint.
Determined to ‘sort’ my knee and foot out, I have each morning been religiously ‘doing’ my exercises and then following this up by hitting the paths and lanes of Leicestershire on my mountain bike for an hour or more. There has been a great improvement on my mobility, the knee showing the greatest, it now aches very little though I am very wary of putting it to any severe test. The foot, however still wants to tip me over to the right and irritatingly randomly decides to let me know it is there with painful spasms. On the bright side, I can now walk for at least three hours without too much discomfort for the rest of the day, and now thankfully I can sleep through the night without being woken by a ligament or bone wanting to be in some other position.
Late on the 27th Nov., I drove up to Manchester with the family. Weather-wise, it was a filthy night, with rain all the way and heavy traffic. Charlotte and Jamie joined Sue and me in Harborough, we picked Sarah up in Newbold Verdon on our way north. We were going to attend Uncle Stanley’s funeral and meet up with Sue’s sister Philippa, her husband Paul and Simon their son. We had booked into an apartment in Whitefield, chosen as it was near to the crematorium. Arriving at 9.30pm in the dark and with the rain pelting down we were pleasantly surprised that our accommodation was very, very comfortable: Apartment No.1, The Old Red King Pub. Obviously, an old public house that has been converted into separate apartments. Very plush and a welcome relief after a long tiresome journey. Arriving around the same time as ourselves, Philippa and Paul were travelling up from Devon and staying with Simon, he lived not too far away from our location. Their journey took 6 hours!
As the females in the family set about exploring our nest for the night, Jamie and I braved the rain and crossed over the road to a local hostelry and enjoyed some refreshment and the company of some of the locals.
It rained all night and was still pouring down when we woke around 8am. The weather forecast for the day was not great as we ate our continental breakfast in the well-provisioned and very modern kitchen. We left the apartment at 11am and drove the short distance through heavy Manchester traffic to the crematorium. Though set in a large park surrounded by trees and gravestones (most, adorned with fresh blooms), it looked particularly bleak and grey under leaden skies intent on pouring down wet gloom. Perhaps it was an appropriate day for a funeral.
The plan had been to spend some time in a local park before attending the service, but that was out of the question, so after a short family vote we opted to visit the Salford Art Museum. The fact it was near, dry and free swung the vote against the alternative of shopping in a Salford Mall. In the end, we did neither. Finding no parking spaces outside the museum, Sue was insistent that we return to the crematorium and wait until we either drowned or the service took place.
The service took place at 1pm. There were around twenty mourners and despite the unpleasant conditions outside, Stanley was given a good send-off. The arrangements had been made by one of his old neighbours and good friend Hilary Blood. None of us in the family had heard Stanley speak of Hilary, but she was obviously a very good and caring friend to him and she organised the service and after-tea well, with sympathy to his final wishes. Stanley was a very private person and I think no one in the congregation got to know his full story, but from the eulogy given by the minister, a few words that I spoke and those from Hilary herself I think we all learnt just a little more about Sue’s and Philippa’s uncle.
After an appropriate Frank Sinatra rendition of ‘My Way’, we reassembled a short drive away at a local pub. Warm drinks and small buffet lunch were provided (courtesy of Stanley’s funeral plan). We chatted and got to know a little more of our fellow mourners, but with quite a few more wet miles to drive that day it wasn’t long before we said our goodbyes and with the light fading we moved out into the carpark for Sue and Philippa to swap Christmas presents. As they were doing this Jamie noticed that one of my car tyres was noticeably deflated. With the drizzle falling, Paul kindly lent me his tyre pump (rather than dismantle the contents of my boot to access mine), he and I then went for a quick sprint on the foot pump while the younger members of the family watched on! With the tyre reflated, we again said our goodbyes and headed off in separate directions.
The journey back to Harborough was again plagued by rain and heavy traffic, depressingly all the way! But we made it safe and sound, yet another testament to the experience gained over many years of driving with young children in the rear seats. Today, those children were still in the rear seats, now considerably older and a lot more sceptical/critical of their father’s driving skills, but they are still here, enough said I think.