“WE’VE GONE ON HOLIDAY BY MISTAKE. We’re in this cottage here. Are you the farmer?”
“Stop SAYING that Withnail – of COURSE he’s the fucking farmer”
So went my mind for most of my recent half term holiday in North Norfolk, without my husband, with two of my friends, and also with an idiotic number of our own children except that instead of needing to procure fuel and wood like Withnail we spent a great deal of time trying to procure something, anything, which would make 1. our children behave and 2. do it without wifi.
We were staying in the picturesque village of Blakeney; apparently one of the UK’s busiest ports in the middle ages, which is also around the last time anyone made any significant improvements to the mobile phone network. Having wilfully entered into this single-parent ‘holiday’ of our own free will, I don’t think any of us were really prepared to get through it without at the very least being able to phone our (presumably hard-at-work) husbands to report back each evening on just how miserable your own children can make you, but it wasn’t to be.
No signal. None. And no wifi in our cottage. At one point, desperate to procure a takeaway at 7pm on a Thursday night in the dark of the Norfolk night, we seriously considered the risks involved in one of us stalking off alone into the marshes to get enough bars to text a husband in TOKYO to get him to use his (presumably plenteous) internet to google the location of the nearest takeaway, praying it would be closer than Norwich. And, visible by the light of the stars on the ancient paper AA map down the back of the seats of my car. Sat nav is not your friend in these parts.
Connection issues aside, there are lots of lovely things to do in this part of the world. It’s just that free from their normal routine and in the company of their friends and one less parent than usual, kids can be – well, idiots, frankly. The three of us adults, best friends since early pregnancy have between us spawned a trio of increasingly belligerent seven year olds, and what can be collectively described as a clusterfuck of four year olds. (I’m reasonably confident that every other visitor going crabbing off Blakeney quayside would agree that’s the correct collective noun). We’re well versed in bollocking each other’s children. Luckily. Here’s what we did for ‘fun’ on our ‘holiday’, in case you too fancy travelling back to circa 1952 during the next school holidays…
Seal Spotting off Blakeney point.
On the face of it, this sounds like a great idea. What could be nicer than an open boat trip into the North Sea, as the light is fading on nearly November day with eleventy billion hyped up children in your care to spot some seals. I’ll tell you what isn’t – the tortuous wait on the quayside along with all the other, better behaved guests for the other boats as you try to prevent your kids from throwing stones at the parked cars, falling off the dock into certain cold, grey, drowny death and wearing most of the tidal mud in the estuary on their arses as they become comically stuck and unstuck in the shores. It got so awful at one point that I even instigated a desperate game of ‘simon says’ despite the presence of onlookers. Which is saying something. On the plus side, I have a National Trust sticker in my car, which means the £100 I’ve spent on membership wasn’t a total waste, saving me as it did the £4 car parking fee. Small gains, people.
The boat trip itself was fun, if cold. Highlights included the bemusing instruction that the life jackets were stored in the enormous central box that all our children were sitting upon with not one hint that anyone might care to put one on, and the skippers’ unshakeable faith that the boat ‘cannot sink’ as if that weren’t the least of our worries. Luckily, not one child hurled themselves overboard, despite increasingly reckless attempts to ‘taste the sea mummy’ and we did see a few seals. It was also quite amusing to witness my four year old’s attempts to get the attention of our tour guide. Jamming himself behind him, face two inches from the back of this poor mans legs, it began in sharp staccato:
Man! Man! Man!…(no response)…MAN!…MAN!!.MAN!! MAN!!!!..(slightly louder)… MAN!!!! MAAN!!…(heads are turning. Not his though)….MAAAAAN!!!!!!!!…(I’m laughing now. Others not so much)……..(and finally, at rage volume above the wind and buffeting sea so the whole boat can hear, puffy red face filled with the fury of a child unheeded) …….MMMAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!!!!
Whereupon the “man” turns, and my child switches face from roaring beast to angel in a heartbeat and meekly simpers “I sawed a SEAL!”
So proud. So proud.
Holkham Hall and Holkham Beach
Despite being full of people considerably better behaved than our own feral children, we had a great time here. There’s a brilliant woodland adventure playground which you can access for the car park fee, and as it was half term there was a number of ‘fun activities’ around the grounds. None of which we took part in, obviously. Because we are HORRIBLE MOTHERS.
The enormous beach was a windswept blustery joy, that is until every single child without exception had filled their wellies with freezing cold water, when things took a turn for the decidedly less joyful. I did notice on the three mile walk outward towards the sea (no joke, it’s VAST) that every single family making the return journey contained at least one screaming child. God knows what they did to them. It’s possible every family made the trek to the sea in the vain hope that if they went far enough they might actually pick up Norwegian phone networks. Who knows.
Cley Marshes Nature Reserve
Nothing to say about this place other than it provides a spectacular view out over the marshes to watch the birds whilst you GROW OLD AND DIE waiting for the cafe staff to take your food order. There’s a well thought out exhibition area with stuff for kids to do like hit the interactive table way too hard, and make god-awful squirrel pictures out of spiky bits of nature that they then want to take home whilst you wait an hour for a ham and cheese toastie. Fun times were had in the car park shouting at our children to get out of the road too. Maybe I’ll go back alone one day to enjoy the peace and quiet. (Having eaten first).
In the absence of Netflix, my eldest child drew this frankly brilliant picture of a “rocket” which if that doesn’t look like a giant holey knob blasting off into space, I don’t know what does. Perhaps there’s something to be said for lo-fi pleasures after all.
Five million points to the lovely pub we ate in in Blakeney (The Kings Arms), who not only had lots of wonky little rooms so we could wilfully segregate ourselves and our misbehaving children from the nicer people of the world, but who also magicked up twelve servings of fish and chips before anyone had time enough to break anything or inhale the condiments. As we were leaving, the man behind the bar also spontaneously handed me a fistful of dairy milk bars “for the kiddies” as if further proof weren’t needed that we were obviously a set of women ON THE EDGE. Needless to say, we ate the lot that evening once they were in bed. Because BALLS TO SHARING.
If all of this sounds like we had a crap time – we didn’t. It really is such a beautiful part of the world. The evening light on the water at dusk made me almost break with the love I have for this weird, witchy little country and its past; the clarity of centuries and the timelessness of the sea. Wide skies, slow roads; windmills and water. What a privilege to have the time to moan about my life and all the joys it affords me.
I love my children. I love my friends. I love this land.
But next time: taking a wifi dongle. For shiz.
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