We had to go to a ‘Do’.
My schoolfriend’s mum – my “Other Mother” – Mrs H – had invited me to celebrate her 80th Birthday.
It threw me into apoplexy.
My entire wardrobe reflected a lifestyle which, for the last two years, had consisted of living in a catering-size Corned Beef tin with the many paws; sixteen of them – and generally muddy or sandy ones at that.
When I said it, I really did mean it. “I haven’t got a THING to wear!”
Such is the dilemma of those who choose to live outside of ‘normal’ society. We hadn’t thought it possible to thin out our few remaining possessions any further, but during our brief stay ‘in the brick’ Mark and I had now got down to the deeply sentimental.
This included ‘Whitey’, my 1950’s vintage MOBO rocking horse. He was already on his second lease of life, having been rescued from a tip by my Grandad. With war-time thrift, Whitey had been upcycled; long before upcycling was even a thing. (In those days it was ‘Make Do And Mend’ – something that Mark and I’s budget has led us to revive!)
Whitey came into my life on my fourth birthday and, horse-mad (as I still am!) I can still feel the tingle of excitement as we took him home, squeezed into the back of my Dad’s Austin Cambridge. Whitey had been with me for 50 years – through most of my twenty-four house moves. However, I felt able to let him go. Memories and a photo would now be enough.
Thinning down possessions is a process – and after living for two years with nothing but bare essentials, I no longer felt the need to have Whitey there in person; rusting away for no good reason in the loft above the garage. (I am pleased to report that he now has a loving home in Rugely, Staffordshire!)
I had won the packing for this trip; my entire wardrobe for 5 months in the caravan weighed in at 7.322kg. Mark’s at 8.566kg. One friend told us “I have ONE jacket that weighs more than that!” Needless to say, the clothing allowance did not include anything ‘smart’ – and The Mutt & Bailey Spring footwear collection consisted solely of Crocs, all-terrain sandals, trainers, hiking boots and wetsuit booties. Even in the deepest recesses of storage, I wasn’t sure that I even owned a pair of stilettos any more!
A friend offered to loan back to me some of the shoes that I had given to her in our original going away clear out and I dug out a reasonably respectable summer dress / jacket combo. It would have to do.
Even if we had not been on a strict budget, I would have been unable to buy something to wear only once. I am Northern – and although my thrift is not on a par with that of my Grandad, even my wedding dress had more than one outing. (With the same husband, I hasten to add! I chose a ball gown, which was significantly less expensive than anything with ‘wedding’ in the title – and could be resurrected for those black tie ‘do’s’ that occasionally came along and cause ladies to stare at a full wardrobe and scream; “I haven’t got a THING to wear!”)
After two years in sandals, my feet had spread. The agony was indescribable, cramming my long-unfettered metatarsals into a pair of stiletto court shoes; never mind attempting to walk. I smeared on some lippy and blusher, another now foreign-everyday experience (I couldn’t face mascara!) and Mark held my arm as I hopped out of our Lagonda (van!)
Big Blue, our only vehicle, complete with surf boards on her roof, added a considerable air of gentility to the of the car park of the Country House Hotel. A quick pout in the wing mirror, then I hobbled into the Princess Suite, smiling wildly and brushing off the sand from the van seat that was still clinging to my outfit. I felt like a very out-of-place cripple!
With our unconventional lifestyle, we worried that we were quite the novelty act in this scene straight out of Lancashire Life. However, Mrs H had done us proud. She had thoughtfully seated us next to a wonderful couple of ladies for the duration of the meal. (Seated. Thank heavens. In those shoes!)
They were both ‘Old Girls’ of my former school and knew my Aunts. One had motorhomed around Spain. It was enlightening chatting about her experiences; “Don’t stop for ANYONE! Even if it’s an accident. It’s a scam and they will rob you!” she advised.
Our recent caravan problems had highlighted how easy it is to break into a caravan. Our door lock had been forced with nothing more high tech than a screwdriver. We determined to buy some extra security devices for our trip to Spain!
The other lady dished some incredible dirt on my Dad. “Does your Dad have ginger hair? He went to the junior school in Osbaldeston? I REMEMBER HIM. He put a WORM down my back!”
He denied it, of course!
Our final appointment in the UK was the NWF – The National Watersports Festival at Rutland Water. It is an annual event which celebrates Windsurfing, SUP (Stand Up Paddling), Kayaking, SCUBA and Dinghy Sailing at a seriously FUN level. It is for beginners and intermediates, rather than professionals and is all about participation.
Having had so much joy from the sport of windsurfing, Mark and I ‘give back’ by volunteering for the Festival. I also help out by writing newsletters and blogs for the NWF website. (The Windsurf section of this blog has links to some of these.)
We drove to Rutland Water via Oxford, the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’. It was a convenient place to stop en route – and close to a couple of mates for a catch up. If you have never visited Oxford, you must. Home of the World Famous University, the oldest in the English speaking world (dating back to the 12th Century) it is a beautiful city, with incredible architecture and a unique and charming atmosphere of dusty academia.
I used to visit Oxford regularly on business in The Bad Old Days. To me, though, it was an incredible perk of my job to be able to squeeze in a brief peek into a museum or market – or simply wander through the streets of honey-coloured stone buildings during my lunch hours. (In stilettos, of course!)
The Oxford Camping and Caravanning Club Site was amazing – 1.5 miles from Oxford city centre yet with beautiful, country walks almost straight from site. I was so taken with the walks that it was even a couple of days before I darkened the door of the Outdoor shop adjacent to the site. (Who needs silk when you can have Gortex?!)
Surprisingly, the walks gave me a great opportunity to practise my French – Oxford seemed to be overrun with little French girls, all of whom ADORED notre petits chiens!
We had a pilot run with our latest attempt at Cavapoo Containment. Our new plastic fence, purchased from eBay at great expense (about £20! Search “Green Orange Blue Plastic Safety Barrier Mesh Fence Netting Net and Metal Pins”) It is compact, lightweight – and it worked a treat, even when Rosie threw her full weight at it several times. (We did have to pin down the bottom with tent pegs to stop Rosie from escaping!)
We moved on to Rutland, Britain’s smallest county. As Festival Volunteers, we had special permission to pitch right by the lake! We chose a slightly challenging pitch – we had to drive Big Blue up a grassy bank to get Caravan Kismet on to it, but it was worth it. It had the best view in the house.
Just as we had unhitched, got the legs down and locks on; “Are you leaving that there?” “Er, yes… Of course we are…” “It’s just that…” – it appeared that someone else had noticed the view and we were spoiling it for a photo shoot. At least they helped us to shove off!
We had a great time at the Festival. We attended the free clinics – and learnt a thing or two about crowd surfing from top coach Simon Bornhoft.
Even the pups enjoyed Simon’s technique clinic. Kai now reckons that he knows how to gybe. Simon did extremely well. He maintained his dignity while demonstrating the stability of his Warrior stance on a tiny board; with no wind and no fin (trying to remain atop a stationary unicycle with no pedals gives you an idea of the skill involved.) Not only that, Simon achieved this in front of an audience of 100 people; every single one of whom was WILLING him to fall in!
On Sunday morning, The Fab Four and I did a Charity Walk with The Mutts Nuts Rescue – a very worthy organisation. They care for pets when the owners are ill or in hospital, removing at least one worry during a very worrying time. They try to keep pets at home with their owners for as long as possible, but will foster or re-home when circumstances require.
It was a completely wonderful weekend in every way. However, the real highlight for me (and it still makes me dewy-eyed to think of it) was seeing the legend that is Dave White ditch his stick and walk unaided to collect his NWF award as ‘Most Inspiring Windsurfer.’
Dave broke the World Production Board Speed Record at his first ever event in 1990; Photographer; Editor of ‘Boards’ Magazine; ‘The Mighty Whitey’s’ passion for windsurfing is as immense as the big man himself – and Dave has always been beyond generous in sharing his time and knowledge.
He taught me fast tacks on a stimulator (our name for a home-made simulator!) in a garden in Ireland – and has given me hundreds of his wonderful photographs to use freely to publicise the NWF and encourage people into the sport.
Sadly, everything came to an abrupt halt for Dave a couple of years ago, when he suffered a stroke while out windsurfing in Mauritius. It took over an hour for help to arrive, so his road to recovery continues to be hard and long. Dave has had to learn how to walk and talk again. However, the amazing competitor and unconquerable spirit that is Dave has doggedly refused to be thwarted.
I don’t think that there was a person at the NWF who was not humbled, awed and delighted to see Dave collect his most well-deserved award in person!
As fellow windsurfer Boujmaa Guilloul says, ‘Passion is a unique gift’ – and like Dave, we are all definitely blessed in so many ways if we have Passion in our lives!
*DB indicates NWF photos courtesy of Daz Bristow of Rockerline Clothing.
If you would like to read about how I went to do battle with the North Atlantic on a Wave Sailing Masterclass with Peter Hart, have a look at You Can Lead a Course to Water – But You Can’t Make Them Sink! Peter warned us before the clinic; “In wave sailing, success early on can be as simple as being able to get off the beach, then make it back to land; still holding on to unbroken equipment.”
Footnote – The Mathematical Bridge at Iffley Lock
‘The Mathematical Bridge’ was built in 1923. It is a replica of one designed by William Etheridge over the River Cam in Cambridge, which connects two parts of Queen’s College. Although the bridge looks like an arch, look closely; it is composed entirely of straight timbers!
Apparently the structure of the bridge is an example of ‘tangent and radial trussing’, which develops very little bending stress in the timbers. What did I tell you? I told you it was interesting!
What do Chocolate and Polar Exploration have in common? Find out next time when we leave the shores of Blighty for a bit of Beacon 6 & Black Magic in Brittany!
3 thoughts on “A Brief Bark Around Britain – The Thames Path, The National Watersports Festival & ‘A Bit of a ‘Do”!”
Loved your tale about ‘having nothing to wear’ – I am taking quite a bit of stuff home from this trip that will not be returning with us in January- it really is a very simple life and our needs are very simple too!
Wonderful, isn’t it?! I have never felt better than having only what we can fit in the van.
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