You just know that the Bank Holiday is going to be mellow when you pick up Favourite Son (FS), Favourite Daughter (FD) and Favourite Jimmy (FJ) from the train station; the sun is shining and, without a fight, they give Mama J permission to listen to her own play list music on the journey back to the flat.
Naturally I realise that the crew may just be parent pleasing – that they may even have discussed this strategy on the train journey down – but this is a very rare victory even though I am the designated driver; I use it without hesitation to introduce them to the best of Lighthouse Family – the soundtrack to an epic girls’ weekend in Spain back in my day. My passengers are immediately ‘Lifted’ (sorry, here we go, enjoy this ride), London grime is forgotten and we’re all ‘High’ at the prospect of taking a picnic down to the beach, even if I can’t provide an ‘Ocean Drive’ to complete the hat trick (I warned you).
I’ve been enjoying my coastal view for well over a year now, but until this point haven’t had a full flat of guests to share it with when the sun has been out. With the arrival of FS’s girlfriend (FG), our party booking is complete and my inner landlady absolutely loves putting the ‘Full’ sign up in her front window before providing her guests with a packed lunch and picnic rug.
If you’ve been following my blog, (come on you slackers) you will already know that last week saw my introduction to bespoke gin (#Shetland Reel) and left me with homework to ensure that in future I would have the gin accoutrements with which to wow guests and disguise the fact that I’m a gin newbie. Diligently, I’ve been swotting up on my tasting notes all week and feel some smugdom on our return from a day on the beach; I serve gin with a slice of orange and a sprig of rosemary in a rocks glass with – thanks to an emotional reunion with my ice-cube tray – actual ice cubes (how am I doing Professor Reel?).
After success with my sun downers on the first night of the Bank Holiday, confidence builds and on the second night I suggest a coastal walk adventure to view the setting sun from a more secluded beach. I can see that my guests are quietly impressed when Mama J produces a Dora the Explorer rucksack replete with plastic tumblers, ginger ale and a small bottle of Shetland Reel Rhubarb & Bramble flavoured gin liqueur. Get me: I’ve even got nibbles. My Lighthouse Family eagerly walk the coastal path to a little bay hidden around the headland. Even though he is sunburnt, I think I hear FJ quietly humming ‘Happy’ to himself as we descend the steps to the beach and I realise no after sun will be needed for this young man. We don’t have the cove to ourselves because it’s a well known gem to the locals, but we do find a large rock on which to toast the in-coming tide (responsibly) and from which to people watch.
And that’s the best thing about Britain, because we are all so starved of vitamin D that, as soon as the sun comes out, we spring into a whirling dervish of action, peeling off jumpers, jeans and jackets; squeezing into neon shorts that seemed like a good purchase on our last visit to Ibiza and exposing pasty, lily-white legs to the world (also available in raw red) without a risk-averse glance at a weather app.
We watch nosily as a few other families join us on the beach. No gin on their menus, but some impressive pop-up beach BBQ’s are in evidence nonetheless and we discuss a notional prize, debating whether the family with garlic-marinaded prawn skewers should top trump the couple with their own beach salad bowl and wine cooler. Turns out that the tide is coming in so fast that we win the prize for choosing to sit on a rock. We raise a glass to the chap who dives in to rescue his salad bowl (and marriage) before it drifts out to sea. Our Lighthouse Family prefer gin on the rocks (proof that we do know how to drink responsibly, surely?).
We hit our stride. Easter Sunday finds us breakfasting alfresco at the best sea front cafe. As a local landlady, I now know to book ahead, and get another smug glow as we see disappointed tourists turned away (I’m not as nice as I pretend to be). It is the best cafe because not only is it well positioned, it also boasts its own bright red gnome holding a sign that says: ‘use this sun tan lotion if you don’t want to look like me’. Bless. Although we’re full and fit to bust (F&FTB) after breakfast and I’m buzzing after some irresponsible and – frankly reckless – imbibing of back-to-back giant Americano’s (#verylarge # forgettingtherearenotoiletsonthebeach), my lodgers all declare they wish to return to last night’s cove; they want to see what it looks like with the tide out. They are in for a treat.
This is when Bank Holiday Britain gets even better: People-watching heaven. Naturally my crew have come fully prepared and arrange themselves around our picnic rug in a fashion that ensures they get to burn the side of their body that they overlooked yesterday and still play an undistracted round of cards. They don’t play for money, but they do play for Easter eggs. The stash of chocolate I gained from a frenetic family Easter Egg hunt earlier that morning, is already in use as payment for a high stakes round of beach poker. I should have been impressed (or at least annoyed that my stash had been raided), but I’m too busy snoring gently (I like to think), as both the caffeine and the warm glow earned from attending a sun rise Easter service earlier, wear off.
FS and FD tell me that I ear wig even when I am asleep and I think in my relentless hunt for blog fodder, this may be true. Perhaps those Americano’s were stronger than I thought, for although I look asleep, I find myself tuning into the two ladies who have crashed noisily on to a vacant patch beside our rugs. I have to open my eyes to look. I am not disappointed.
Two plumptious ladies of a certain age have walked down to the bay wearing floral -skirted – swimming costumes and Ugg boots. I kid you not . This is a mid-life look that will be trending before this blog is posted. These ladies clearly intend to optimise their visit and the reason that they arrive so noisily is that they have adapted a granny shopper to wheel their every beach need across the shingle. The tartan shopper rocks precariously as it bounces across the stones, spewing out Sunday papers, a large tin of Scottish shortbread and a flask of tea. I find myself wanting to join them, wanting to solve the crossword clues that they bandy around, but thankfully I don’t succumb. Minutes later I am to hear them dissecting the narrative pattern of Mrs Brown’s Boys. I’m out.
I can feel the weekend drawing to a finale as we pack up and dust the sand from our toes. There is still time for one last stop before FD and FJ need returning to the train station; the Mr Whippy van has our undivided attention as we walk back to the prom and the many grockles and seagulls that have amassed there in our absence.
However, ‘Goodbye Heartbreak (#plentymoreofthese) for we are diverted by a hitherto unknown party trick that FD deals when requesting a Mr Whippy 99. Yes, we’ve seen 99’rs bite off the sharp end of the cone before and use it as a straw through which to catch a dripping ice-cream, but never have we witnessed the guile involved in strategically pushing the flake right down to the bottom of the cone from the outset, to form a central plug in the ‘straw’ end. Genius. Not a drop of lost ice cream and the chocolate remains nicely chilled. Young children walk past my daughter in awe, lamenting the blobs of melted ice cream they have left in their wake and crying as seagulls swoop in to snatch their melting flakes. Parents take note (#’Lovingeveryminute’. Come on, play along).
Brilliant Holiday weekend banked, but I do find my eyes leaking as I say good-bye to FD and FJ; my other two favourites have another 24 hours of Mama J coastal hospitality to look forward to. Good job that my Lighthouse Family are planning a reunion for us next weekend. Did I tell you that I’m running the London Marathon? (Must have slipped my mind). I’ve been offered B&B at FD’s Clapham Hostelry for midlife runners who should know better and FS, FG, and FJ are coming along with her to the ‘gig’ next Sunday as literal roadies.
I love a reunion – even without gin. I see Tunde Baiyewu and Paul Tucker are thankfully also getting in on the reunion act. To be fair, they did form their Lighthouse Family before I did. No doubt this designated driver will have to strategically introduce her family crew to some of their new material. Smooth. Roll on November, then. “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be”. FJ, once your sun burn has calmed down, you can hum it and I’ll just drop unsubtle hints to the gang about getting us tickets to that London gig. I think this weekend has proved we can collectively mellow.