Friday 27 August 2010


Is there anyone who can face this wretched weather with equanimity? Trefusis Minor is the only person I can find who's not complaining. He likes rain, idiosyncratic child that he is, and moaned loudly on holiday about wanting to be back in England because he was too hot and he missed the rain. Yes, I did explain to him that the Isle of Wight was actually England, but his personal universe appears to begin and end in West London. There are many who say that the current Prime Minister would agree with him, discounting little offshoots of his empire in Oxfordshire or Cornwall.

The British are by nature an optimistic people - we're the biggest market in Europe for convertibles, for example, which after second marriage is the most wonderful demonstration of the triumph of hope over experience. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we still expect our summers to be dry and balmy, full of days which have a nice country walk with a pub at the end of them, and perhaps a bit of messing about on boats if we're lucky. Every year, when the heavens open, the British mutter noisily about climate change and go around turning off the lights as a kind of totem against global warming-induced rainfall. We badly need to adjust our expectations and recognise that we get a few nice days in April, and a few more in September and as for the rest - well, it's worth investing in a good umbrella.

A little delving around the stats on the Met Office website -and some roving around the internets - suggests August has always been pretty rank, weather-wise. The August bank holiday was, apparently, moved back to the end of the month to give it a fighting chance of decent weather. If you take the years 1971 to 2000, August has a similar average rainfall to March, at 72mm, and who'd plan a barbeque for March? I couldn't find any aggregated stats for the last nine years, but I can't think it's improved any.

If this last week's weather has felt foully inclement, it's by no means untypical. What's more, it's hardly the worst August has thrown at us over the years. In 1912, seven inches of rain fell in one afternoon in Norwich, leaving it marooned in mud and flood detritus. The summer of 1956 was also one I'm relieved to have missed - a few years ago, Paul Simons wrote about it in The Times as being "an assault course of monsoonal rains, big floods, giant hail, houses set ablaze by lightning, howling gales and miserable cold". That August was the coldest and wettest on record.

I'm staring out of the office window at a lowering sky, and at an iPhone app that promises a fine afternoon, and wondering whether to fold this season's wardrobe staple, the ineffably chic Cagoule-Burkha, into its handy handbag-sized pochette, or just to put it on, ready to brave the journey home. Such is my desire to stay dry and avoid damp knees - the curse of a British Summer - that I really don't care what I look like. The rain has completely quashed my vanity and I suspect I'm rapidly turning into the kind of woman who will wear purple in the not too distant future.

However, my real issue with the bloody rain is that it works for me like a reverse pathetic fallacy - the weather doesn't reflect my mood, it dictates it. A little sunshine means outrageous fortune's sharpest arrows just bounce off me, but when it rains, the smallest slight pierces my armour and makes me dreary and depressed, as if life from now on was going to be one long wait at a bus stop in a downpour. I can't even default to my usual cheer-up option, a blowdry, because the merest hint of drizzle undoes the best hairdressers work. Shamefully, on re-reading what I've written I realise that the rain also elicits in me the most appalling self-pity.

Someone needs to start a bad weather self-help blog, or at least suggest some strategies for sloughing off a rain-induced fit of the glooms. Who's going to start the ball rolling? There's a YSL lipstick and a Dolce and Gabbana mascara (lovingly photographed by me on my iPhone) for the suggestion that cheers me up the most.

Tuesday 24 August 2010


'I've turned into my parents, haven't I?' I said to Mr Trefusis halfway through our holiday, as I tuned the car radio into Radio Four and suggested we might stop to have a look at the view. I found myself parroting phrases like 'Just in case' and 'You can't trust the forecast' as I packed cagoules and cardigans, sunhats and suncream, and insisted on the children getting out to the beach even when it was far from warm for 'a bit of a blow'. Worse still, every time anyone yawned, I said 'Tires you out, all this sea air'. It's true: it does.

The piéce de résistance of my search for early eighties authenticity was dragging the tirelessly good-humoured Belgian Waffling down to the beach in a howling gale so we could enact the time-honoured British Tea Ceremony, Holiday Edition. I think we managed one cup each from the outsize thermos and a scone, crunchy with wind-whipped sand, before the charm wore off, but it evoked the requisite nostalgie de la boue. The only way we could possibly have trumped the experience would have been to drink the tea in the car whilst watching the sea and the lashing rain. But I think you have to be in Filey for it to work properly. I spent several summers as a child on the North East coast, and apparently I used to go swimming quite happily - God knows how I avoided hypothermia.

Even Mr Trefusis - who, like the Bromsgroves, came from a family that went Abroad for their holidays - fell for the charms of lovely Ventnor, even if he spent most of it pretending to be Alain Delon, hanging out in a fishing village somewhere on the Cote D'Azur.

Steephill Cove, our nearest beach, is the Petit Trianon of the British seaside. Tiny as it is, and accessible only by foot or by boat, it manages to boast not only the kind of rockpool action beloved of the Cappuccino Classes but also two of the best fish restaurants on the island, and café-cum-shop selling a mean espresso, Minghella's ices and cool retro sweets like Starbars, Fry's Mint Cream and Sherbet dibdabs. I muttered something about it being the new Dorset, and took Trefusis Minor and The TT down to the shoreline to build sandcastles and swim in the sea, leaving Mr Trefusis to 'watch' us from his favourite table, whilst simultaneously reading one of those 'The Girl with ..' novels and taking surreptitious peeks around his sun specs at the pretty girls coming in and out of the café.
Yet it wasn't all about trying to recapture the holidays of my childhood - as The Waffle's charming brother said as he took us all out on a boat, it's about making new memories too, even if some of them are inspired by old ones. 'I'll never forget the first time my dad took me fishing.' he said, as the mackerel lines were passed around. Fishing for mackerel off the coast of the Isle of Wight is infinitely more satisfying than catching crabs - the little blighters jump with lemming-like enthusiasm onto your hooks, and even The Tiniest Trefusis caught three, first time she dropped her line over the side. Trefusis Minor was less successful - he's more likely to remember his valiant attempts not to be seasick. We caught twenty-five mackerel in about ten minutes - and took them back to the lovely holiday house and baked some en papillotte with cider and onions, and froze the rest to take home after the holidays.

This morning, before leaving for the office, I made Mr Trefusis some mackerel pâté with the last of them (not as goddessy as it sounds - it's an insanely easy recipe, involving nothing more trying than mashing the ingredients together with a fork). I took the cooked fish off the bone by hand and as I sat on the bus on my way to work, I couldn't help noticing how appallingly whiffy my fingers still were, despite washing them several times. Ick.
Mackerel-scented fingers are too prosaic as a memory trigger and can hardly compete with Proust's madelines for romance, but all the same, I spent the whole journey wrapped in the comforting memories of a blissful fortnight spent in wonderful company, rediscovering simple pleasures.

Tuesday 10 August 2010


As a child I was deeply envious of friends who holidayed abroad, particularly the Bromsgroves who, every summer, would pack up their Volvo and drive off to the South of France, returning relaxed and happy, tan marks livid against Piz Buin bronzed skin. I wanted to be one of those families, off for a fortnight on a beach in Spain or France, the children left to their own devices way past their usual bedtime, whilst the parents got mildly wasted on Rosé or Sangria. But no. We went to Norfolk, or Dorset, or Devon. Our entertainment came straight from the pages of a Ladybird book, digging endless sandcastles and dragging shrimping nets through rockpools, punctuated by the odd trip to a National Trust house or the treat of a coca-cola and a packet of crisps in a pub garden. The sense was that there was something decadent - slightly degenerate even - about the Foreign Holiday: we were above such things, in the same way we were above having a pumpkin at Hallowe'en, and instead if we wanted a spooky lantern, we had to spend an entire afternoon hollowing out a turnip with a dessert spoon.

But now I'm a bona-fide grown-up and can choose my own holiday destination, do Mr Trefusis and I bundle the infant Trefusii into the Audi and head off for the fleshpots of the Midi? We do not. The early programming was too effective. Holiday heaven for me means the Great British Break and doing my best to repeat the highlights of childhood summers of the nineteen seventies. If there's a tea room to be visited, so much the better. 

It means a spot of unspoilt coastline, preferably with a proper beach café. We have yet to try the crab tea, but I'm longing to.

My childhood memories are, like everyone's I suppose, all shiny and golden, full of endlessly balmy summer's days. I tell a lie, there was a holiday in 1982 which was mostly full of thermos flasks, anoraks and windbreaks, but mostly there was sunshine - I promise you it's a myth that the weather in England is unremittingly and uncharitably wet.

This year's holiday is no different. So far, we have honestly had very nice weather, well, mostly - today decided to be the exception that tested the rule and indeed, it was like this, and I wasn't the only one who was glad I packed the waterproof bhurka-style pacamac. Anyway, here is Mr Trefusis, the day after we arrived, trying his best to pretend it's thirty five degrees as he reads his copy of The Week.

Why is it that fathers can read the newspaper - every section, even the Review and the motoring bit - whilst also 'supervising' the offspring. I have to start breathing into a paper bag if I take my eyes off them for an instant: He's entirely unconcerned that the children are hurtling into the sea fully clothed.

We get on with the lovely business of poking at rockpools: half afraid, half hopeful a crab might nip our fingers, but ready to settle for finding a whelk or an untethered limpet.

And then spend the rest of the afternoon trying to execute an over-ambitious sandcastle

before working out that the water is actually really lovely after all, perhaps not quite lovely enough to swim in, although people were, but definitely perfect for paddling.

(with very many thanks to Belgian Waffling)