Those of you who know me know I’m not a big fan of winter. I get cold bones that’ll only warm up if I soak in a steaming hot bath for 20 minutes. I get tired (even more tired than usual) and I break my personal best for going to bed – sometimes as early as 7pm – and when I get there I sleep like the dead and when I wake I count the hours until I can go to sleep again. I dream of the days when I can free my feet and get the flip flops out again, when I can sit in the garden until 10pm drinking wine with my boyfriend and watch the bats catching flies, when I can walk the dog in the evening and it is still light.
I know, however, that without the dark there is no light and as much as I moan I know that the world will keep on turning and another summer will soon follow winter. Until then, I have my memories of the summer just ended and I wanted to share one of my favourite memories with you, dear reader, as a way of keeping the memory alive in my heart.
The day was Sunday 31st August 2014 and my family and I were on holiday in Brittany, France. We were a week or so into a 10 day holiday which we’d been dreaming about for months. My OH and I had talked of sitting on the deck of our caravan in the French sun every evening relaxing; supping French wine and eating French cheese, watching the 6yo playing with the friends that she would make while the baby slept soundly in her cot. The reality was, of course, a bit different. It rained. A lot. The caravan was very small and the baby didn’t like her cot. The 6yo made friends but because of the rain she couldn’t play out as much as she had hoped. She got bored. We got irritated. We’d eaten cheese and drunk wine and sat on the deck, but our caravan was the only one in our row (it seemed) to be completely shaded by a large tree, blocking out the rarely seen sun especially in the evenings.
This day, however, was everything we’d dreamed of and more. We’d decided to spend the afternoon on a beach on the banks of L’Odet – the name of the river inlet that runs through Benodet – rather than the main beach strip we’d spent a windy and stressful afternoon at the day before. On the beaches of L’Odet, the fierce Atlantic wind is non-existent and there are virtually no tourists. My OH found a small notch in the beach wall in which we settled ourselves and it felt like the beach was ours alone. The view was spectacular – the turquoise waters of L’Odet were full of small sail boats heading in and out of sea. On the opposite side of the narrow waterway were pine trees, opulent, mysterious secluded houses with manicured lawns. Further down; the tiny town of Ste Marine. The neat buildings in the colours typical of the area – white with slate grey roofs – were shining in the sun. The sky was blue and cloudless.
The baby was asleep on the rug next to me, the 6yo and her father had gone off to catch crabs. I laid back and enjoyed the first moment of the whole summer when I could absorb the warmth of the sunshine completely undisturbed. I was relaxed. I thought about the inevitable autumn that would arrive as soon as we returned home and I willed my body to absorb as much vitamin D as possible in those few precious moments. It was heaven. After a while I sat up and marvelled at the coarse grained sand, composed entirely of tiny shells, beautifully intricate but almost microscopic. As I sat there, two boys came running down the stairs from the road above onto the beach. Young, handsome and full of joie de vivre, they stripped down to their bathing suits as they ran, stuffing their clothes into a bright yellow sou’wester bag and proceeded to enter the freezing cold water (complete with bag which, to my amazement, floated happily on the water). I could hear their voices but could only grasp a few words; “merde” “froid” “sac” so I was baffled as to what they were doing. At first I thought they were swimming out to one of the small sail boats or dinghies that were moored in the shallows but it soon became clear that their destination was, in fact, a small pontoon at the mouth of L’Odet. As I watched, they hauled themselves onto the pontoon, rummaged around in their bag and got out a couple of signs which they held aloft for the passing boats to see. Suddenly it came to me – they were hitching a lift! I laughed aloud to myself. I watched them for a good half hour, talking to each boat as it passed. Each time they were unsuccessful I felt their disappointment as keenly as they obviously did. Eventually, mercifully, a small fishing boat picked them up and off they went out into the open sea. I had no idea where they were going but it made me wish I was young again so that I could embark on their adventure with them. Or, more relevantly, I wished that my girls would one day have an opportunity to do something so carefree and exciting.
Soon the baby woke and the 6yo and the OH came back with the spoils of their fishing expedition. We packed up and went for ice-cream. We took a boat across the river and found a beautiful restaurant and booked a table for a meal that evening. The meal was fantastic, despite the fact that my OH and I barely sat with each other for more than 5 minutes at a stretch as we shared various childcare duties; watching the 6yo cartwheel in the sand on the small beach in front of the restaurant, feeding the baby, rocking the baby to sleep. But it didn’t matter. The meal, the evening, was amazing. We walked back to the car and vowed to each other that we would return to Ste Marine one day and maybe buy a place there to retire to.
As we pulled up to the caravan park I told my OH to stop at the beach at the entrance and we got out of the car and walked down to the sand. The moon was full and bright like a silver penny; it’s reflection in the sea a strip of platinum. We listened to the waves together and watched the bats flitting across the horizon and tried to spot the milky way. It was, without a doubt, one of the best moments of my life with my family and is one I will hold in my heart every time winter’s cold fingers threaten to squeeze my heart and chill my bones.