Tag Archives: sea

Sea life

When I was twenty-one, I was bitten by a turtle.

It was the first summer of the new millennium, and we were in the middle of an incredible family holiday in the Seychelles. I was standing in a natural lagoon where the sea met the shore, watching with wonder as turtles swam around me. There were plenty of other people there too, but the turtles seemed quite happy as long as they were left undisturbed. I remember being conscious of wanting to make my presence as unobtrusive as possible, standing stock still so as not to disrupt the sand or cause ripples in the water. And then I felt a sharp pain in my calf, and looking at my leg saw two little dribbles of blood. I had been bitten.

Apparently, this just didn’t happen. The locals were as surprised as me, but once I’d got over the initial shock of it we laughed it off as just one of those things. We were, after all, in the turtles’ habitat – it was perhaps not that strange that they might get curious eventually about these unusual tree trunks in their midst.

It certainly didn’t put me off feeling that in some way the sea was my territory, too. It has always mesmerised me – to be near to it, floating on it, swimming in it, is the closest I get to perfect happiness. For many years that pleasure was reserved for holidays: the excited glimpse of blue from a car windscreen or aeroplane window, that gulp of fresh, salty air, that feeling of cool water on skin. I dreamt of living by the ocean, with windows overlooking the waves and a desk for writing.

It’s always a little odd to remember that when I’m sat here, writing at my desk overlooking the sea.

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When we first moved to Brixham six years ago a new goal manifested itself: to be one of those people who swam through the winter. Each year, as spring turned to summer, I would relish the first swim of the season, that sharp intake of breath as the cold water engulfed me, washing the winter away with every stroke I took. But when it came to autumn I would falter.

This winter, though, something changed. I didn’t stop swimming as the days got cooler, found that as long as I went in at least once a week I didn’t experience that sharp intake of breath and the increasingly icy dips brought a sense of summertime even to the dullest days.

Hence why I found myself, in the middle of January, swimming in the sea with a lovely group of new aquatic friends, clad in a tankini with socks and gloves and hat for warmth – not forgetting my trusty swimming shoes.

We were almost back at Breakwater beach after a bumpy swim across to Ladybird cove when something grabbed my calf. It felt exactly like a large hand. Disconcerted, I looked behind me to see if one of my companions had reached out – but they were all ahead. My mind briefly considered divers, until my eyes widened as I realised the more likely explanation. Trying not to panic, I kicked my feet to scare the creature away and quickly swam the few metres into shore, grateful to feel the familiar stones as I stood and stumbled up the beach.

Looking down at my leg, I saw dribbles of blood running down my calf. Something had bitten me. Our spotters on the beach, realising what had happened as my fellow swimmers gathered around me, confirmed that a large seal had been following us.

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My leg didn’t hurt – in fact I was more concerned about the fact that I’d lost a shoe! Until I looked at the remaining one and realised that its mottled grey and green design quite possibly looked an awful lot like a mackerel meandering in the water behind me. I am very, very glad that the seal did not go in for a bigger bite.

My companions cleaned me up, and sent me home with strict instructions to get it checked out – seals carry all sorts of interesting diseases apparently. Cue an evening at A&E on my GP’s advice, resulting in several intrigued and amused medics and a hefty dose of antibiotics.

Having spoken to some other wild swimming friends this is, you’ll be glad to hear, not something that happens very often. Maybe once a year, amongst the whole community of sea swimmers in this part of South Devon. Once again (now that the adrenaline has died down) I can write it off as just one of those things. Even if I am getting a little worried that I might exude a  peculiar allure to sea creatures!

I am not going to stop my swims – the winter sun outside the window is reflecting off the waves as I write this, and I know it won’t be long before I’m in again. I might just be a little more mindful of the animals I share my element with the next time though…

Swimming season

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-one

We never seem to manage to go swimming nearly as much as I’d like to during the winter.

I’m not a fan of indoor pools, with their chlorine and claustrophobic changing rooms, and there always seem to be more appealing ways to fill the colder days.

Summer, though, is a whole other matter.

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We are lucky enough to live within metres of not only the beach but also a wonderful seawater pool. It has struggled for survival over recent years, but with the help of an army of local volunteers (of which I am one) its future now looks bright.

So many local children have learnt to swim here in the ninety years that the pool has been in existence, and I am thrilled that Arthur is going to be one of them. He has yet to have a formal swimming lesson, but he is so completely confident in the water with his float suit that I am sure that when he is ready to go it alone he will not struggle to work it out.

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He will certainly be getting lots of practise over the next couple of months. This week, we have been down to the pool almost every day. We’ve had spring tides, and when they’ve been high the water has spilled over the sea walls and onto the deck, creating the perfect area for splashing around.

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Arthur can stand in the shallow end too, and loves the freedom that gives him. Together we have ventured deeper, practising kicking legs and blowing away the water that splashes over his face.

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We may have not got round to formal swimming lessons so far, but he is learning so much just by exploring and seeing what his body is capable of. I love that our pool is safer than the sea, but is so close to it that Arthur is still able to understand the particular power of the ocean and learn to respect the watery world that is never far away down here.

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And selfishly, too, I love nothing more than the feeling of cold, salty water on my skin when the sun is hot. We’ve been doing pretty well on that front this week: long may it continue!

 

 

Learning (loads) in Lanzarote

The unschooling diaries: weeks eleven and twelve

We spent a week in the Canary Islands over Easter, and once again I have been blown away by just how much there is to be learnt from travelling. We weren’t even motivated by anything more than the desire to get away somewhere warm and spend some quality time as a family, but the tremendous scope for discovery and new experiences that Lanzarote had to offer completely surpassed our expectations.

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We were especially lucky, I think, with the base we chose. We stayed in the most wonderful eco-resort in the North of the island, away from the main tourist trail. We slept in gorgeous yurts, which was an experience in itself. Our closest neighbours were chickens, ducks and donkeys, and there was a lovely solar-heated pool. Not forgetting the playground, which was right outside our little complex: it had a trampoline, and climbing frames, and a boat, and sand, and dump trucks, and little houses, and for Arthur it very quickly became home.

Outside of our little idyll, there was a whole new world to explore.

Unsurprisingly, the sea was central to much of our experience: admiring it, travelling across it, eating its many fruits, and of course swimming in it. We found an incredible lagoon, and some magical tidal pools. Between those and the pool Arthur well and truly shook off any wintery reluctance to jump right in, and his confidence and skill in the water came on in (literal) leaps and bounds.

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He was mesmerised by the little fish that swam around our ankles as we paddled and splashed, but it didn’t stop him enjoying them on his plate, too… I’m not sure how many three year olds would demolish boquerones with quite as much relish as this one did. I like that he’s happy to eat fish that looks like fish, though – and that it gave us the opportunity to talk about where it came from and how it had been caught. I don’t want to freak him out about the food he eats, but I think it’s useful to be able to make the connections and understand our world better – especially when it’s him asking all the questions!

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Away from the sea, there were of course the volcanoes. In the run up to our trip we’d watched some videos and talked about the volcanoes we were likely to see there, and wherever we went Arthur was full of questions about the nature of the mountains around us. We took a (very windy) trek into the lava fields, climbing up to the top of one volcano to peer into the caldera and walking into the depths of another. Both were long dormant, but that didn’t stop the incredible power of nature being evident everywhere we looked.

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One of the other highlights of our trip was completely unexpected. I had never heard of Cesar Manrique, but he was an inspirational artist and architect who through his work and his vision had an enormous impact on the infrastructure of the island. We visited several of the sites he created, and Arthur soaked up the paintings and the sculptures and the unusual spaces, as well as being fascinated by the exhibitions about the landscape around us.

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Last but very much not least, inspired by an advertising board that caught Arthur’s eye in the airport, we took a trip on a submarine. It was the first time any of us had been on an actual submarine voyage, and it blew all of our minds a little bit – but especially Arthur’s. Just the whole mechanics of it was pretty exciting, watching the little screen at our seat compute our depth, the pilots with their illuminated control panel and the propellers at the rear. And out of the window we saw wrecks, lots of fish, and even a diver feeding a huge ray. It was pretty cool.

It was all pretty cool, actually. And it really got me thinking about how we can work some longer trips into the next few years. It’s one of the main reasons I’m not super keen about getting stuck back into the constraints of the school system any earlier than I have to, and why I’m trying to evolve my working life into one I can take on the road with me.

We shall see…

For now, though, we have plenty of memories to be mulling over. I’m going to make a photobook for Arthur so that we can pull it out from time to time and be inspired afresh by our experiences. It’s a lot to compute for a growing mind after all!

 

Summer is here!

I’ve decided I’m calling it.

Admittedly it’s early days: as I’ve been writing this post the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard has been accompanied by the rain spattering the window panes. White horses skitter across the bay, and the leaves in the trees are being buffeted by a wind too strong to be called a breeze. But that’s just part and parcel of the season here in Devon.

And looking at the week in balance there is no doubt in my mind that we have crossed the boundary into summer.

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It’s half term of course, so the streets of Brixham are filled with holidaymakers. Dangling lines over the harbour wall to tempt crabs into their buckets, clutching ice creams which drip deliciously over little fingers.

On Breakwater beach paddlers are venturing deeper and deeper into the sea, delightedly splashing in the icy water and sometimes taking the plunge and diving in for a swim.

It’s that for me that marks the transition into summer most clearly. I am still a fair-weather swimmer. I aspire to being one of the hardy souls who takes to the sea all year round, but I’m not there yet. This week, though, I made it in.

We’d managed to tire the toddlers out with stone-throwing, and leaving them dozing under the watchful eye of friends we headed for the water.

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And it was glorious!

Pretty feckin’ freezing, obviously. We’d hoped to have a dip in Shoalstone pool, which whilst it wouldn’t have been warmer would have at least given the option of jumping or diving in. But pump problems combined with excessively low tides put paid to that, so we scrambled over the rocks instead. Feeling my way through the shallows I almost gave up, but my stubbornness took over and saw me through till that all-important moment when numbness takes away the worst of the cold and you can just concentrate on how wonderful it is, floating in the salty sea looking back at the shore, cobwebs of all varieties well and truly blown away.

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We’d hoped to have another dip yesterday, but the sun wasn’t shining quite so brightly. It didn’t deter Arthur from paddling up to his waist – I think swimming kit is going to be an essential part of the arsenal when we head to the beach from here on in!

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The clouds cleared as the afternoon went on, and the beach was still busy when I walked back from my council meeting at 9 o’clock last night.

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So yes, I’m calling it: summer is here.

Stay tuned for more watery adventures over the weeks and months to come!

My word of the week is summer.

The Reading Residence

The joy of sandcastles

For the last two summers, Arthur’s interest in sand hasn’t extended much beyond eating it. So you can imagine my relief (and Leigh’s delight) when on our recent holiday to Crete he began to understand the pleasure to be had from building castles in the sand.

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Many a day would begin with me lying back in the sun with a book (pretty much my idea of bliss) whilst my boys readied their tools and began the digging and water gathering and moulding that would culminate in a majestic castle.

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Arthur grew very attached to his little bucket and spade set, and would not go to the beach without it.

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He especially loved anything to do with water. He was fascinated by a little water wheel he found that became the mechanism for filling the channel to the moat, and very amusingly got attached to a broken bucket, not quite understanding why it was always empty when he returned from filling it up in the sea.

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I was not super keen on the whole getting covered in sand part, but I couldn’t resist getting involved at the exterior decoration stage. There’s something about moseying along at the water’s edge collecting pretty shells, stones and sea-worn glass that transports me right back to my childhood.

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And as for Leigh – he was there! Totally rapt in the task, enjoying the banter and admiration it invited from other dads. His piece de resistance was an Arthur-sized sand car, which drew quite a crowd of curious toddlers before being washed away by the sea.

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I think the inherent transience of sandcastles is a big part of their appeal – you’re working with what nature has to offer, albeit with the help of a few man-made tools, shaping it into structures that spark the imagination. And then before the next day comes the sea has reclaimed its wares, leaving behind a fresh slate for you to begin again.

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I have a feeling there will be many sandcastles in our lives this summer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Arthur and his daddy come up with…

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Simple pleasures

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It’s been a tricky couple of weeks for getting out and about. The weather’s not been great, and with Arthur recovering from the croup which struck him down just after his birthday I have been reluctant to take him out in the cold and the damp without good reason.

But this week has been all about getting back into normal routine. His classes have started up again, and although he’s still a bit sniffly we’ve both had enough of being stuck indoors.

On Thursday morning I awoke to torrential rain, with a sleeping toddler snuggled up beside me. It was still dark outside, and I really doubted whether we were going to get it together to make it to music. But we did, wrapped up in the sling and our trusty babywearing coat. It was lovely to see friends again, and by the time we were ready to head home the sun had appeared.

It was still cold, but as we passed our local beach Arthur began to bounce in the sling, asking excitedly if he could throw stones in the sea. And so I let him down, and watched as the smile spread across his face, filled with joy at this simple and familiar pleasure. It reminded me how very lucky we are to live where we do, and how much I’m looking forward to making the most of that over the months to come.

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Linking up with Fiona at Coombe Mill for Country Kids. 

An unexpected dip

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Well, I say unexpected. It wasn’t entirely – as we were dashing out of the door I knew that a trip to the beach without Arthur ending up in the sea was unlikely. We were only planning on a bit of a stroll though, a blast of sea air to blow the cobwebs away and break up the monotony of a Sunday where both me and Leigh had way too much work to do.

When we got to St Mary’s Bay, a beach on the other side of Brixham that we don’t visit nearly as often as we should, Arthur was as thrilled as we were by the wide expanse of sand left by the tide. Not quite as thrilled though as he was by the prospect of running towards the waves that were gently crashing in the distance…

It soon became clear that he wasn’t going to be able to resist the lure of the water, and we stripped him down to his vest suit for a paddle.

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As as his enthusiasm increased I was glad of the shorts I’d slipped into the bag as an afterthought. This would have been the point at which any sensible parent would have steered the toddler to drier sand further up the beach, but I’ve never been very good at ignoring the call of the sea.

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And then moments later, he was in. An errant wave, a little stumble, and Arthur was up to his neck in the water.

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It didn’t bother him of course. The water actually wasn’t all that cold, and after the initial surprise of it he was off, flying across the sand.

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He was drawn to the stones that lay scattered across the beach, fascinated by the little pools that formed around them where his toes would disappear if he got too close.

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It was just what he needed to be honest, just what we all needed – a bit of freedom and mess and a break from playing by the rules.

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We did draw the line when it looked like he was going to tackle those waves again. Next time we’ll make sure we’re better prepared, even if it is September…

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But for this trip it was time to strip off his soaking wet clothes, attempt to dry him with my jeans and bundle him up in the sling ready for the climb up the steps and back to the car.

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We all ended up covered in sand, but there was definitely no sign of those cobwebs.

 
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall     photo 93142f35-6d39-479f-b3de-d94dbca68162_zps58499252.jpg