Reflections on a hot day
Today, Dunoon could have been in Italy, or Spain - apart, that is, from the pale grey, balmy early morning, which had a quality all its own. But from midday onwards, when the sun broke through, it was hot. So how does one spend a hot July day to best advantage?
Well, we didn't. We were so late abed last night that I was still finishing breakfast at 10am, though to be fair I had at least put a loaf on to bake in the machine first. My pal came round for a quick coffee in the garden en route to a meeting, and I picked up some alterations from the shop that saves me the horror of hemming. I did four rounds of Italian while waiting for the bread to finish, and we had lunch in the garden.
Later, after an ungainly snooze in the shade, I pruned back the ancient floribunda rose that flowers prolifically at the start of July and thereafter is hung about with little brown blobs where the flowers faded and withered. It then grows at a terrifying speed and makes access to the back garden problematic. It was while I was doing this that I began thinking about what perfection lurks in my memories of hot summer days in Arran some 65 years ago. It struck me that this was the acme against which I have measured summer days ever since. But why can I not replicate this now? After all, I live by the sea; I have discovered some relatively nearby places where I can bathe; we have glens and hills and forests and a loch or two ...
And this is what I came up with: Every one of these memorable days on the beach - let's say in the heatwave summer of 1955 - involved one or other or both of my parents doing this round of tasks:
make tea, put in two thermos flasks, making sure they had clean waxed paper disks to put round the cork stoppers for each one.
Pour some milk into an old aspirin bottle.
Slice, butter and add strawberry jam to four floury muffins from Wooley's the baker. Wrap in greaseproof paper (or a bit of waxed paper off a plain loaf.)
Put all the above in my mother's old leather shopping bag, along with two extra cups to supplement the thermos tops for drinking the tea.
Find swimming costumes for all.
Find bathing caps for three (not my father)
Find four towels.
Pack all the above gear into father's old rucksack, along with his ancient camouflage oilskin coat on which to sit on the beach.
Ensure that the children (me and my sister) have their OWN spades and pails, and are wearing suitable footwear.
Pack first aid and Skol sun lotion, along with a blob of cotton wool for application of same.
Now, at last, the expedition can set off to walk the mile to the beach, there to spend the afternoon reading (my parents, and, in my teens, me), bathing, shivering (if weather less like today's) and having the picnic. Watch benignly as the children meet other children scattered about the beach and play strange games. (Like the time we found wooden fish boxes washed up on the beach, broke some of them up, used the nails to make the planks into crosses, and made a graveyard on the sand. Really)
The point I'm making, I think, is that my perfect days were the product of what must have been pretty laborious preparations. Now I'm not prepared to put that amount of effort in to an outing - unless, perhaps, if I have grandchildren visiting. So my dreams of the past are the fruits of my parents' labours, and belong firmly in my childhood, when such things could be.
So what did I do today? At 5pm we went down the coast to Toward, parked the car, walked some way along the road to the bay beside Castle Toward. I had on my swimming costume under a dress, which I peeled off at the water's edge and gave to Himself to hold. The tide was so far out that I couldn't actually swim - I found that to get any depth took me into the uncharted territory of Big Seaweed and Jaggy Rocks. So I waded about, and I did the immersion bit by walking on my hands on the sandy bottom. I discovered that my sandals were inclined to float my feet to the surface, which is good to know. When I came out, we perched on the protruding rocks that support the road above the beach till I had dried a bit. I put my dress back on over the damp cozzie and we walked back to the car.
It was actually lovely, in a downbeat activity sort of way. I'm blipping the bit of sea I tried to swim in, with a man crouching on the wet sand at the water's edge, just for scale, and the Rothesay ferry in the background. He and a young woman appeared to be wild camping on the beach nearby. The temperature when we got back to the car was apparently 29ºc, and it was 6.45pm.
And Himself had made curry for dinner ...