This weekend didn’t go quite as planned as I was supposed to be trading at an open-air Steampunk festival in Diss, but a combination of difficulties plus the vicissitudes of April weather rendered the trip unfeasible.
On the Sunday, however, The Father of My Children invited us to go and photograph ruined churches which he needed to do for his forthcoming book, with the promise of a visit to the coast if we got going early and got all his locations done. We arrived at his house at 8.30am (which is the middle of the night for a Sunday), piled into his Jag, a picnic and bathing suits stowed safely in the back, and set off for Norfolk.
Boy the Elder and I promptly fell asleep in a heap on the back seat and woke up alone in a farmyard adorned with rusting machinery. “I assume this is Norfolk?” I said sleepily as a lone bell tolled on the wind. We had missed the first location but managed to stay awake for the rest as we headed down remote lanes, climbed fences and dived through hedgerows in search of the crumbling remains of England’s religious heritage. I was certainly brought rudely to my senses when, running like flint down a bridleway out of sheer high spirits, I went arse over tit and took four inches of skin off my arm in a reflexive desire to protect my camera. Remarkable, I don’t bounce like I used to, but at least I didn’t cry….
We found picturesque arches, wildflowers growing in chancel brickwork, round towers in stands of Scotch Firs and no end of headstones of long-forgotten Victorians, slowly being digested by the earth and scrub. Best of all was a square tower , so completely reclaimed by nature that it was almost indistinguishable from the trees and hedges surrounding it. It contained a glorious archway and a window with the iron cross still in it and we all had the ethereal and delicious feeling that we could step into Narnia at any moment. We finished the photography in record time and headed excitedly for Cley-next-the Sea.
Now it is important at this point, that I draw your attention to my predilection for wild swimming, especially in the sea. I cannot go near a salty expanse without, at the very least, having a paddle to satisfy a deeply held longing for communion with this elemental force. I have swum in early morning fog in Brighton, I have paddled in Sunderland in November. I have stripped naked and plunged into Scottish lochs with no provocation, and frolicked, mermaid-like, in Italian lakes, in my undies, with no discernible sense of decorum.
It is also worth noting that I was absolutely determined to try out my new Edwardian bathing dress, in which I am well pleased. This costume has every possible advantage; the fabric is thin and dries quickly, it covers flab and untidy bikini lines, it stops me from burning (and crikey do I burn, even in the weakest sunlight) and, most importantly, I feel fabulous in it.
Despite the bright sunshine and a balmy temperature of around 60o/19o, the wind was blowing at 37mph with 50mph gusts. We battled our way along the shingle beach and found shelter behind a WW2 pill box to have out lunch to which TFOMC had contributed a bottle of delicious champagne which fortified me for the adventure ahead.
I stripped off, donned The Bathing Dress and headed for the surf, my long hair whipping my face like a vengeful jellyfish. I ran enthusiastically at the sea and went in up to my waist, screaming with the cold and the inevitable onset of hypothermia, mixed with delight and exhilaration, the heavy waves making absolutely sure that not an inch of me remained dry or warm. The salt water made the cuts on my arm sting like hell which is a sure way of knowing that healing has begun. I felt a bit of a nancy for not going for the full immersion, but my tiny boys are too young to be motherless as the result of my inevitable death from North Sea Shock.
Dry, warmed and dressed, we headed back to the car and Boy the Elder and I enjoyed sleeping through the journey home. It had been a wonderful day and a terrific end to the Easter holiday. On returning home, we had big mugs of scalding tea, prepared uniforms and lunches for school the next day and fell into bed, to dream of Narnia, hurricanes and mermaids. In Edwardian bathing dresses.