The cousin ‘zoo’ as I came to think of it, started around 6am, when the first of the children would invariably be up, pattering around the echoey corridors of the huge, rambling Victorian mansion (it belongs to some of the Doctor’s wealthier relations, and he has been there almost every summer since he was a tiny child himself). Often, it would be one of the Littleboys – one morning, Littleboy 1 escaped from our bedroom at ten to six and dashed downstairs. After much half-asleep searching, I discovered him hiding in the kitchen whereupon he refused to go back upstairs until he was given breakfast. If by some miracle the Littleboys slept in, it would be another cousin, bellowing his tiny lungs out in the early hours. But whoever it was, the whole house would soon be resounding to the noise of children running, shouting and playing (plus the odd ‘thump…waa’ as someone fell over).
After several hours of everyone sitting around and wondering if the weather would clear up, we would pile all the kids into the back of a four wheel drive truck (one of the highlights of their day) and drive the mile or so down the rough track, lined by blackberry hedges, past fields of sheep and cows to the beach.
Each child then grabbed as many buckets and spades as they could find and happily stripped off (despite the inclement weather), while the adults sat on the stones in fleeces and jeans.
Most fascinating was how each child occupied him or herself in a different way on the beach – whether collecting seawater in buckets, throwing sticks for the dog, climbing rocks, making castles, digging holes or eating seaweed. As someone remarked, it was a bit like an illustration from a Richard Scarry book, with a child everywhere you looked performing their own little activity.
And they seem to known instinctively what to do: Littleboy 2, having never really been to a beach except as a baby, picked up a spade and started digging away as if that was what he did every day.
Eventually all were piled, sandy, salty and shivering, back into the truck and taken up to the house for supper, bath and bed. This activity took several hours, and usually involved lots more mayhem, with excited little figures in pyjamas bombing around the house well past their normal bedtime.
Adult supper became later and later, taking place at nearly 10pm on the penultimate night, with the eldest cousin, scared by the house (not unreasonably, as bats have been known to roam the corridors and there are few electric lights) put to sleep on chairs by the fire as we ate.
Conclusions: kids don’t give a monkey’s about the weather, as long as there are plenty of children around and a beach to entertain them. And they don’t need TV – not one of them asked for it during our stay in a Beebies-free household. It might have been a dismal August bank holiday, but not for them – and I hope that in their just-forming memories the last few days will be a blissfully happy time steeped in sunshine, sand and water.