Turning thirteen and sixteen has been epic!
Whenever she saw one of their boat-shaped collection boxes, my Granny always donated whatever small change she could find in her handbag to the RNLI. When I was little she and my Grandfather lived on the Suffolk coast, so there were RNLI collection boxes in every village shop and street corner. She always impressed on my little brother and me how important an institution the RNLI was, and how courageous the lifeboat men and women were: volunteers going out in the very worst conditions to rescue people at sea.
My Granny was a sailor. She came to this activity late in life via the enthusiasms of my Grandfather, who discovered the joys of sailing when he retired. They sailed across the North Sea when they were in their sixties and seventies many times – and were even in The Netherlands with their boat when I was born. My earliest memories of my Granny are of her in a boat, cleaning a boat, packing for a trip on a boat, or taking me for walks around the harbours of Suffolk to look at the boats. She always liked looking at the boats' quirky names – something I enjoy now – and she would point out her favourites to me as we strolled. My Granny was a very ladylike person, and the only time she wore trousers (which she called slacks) was when she was on a boat. She seemed to greet my Grandfather's desire for nautical adventures with the equanimity that was characteristic of everything she did. She just got on with it, and then found pleasure in it.
I went to the seaside today, on a whim, and the first thing I saw when I arrived at the harbour was the RNLI lifeboat station, with its flag flying smartly in the breeze. I went into their shop to see if I could buy a tea towel (my Granny's charitable nature meant that she acquired what must surely have been one of the largest RNLI tea-towel collections in East Anglia). I think she would have understood my desire for little adventures on my days off – and I know she would have loved to stroll with me around the harbour today, looking at all the boats and eating ice cream.
I thought of her when I put some change into the boat-shaped collection tin, and I could her her voice in my head reminding me once again of why the RNLI is so important and how courageous its crews are.
I had two and a half weeks off between the shifts, and we went down to South West France to stay with family. We were looked after, loved, fed and plied with wine.
I felt a very long way from the home, especially when Graham and I were hiking in the forests and river gorges.
We're back in London and back at work now; and as wonderful and soul-restoring as a summer holiday is, it's also lovely to be back home. I am realising that my days off have acquired a routine and a rhythm too over the past few months. I enjoy routine, but our holiday has left me restless and I am now craving an injection of something new. So I've started a list of adventures – large and small – to be done on days off.
Let's see where they take me.
I have always loved the school summer holidays. I feel as though the children belong to me again, and it's a pleasure to see them unwind, please themselves and chill out. Now that I'm working full-time (for the first time since Cam was born, nearly sixteen years ago), I wasn't sure how we'd get on – but it's turning out to be absolutely fine.
My shifts mean that I am still around for half the week, and the children only have a couple of days at a time by themselves while both Graham and I are at work. They are nearly sixteen and nearly thirteen, and are perfectly able to look after and amuse themselves without any input from us. I finished a run of nightshifts this morning, took them out to breakfast, and caught up on their news over cappuccinos and egg McMuffins. Cam has dyed his hair bright red, and had eaten his way through pretty much an entire loaf of bread in two days by scoffing endless toasted cheese sandwiches. Olivia has been working her way steadily through the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook and managed to vaguely tidy her room.
After breakfast we went to buy hen food, and then they put it away while I had a quick shower and crawled into bed. When I resurfaced at about 3pm, I found that Olivia had made more cupcakes and Cam was out with friends. I lay on the sofa with a massive cup of tea and one of the cupcakes and wondered what to cook for supper. Olivia and I watched Pitch Perfect (she is obsessed and I had never seen it before), and flicked through some magazines. It turns out that my level of tiredness after nightshifts matches perfectly with their own well-earned levels of summer idleness.
It's all good. It always is.
The children finally broke up for their summer holidays at lunchtime today, so for the next six weeks I will have their company (at least partially – they're teenagers, so they are pulling away from home and towards independence), on my days off. I am very happy about this. They are excellent company – funny, interesting, challenging and thought provoking – at this age.
I made a plum and almond cake this morning to celebrate the start of the holidays, and Olivia is now making lemon bars (from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, which she loves).
Cam wants to play on his guitars, listen to music, and go to the cinema occasionally. Olivia wants to bake, draw, watch endless episodes of emotional American teenage TV series (Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl mainly), and has also said she want to do some more exploring of London. I reckon I can accommodate all these requests, with a mixture of work days and days off.