Monday 26 August 2019

Phew-what-a-scorcher: the new normal...

It was August Bank Holiday Monday today, and it was a proper scorcher - a record, in fact, the hottest ever at 33.3 degrees. And it certainly felt it. I was very grateful not to be in London today, where it would have been unbearable.
This morning we left the Haywain, to spend the next two nights at Whitstable right on the coast - another new place for me. First, though, we stopped off in Canterbury (so hard for me, from Christchurch in the province of Canterbury, NZ, to think of that as a city) to hire a mobility scooter for the OH, who since the flu has become even frailer than previously. The Firstborn did all the research and it was all remarkably easy - very impressively so, in fact. There's an organisation called Shopmobility that hires out, for a pretty reasonable fee, your choice from a wide range of regular wheelchairs, electric chairs and mobility scooters. It cost £7 a day for a simple electric scooter (they did have fancier ones). The process was quick and straightforward, and in no time at all I was buzzing along, manoeuvring in and out of a lift, and around the streets back to the car where the OH was waiting.
It was an education, truly. I was instantly conscious of accessibility issues, and grateful for automatic doors, pavement ramps, pedestrian courtesy. It was also pretty good fun! Back at the car, though, the plan to look around the city changed and we were to head straight for Whitstable. Instant problem: how to get the scooter, with its heavy battery, into the car? We couldn't lift it for the life of us. Solution? Ask a passing big man - who happily obliged, heaving it into the back of the (fortunately bigger than requested) Jaguar.
I must say, here, kudos to the Brits. It hasn't always been my experience, but on this trip every single person I have had contact with, all of them random strangers, was friendly, obliging, helpful and cheerful. Maybe it was the holiday, maybe the lovely weather - maybe even it was a perverse reaction to the looming disaster of Brexit - but they were, without exception, a real pleasure to encounter, and they should all be proud of themselves.
So we headed away to meet up with the Firstborn and partner in Whitstable, where the OH very quickly got the hang of the scooter, and we had the novelty of being left behind as he zipped away ahead. It's such a pretty place, a classic seaside town, and was humming today with a little market, art shops, cafés, old pubs festooned with colourful hanging baskets, stately buildings, churches and a theatre. We moseyed on down to the harbour, which was if anything even busier, with cute little fishing boats reflected in the water, and quaint rows of tall, narrow huts converted into art and craft shops, and restaurants. Mussels are a big thing here, and oysters and lobsters, and there were stalls busily serving them.
We ate at one of the open-air restaurants - crab rolls, very nice, with cider - and it was all relaxed and lovely. Perfect, in fact. Then we ambled back up into town, along the seaside, enjoying the varied architecture and the ambiance, and fetched up finally at our Airbnb for the next two nights. It was one of the odder ones: almost Mary Celeste-ish in that there was personal stuff of all sorts lying around everywhere, as though the owners had only just popped out - which maybe they actually had. It was a bit disconcerting, but perfectly clean, so I wasn't bothered, although the Firstborn was more critical.
It was immensely hot, so I put on my togs and went to the beach just a couple of blocks away for a swim. Big mistake! The tide was out and, whereas in NZ that would mean just walking a bit further to the water, here it was a disaster. Honestly, I tried. I walked down the pebbles between the breakwaters against which people were clustered in the partial shade, and started to walk across the wet sand to the water - but it was so muddy and squelchy that I soon learned to step on the multiple patches of green weed draped over the surface, which gave a bit of traction. I picked my way out, and out, encouraged by seeing people in the water in the distance - but I never got deeper than just over my ankles before I gave it up as a bad job. Honestly, English beaches! We do them so much better in New Zealand... 
It was kind of cute, though, so after a shower back at the house, I returned to observe the natives at play. There they were, sitting in folding chairs or on towels under umbrellas between the ranks of breakwaters; or noisily drinking outside the Old Neptune pub; or wandering along the path with their dogs; or sprawled on the edge of the harbour wall, some of them hopefully fishing. There was a picturesque boat stranded in the shallows with people paddling around it and, beyond it, water deep enough for some of them to be actually swimming. It was all very colourful and typically English-seaside, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Back at the house, there was champagne we had snuck away from the suite fridge on Silver Wind - thanks, Silversea - then a gorgeous (and widely appreciated) sunset, and then just crisps and beer for dinner in the quaint old Royal Naval Reserve pub in the main street, that's been making its customers welcome and comfortable since 1760.

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