The Old Blog And The Sea

You might have noticed (oh God, I do hope you noticed), that there was no blog entry last week, and that’s because it was half-term, so we spent the week visiting my in-laws in Norwich.

Then, last Friday (or ‘Blog Day’ as I now like to call it – and feel free to join me), I conquered two of my biggest fears: the ocean, and playing badminton with pensioners.

The ocean is quite a common phobia to have – it’s right up there with spiders, heights, and the Dark Lord of the Sith herself, Theresa May – and even has its own medical term: Thalassophobia (which, strangely, is also a fear of women from Yorkshire).  However, whilst Thalassophobia covers everything from a fear of drowning (entirely rational) to travelling by sea (less rational, but still perfectly understandable – and probably related to the fear of drowning), my ocean-based phobia is completely irrational: I hate ‘paddling’ my feet in the sea.

Admittedly, it’s not so much a fear, more an inherent dislike, and its actually the sand sticking to my feet afterwards that I detest the most, but, whatever the reason, I try to avoid dipping my tootsies into the surf at all costs.  The problem is, unlike drowning and travelling by sea (which are easily avoidable), when you take two young children to the seaside, as we did last week, getting your feet encrusted with wet sand – and, even worse, beach flotsam – is virtually inevitable.

As for my other phobia, the fear of playing badminton with pensioners is unquestionably more obscure, and doesn’t have its own medical terminology. This is partly because there should be very little to fear in the first place, but also because the only people who tend to play badminton with pensioners, are other pensioners, and the elderly are frightened of nothing (except, perhaps, going into a home, or losing their winter fuel payment).

Anyway, last Friday I met both fears (together with an additional fear I never knew I had) head on, and survived to tell the tale. Here is that tale:

I got up early and, despite the fact I was on holiday, went for a run in the large park opposite my in-law’s house. Running is still not a pastime I particularly relish, but since I have spent a sizeable sum on my new trainers, and since there aren’t many other ways I can see to halt (and perhaps shrink) my ever-increasing belly, I must persevere.

The good news, is that I not only managed to successfully complete a distance I haven’t run since my late teens (and by ‘successfully’, my benchmark these days is to finish running without vomiting or requiring medical attention), but I could have continued, if it weren’t for the fact I needed to get to badminton, and because I was distracted by a semi-naked man having a wash in the boating pond. Well, I say ‘semi-naked’, but it was more like 90% naked, as he was only wearing boxer shorts (although he may have had socks on too, as I could only see him from the shins up).

The first time I passed the pond, I spotted him stood there, soaking wet, as if he had just been for a wash or swim. I assumed it was the former, because this particular pond is only about two feet deep, and is primarily used for sailing model yachts and remote-controlled boats:

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Boating Pond, Eaton Park, Norwich

Not most people’s idea of a pleasant morning dip, I’m sure you’ll agree – although I’d still choose this over the ocean. The really confusing part, however, was that he was staring at me, like I was the weird one, and he was thinking: Don’t know what you’re looking at. I’m just washing my bits in this ‘ere pond; you’re the one running around, in bright yellow shoes, in broad daylight.

The second time I passed him (I’d contemplated changing my route to avoid doing so, but didn’t want to get lost), he was surrounded by three police officers, and my opinion of him suddenly changed. I had initially assumed he was some lunatic going for an early morning dip, in what is essentially a large (public) puddle, but now I had to accept that he might be homeless, and in need of help. He had stared at me, like I was the odd one, but maybe this had been his way of silently pleading for assistance, and I had simply run on. What if he was vulnerable, and mute with confusion or fear?

But then I thought: what if I was right the first time? What if, when I initially passed him, I’d assumed he needed my help, but it turned out he was just a semi-naked nutter after all? It might not have ended very well for me, with no one else around. After all, even though he was only wearing boxers, he could still have been concealing a sizeable weapon down there, with an intention to thrust it into me.

Wait, that came out wrong.

Anyway, I ran back to the house, to avoid further involvement with either the nutter or the police, showered, quickly grabbed some breakfast, and jumped in the car to get to badminton.

Until last year, I can safely say that playing badminton against a group of pensioners would not have featured very highly on my list of fears. In fact, it wouldn’t have made the list at all, as it wasn’t an activity I had ever previously contemplated, let alone lost sleep over.

Then, whilst in Norwich last summer, I was invited to join my wife’s parents at their weekly badminton group and, whilst I’m relatively shit at the sport anyway, I was secretly confident that at least I wouldn’t embarrass myself. After all, even if some of the old-timers were former professionals, they couldn’t all be that good, and even with my comparatively poor fitness levels, I felt sure they would tire before me, as I had a good thirty years on most of them.

As it turned out, I was 50% right, since none of them were former professionals – although they were all playing at a relatively high standard – but they were bloody fit for people in their 60’s and 70’s. Well, they were fitter than me, and that’s all I really cared about, because if I couldn’t beat them in terms of skill (and I couldn’t), then my only weapon was youth. Sadly, whilst I often joke that I am a grumpy old man, trapped in the body of a middle-aged one, I always thought that referred to my outlook on life, rather than my physical fitness.

In any event, whether it was my general decrepitude, or the fact these people were in remarkably good shape for their age (honestly, it was like Cocoon), didn’t really matter to me. What mattered, was that after ninety minutes of being distinctly average, at a sport I’ve now been playing for a few years, against a group of people who have bus passes, replaced body parts, and – in some cases – birth certificates predating the demise of Hitler, I was breathing out of my arse.

It came as quite the shock. Maybe I had underestimated the older generation, or maybe I had misjudged just how physically unfit I was, but either way it taught me a lesson. And that lesson was: don’t play badminton with pensioners ever again.

Clearly, I didn’t learn the lesson for long, as last Friday I once again found myself at Wensum Sports Centre in Norwich, greeting people with names like Hilda and Doris (not their actual names, but you get the idea), and praying they wouldn’t once again destroy me, at one of the few sports I still enjoy.

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In truth, I knew what to expect this time, and probably performed better as a result, but they were still all in remarkably good shape for their respective ages, and aside from a few extra wrinkles here and there, no one would have been able to tell us apart.

In fact, the only time I was reminded of the age difference, was when a particularly low shot came towards me just over the net, and I dived to my left to try and reach it. When our normal group of middle-aged men play on a Friday evening, it is quite common for us to dive around to try and execute spectacular shots (my success rate is in the region of 7%), but as I landed on the floor, I suddenly realised that all three courts had stopped playing, and everyone was looking at me.

Apparently, if a player ends up on the floor during their weekly badminton sessions, it usually means someone has suffered ‘a bit of a fall’, and the consequences can be as severe as a dislocated knee or broken hip. They simply couldn’t understand why I might fall to the ground voluntarily.

Despite this minor embarrassment, I survived the session, and wasn’t entirely outplayed by people approximately twice my age, as I had been previously. As a result, I hopefully won’t be so anxious, if I am invited back next time we visit.

Unfortunately, the relative success of my badminton trip made me somewhat over-confident, so that when we went to the seaside later that same day, I decided to conquer another irrational fear, by joining my wife and boys for a paddle in the sea.

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Damn, my legs look good in this picture

However, while my trepidation of once again playing badminton against a group of pensioners had been largely unwarranted, my recollection of paddling in the ocean (something I haven’t done for several years) was pretty much spot on. The water was cold, murky, salty, and provided the perfect adhesive for half of the fucking beach to cling to, from my toes right up to my knees.

At least I was half right.

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Blog On The Beach

The more observant among you, will have noticed that there was no entry last week (at least, I hope you did) and this was because we were on holiday – firstly in Norwich visiting my in-laws, and then, last weekend, we went to Peppa Pig World near Southampton. A place of strange people, weird smells and unusual noises… and then we went to Peppa Pig World (joke – I happen to like Norwich very much).

You might think, bearing in mind my newly discovered fondness for Peppa Pig (the show, rather than the irritating little pork-scratching herself), this entry would be about our experiences last weekend. For example, I could write about how I became a bit star-struck when I met my hero, Daddy Pig:

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Or I could explain about Isaac (whose tiny little mind was well and truly blown when we arrived), and the fact that he was too shy to go near any of his idols, except for Zoe Zebra (who he cautiously high-fived, and then spent the rest of the day grinning and staring at his hand, as if he would never wash it again):

Honestly, he hasn’t stopped talking about her since, and I suspect this is his first crush. I haven’t the heart to tell him ‘Zoe’ was probably a desperate-for-work student, who cries themselves to sleep every night at the thought of going back to work the next day (I am certain I heard Suzy Sheep mutter ‘fuck my life’ at one point under her oversized costume, but in fairness that’s just typical of Suzy – so maybe it was part of the character).

Anyway, rather than write about Peppa Pig again (a subject which has been done to death on the parenting blogs of late), I wanted to tell you about another of my pet hates.

You see, while we were in Norwich, we spent a gloriously sunny day at my in-law’s beach house in Bacton (a coastal village about an hour North-East of Norwich). The beach house is lovely, but – for me at least – it has one fundamental feature which I would rather avoid: it’s by the beach. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I am well aware that a beach house is rather redundant if it is not at least in walking distance of the coast (and it would surely be called something else anyway), but I could live with that.

And it’s not just British beaches either. True, they have the added disadvantage of suffering largely shit weather for most of the year, when compared to their European counterparts, but I do not discriminate – I hate all beaches. Not to the extent that I will run screaming if I encounter one, and I can willingly suffer them for the kids, but I would far rather stay in sight of the sea (perhaps drinking a cold beer sat outside a beachside bar), than actually on the beach.

There will be people reading this who love going to the beach, and who will no doubt question my sanity, but I will give you eight perfectly good reasons why beaches are crap, and it would not upset me to never go on one again:

1. Sand

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Yes, I know this is an obvious one, but I hate sand with a passion. No matter how cautiously you position yourself on the beach, it will find a way to enter your every crevice, and it will remain there regardless of how thorough your washing regime may be, for many a week to come. Worst still, on a windy day (which, let’s face it, were accustomed to in the UK), it will get in your eyes, up your nose and will whip your face until it is raw.

And then you have those people (I like to refer to them as ‘idiots’), who will take a picnic onto the beach, fully aware that they will consume more sand than anything else they have brought. Since when was grit a condiment? No one in their right mind would go into a restaurant and, having declined the offer of black pepper, beckon the waiter over to ask if the establishment perhaps has some lovely sand that could be liberally sprinkled over their lasagne.

2. The Sea

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Another blindingly obvious one but, as has tragically become all too apparent in the news of late, the sea is really, really dangerous. Fortunately, our boys are too young to be venturing into the sea unaccompanied, but there are many families who will watch their offspring from a distance, as they wade out into the ocean, and it only takes a few seconds for the situation to get very serious.

I don’t like swimming full stop, as it happens, but swimming in the sea scares the bejeezus out of me.

Then, on top of the perils of large waves and rip currents, the ocean has the added hazard of having some really mean fuckers swimming around in it. No, I don’t mean pensioners, I mean the kind of sea life which, given half a chance, will do its level best to injure or even kill you. True, we don’t have many sharks in our waters, and those we do have are supposedly quite harmless, but we most certainly have jellyfish, crabs and the like. They serve no purpose other than to inflict pain and misery. They are the wasps of the sea.

Also, even if we leave aside the dangerous elements of the ocean, who in their right mind would want to swim in it anyway? It’s very cold (even abroad) and it’s incredibly salty.

If I wanted something cold and salty that could possibly kill me, I’d go to Little Chef.

3. Seaweed

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Ah, seaweed. The cobwebs of the ocean. I am sure that seaweed serves some kind of biological purpose, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what it might be, and the very fact there are around 450 kinds of the damn stuff (all with their own stupid latin names), leaves me with nothing but contempt for it.

4. Sharp things

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Mother Nature has determined that, if the sea and sand were not unpleasant enough, there should be the added ‘bonus’ of various sharp implements – particularly stones and pieces of shell – dotted around for you to impale your feet on.

Added to that, mankind has come along and, via the very worst of our society, littered the beaches with the likes of broken bottles and needles. Ok, this is more common in Blackpool than the Costa del Sol, but we have to share some of the responsibility for making beaches so damn hazardous.

5. Seagulls

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Evil winged bastards.

Evolution gave us the rat, which is horrible, ugly, and carries all manner of nasty diseases. Then, we have pigeons, which are essentially rats that can fly.

But trumping both of those, ladies and gentleman, there is the seagull. Which is an angry pigeon hell-bent on attacking you. So, in other words, a very large, vicious, kamikaze rat of the sky. They will attack you and steal your food without any sense of remorse, and I had enough of that shit at school, thank you very much.

6. Building Sandcastles

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The favourite past-time of a child on the beach (that, and burying their sibling or parent up to their ears). Except, sandcastles are largely rubbish, rarely work as they are supposed to, and require countless trips to the sea to make the dry sand sufficiently wet enough to build with. Which leads me to my next issue…..

7. Getting Clean

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My main gripe with going to the beach is trying to get clean afterwards.

Sea Water + Sun Cream + Sand = Impenetrable Cement.

It will not come off. Your feet, in particular, will become encrusted with the kind of material they should probably construct aircraft black boxes from, or the nose cone of a space shuttle, because nothing will break it down.

8. Beach bodies

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National statistics dictate that only 1% of the British population has a body worthy of showing off at the beach (probably). Don’t get me wrong, I admire anyone who is comfortable in their own skin, we all should be, but there are certain people who, frankly, are enough of a sight to put me off my gritty ham sandwich.

But so long as they are happy, then fair play to them, and I will simply avert my eyes and settle my stomach.

The people I cannot abide, however, are the 1% who do have good bodies, and who make me feel tremendously inferior/inadequate/in danger of being rolled back towards the surf.

Ok, you eat well and you work out. Probably a lot. Well done you. But if you could see your way to donning a costume slightly wider than a piece of string, I’d appreciate it.

With the greatest respect to the civil parish of Bacton, the beautiful people tend to favour the beaches of Europe, not Norfolk, and some of the sights I witnessed on our recent day trip were frankly upsetting.

One last thing: What do you think to this week’s title? I was considering ‘BlogWatch’, but felt that was a bit misleading, and you might assume it was about crime rather than a lame reference to the ’90s David Hasselhoff show. I then settled on ‘Sex On The Blog’, and nearly went with it too, but worried that my mum might think I’d decided to branch out into some weekly erotic fiction, so I changed it at the last minute. I await your feedback (and any private requests for erotic fiction).

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