Jonathan Ray returns to the holiday haunt of his youth — Camber Sands
Mrs Ray had decided on a whim to go and sun herself in Morocco with her mate, Mrs Smith. I was left at home in Brighton with our boys — Ferdy, six, and Ludo, four — and told to get on with it.
To ensure that I bathed them at least once, Marina cunningly put soluble transfer tattoos on the chaps’ arms, explaining that if they were still there when she got back I’d be for it.
‘Just feed them, entertain them and keep them out of mischief,’ she shouted from the back of the departing taxi. ‘I’ll be back in a week.’
The boys were thrilled. ‘Yippee!’ shouted Ludo. ‘Ketchup sandwiches in front of the telly!’ As a treat/bribe for good behaviour, I promised them a trip to the happy haunt of my own childhood — Camber Sands, near Rye.
‘Does this mean,’ asked Ferdy slowly, not trusting himself to speak at normal speed, ‘that we’re going to stay in a h-o-t-e-l? A real HOTEL?!’
This was a first for the boys and, having just read Eloise in Moscow, they could barely contain themselves. Ludo ran to his room and packed his ‘suitcase’ (his plastic lunch box) and sat clutching it on the stairs, refusing to budge in case we left him behind. Ferdy kept asking what flavour ice-cream to expect.
Since this was a boys’ weekend, I asked my chum Mark (Mrs Smith’s abandoned husband) to join us, on the understanding that his seven-year-old daughter, Portia, agreed to be an honorary boy for 48 hours.
We set off in convoy, heading east along the Downs, through Hastings (‘The Birthplace of Television’) towards Romney Marsh.
‘Can we listen to the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World, please?’ asked Ferdy, warming the cockles of his daddy’s heart. Despite Marina’s attempts to brainwash them with Jack Johnson, my boys have a healthy devotion for Led Zeppelin and we sang raucously along to Houses of the Holy and Led Zep IV.
‘“Rock and Roll” is the best song EVER,’ yelled Ludo.
We stopped for lunch at the Robin Hood at Icklesham, stuffing ourselves with ham, egg ’n’ chips and a pint of Guinness each for Mark and me. A chaotic fivesome of pool later and our boys’ weekend was shaping up nicely.
We arrived in Camber just as the drizzle set in, but managed a couple of hours on the wonderfully wild and windy beach. Portia and Ludo (still gripping his suitcase) built sandcastles and hunted for shells, while Mark and I kicked a football around with Ferdy, who hitherto had professed to hate the game. It was the most exercise I’d taken in 28 years and I was running with sweat. We had a screaming competition (won hands down by Portia) and I taught Mark how to wolf-whistle through his fingers.
Our hotel, The Place, was a complete find. The one-room reception-cum-bar-cum-restaurant was staffed entirely by gorgeous twenty-something blondes who took the kids off our hands, gave them crayons and paper, and fed them homemade burgers (with organic ketchup), fresh breaded fish fillets and corn-fed chicken while plying us with strong drink. Utter bliss.
The boys and I had a three-bedded family room and after they had finished bouncing on all the beds the children settled down to watch Danny the Champion of the World on DVD.
‘Can we stay here forever?’ sighed Ludo.
Armed with our baby monitors, Mark and I had a fantastic dinner of local dressed crab and samphire followed by roast Romney Marsh lamb, washed down by a Kiwi Sauvignon and an Aussie Shiraz. We then crept back to his room and — Portia out cold — watched a double bill of Withnail & I and This is Spinal Tap, sharing a bottle of Armagnac.
‘Can we stay here forever?’ sighed Mark.
It rained next day, but we still ran around the lighthouse at Dungeness, took the narrow-gauge steam train to Dymchurch and back and played hide-and-seek along the Royal Military Canal. We wandered the cobbled streets of Rye and thrilled the children with tales of smugglers, revenue men and the Reverend Dr Syn, aka the pirate Captain Clegg.
We all had dinner together that night, but Ludo got confused and thought it was breakfast. ‘Can I have some of that yummy bacon again and a hot chocolate, please?’ he asked.
We left for home the following morning, after another kickabout on the sands. We arrived just before Marina, who swanned in looking tanned and happy. She also had extensive henna tattoos running the length of her arms and legs.
‘Yeurk!’ exclaimed the boys in unison. ‘Mummy hasn’t had a bath!’
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