I had the dream childhood; just hard enough that people still seem to like me now I'm an adult, but so easy that I never would have believed how much effort went into keeping my days breezy.
I grew up in the middle of Somerset; fields to the side and back of the house and estate of cycleable roads and playwithable children to the left. Pubs that could be worked in come my teenage years and plenty of villagers to nod at whilst walking the dog.
Nodding took on several meanings as I progressed through childhood... in the early days the nod meant "Yeah, you're damn straight I have a dog" then it progressed through several different incarnations of dog-nods from "Yeah, I can't believe my lazy ass parents make ME, a child, a prodigy waste my time of walking this furry shit-machine either" to "I'll nod at you but you really need to get a life, you're friends of my parents don't act like you know me" to finally "This nod is going to really mean something to you when I've gone away to University and become a famous actress."
I was always above my station.
Nowadays when I go back there is no dog left to walk, Caspar our golden retriever ate one sock too many (true story: you always knew which shits were his up the field because they'd have one of your best socks curled through it) and bit it about a decade ago. Now when I pop back the only option is to maybe walk mum; easier in that I rarely have to port a bag of her offerings around the block, harder because she has opinions on more than lamp posts and other dogs. If I ever have to manage a nod to someone on one of these walks you can be sure my inner monologue is "How are you still alive?! I left YEARS ago..."
The highlight of my childhood memories are the holidays... I am one of four children and every year come redundancy or high water we would be loaded into a car, top box bursting and tent at various stages of decomposition and carted off to some form of escape.
As I understand it, my early years were dominated by trips to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean but then my gluttonous parents decided that two angels were not enough and they bred two more... significantly reducing the luxury of our trips but greatly increasing the chances for excitement. Not that I really remember the beaches of St Lucia or the bays of Turkey... the one thing I can recall is having to have my hair braided at kids club and being utterly condescending about the ridiculous of the whole affair.
Looking back now as the wannabe liberal, left loving person I've attempted to become I'd like to try and claim that my reticence for corn rows was based on a desire to not culturally appropriate and not to use someone else's culture as my whimsical fashion statement. In reality, I think it just fucking hurt and I was annoyed that my sister had already cried off it and so I was stuck in the chair to save my mum's blushes at having two awfully behaved daughters.
Our family holidays soon gravitated to boats; a life long passion of my father's and something we all learned to yearn for. We would spend a week on a little watery caravan pottering up and down various rivers and canals in France - pulling in to small villages just in time for them to shut for whichever local holiday that day was (in reality I think they just enjoyed pissing off nob-head tourists by closing the shutters whenever someone with a guide book strolled into town) and begging my Dad to let us steer.
About three times a day Dad would need a beer or a wee and so the steering of the boat would be left to one of us. Whichever one it was would sit in the drivers seat looking piously at the others and pitying their total lack of competence. That was until the nose of the boat gently edged into the river bank and the cold sweat would appear instantly right the way down the back. Dad would reappear with a beer in one hand (regardless of whether he'd gone for a pee or a beer) and a small cigar in the other and try to coax us back into a straight lane with some encouragement, guidance and passive aggressive comments on our ineptitude at boat driving. One can only assume that by 8 he was Nelson.
Once the driver child in question was safely in tears and despondent at the idea of driving they would release the wheel back to Dad and he could resume his holiday. As a child I remember worrying that holidays were not fun for Dad; he just had to sit there steering the boat drinking beer and no one was allowed to talk to him much in case he couldn't concentrate. The man is a genius.
Last year we all went on holiday again. Unfortunately we were missing one sister, who has, one can only assume spurred on by the popularity of Game of Thrones, gone to live in the wild. They claim to have a house and cars and roads and things but I have looked on a map as to the location of their village in the Scottish Highlands and I refuse to comprehend how late night food deliveries and other such essentials arrive.
Since childhood we have now gained husbands and the next generation... they were all loaded in too. Minus my husband because he was working and my next generation because they do not exist. I needed to rewind the clock; I needed to feel that the world I used to know still exists somewhere hidden under a layer of decisions I now have to make and consequences of decisions I didn't make well enough. I thought if brie could still taste the same when eaten with trembling, exhausted post-swimming pool fingers, and air beds still went down in the night and pine needles still got everywhere despite your best attempts to brush your feet off before you went in the tent then... then what? I don't know. Then I was still living in the same world; it had all happened, and I could still be happy.
I bought an inflatable crocodile and orca on eBay, I got myself a camping chair and I booked a ferry and a campsite that looked like the past. My past. Off we went... I was loaded into the back of my sister's car with her two children... two little boys who were utterly furious with me for not being my husband but delighted because I have an inferiority complex and was therefore trying to make them love me by outshining my husband in the fun stakes. I failed but they let me try.
We put up a tent in the crushing rain, I argued with my mother, she argued back, we played cards into the bug filled night and we searched for gluten free food for my sister amongst the very few French words we could string together.
"Sans... what the fuck is gluten? Gluteene? Sans Glootin? Sans *mimes stomach ache*?"
Day after day of this holiday kept happening and I was having two different times; a time that was magical; a time that I knew I would always look back on fondly. Watching my one nephew spend the day wearing ear defenders and playing chess; refusing to come swimming or join in anything because he's 8 that 8 year olds are weird. Watching my other nephew come flying out of a tent shouting and wetting himself because he was weirded out by this prospect of predicting your pee in time to get to the toilet block. 14 is no age to go camping for the first time. I'm just kidding; he's 5.
The other time I was having was... hollow though. This wasn't right, was it? Sure - all the components of my childhood memories were there but I was different. I felt panicked and frightened all the time that I wasn't doing it right; I wasn't making the memories properly. I was shit now. Am I shit now? Has France and inflatables and everything stayed the same and it's me that's wrong? That's a route I'm scared to explore for long.
And then one evening, I found the clearing in the wood where the two paths converged. The nephews were grumpy and my brother was drunk and my sister and her husband were cross.
"Let's play 1, 2, 3, and in."
I think it was my idea but I'm sure family legend stated that we by now all think it was our own idea.
"What's 1, 2, 3 and in?" My brother the IDIOT asks.
"You know," I said, "Like hide and seek but you have to get back to the base and tag yourself in..."
"Oh!" He says, "You mean 40/40 in?"
My brother is 10 years younger than me and, it turns out, generations of children (much like regional herds of cattle) have slight variations to the way they speak. The very same game will have a million different names and variations as it spawns across years and counties.
We played. First we played on the empty plot by our tent... each running and chasing and hiding and laughing. It began to entertain the nephews; us playing a 1, 2, 3 and In Lite in order to patronise and occupy them but it soon turned into an all out war between the adults that delighted the children even more than the game set up to pander to them.
Footwear was exchanged for items with a more competitive grip on the foot and pretty soon we were all in agreement that we'd "completed" the game in this area of the campsite and a further challenge was required. We were off to the park.
There we were; four adults ages 21- 34 slamming round a childrens park with a 5 and an 8 year old losing their minds over what appeared to be happening.
"I'm not sure we should be doing this" says my wonderfully socially conscious brother in law, "it might be offputting for actual children who want to play here? The park is meant for them."
I looked over at the line of curious looking french children who were peering out from the edge of the park. They looked back at me. Feeling more self-conscious than I've ever felt before, conscious of being too old to be doing this in every possible sense of the phrase; I waved.
"Vous joue avec... us?" My half-baked sign language and I asked. The children looked to their leader; the older girl who looked like she'll be taller and more competent than me but July this year. She looked at them and let out a stream of the language I had so viciously mocked.
"We would love to; thank you."
And with that we had 5 little extras added to our game. No rules needed explaining; they'd been watching. They got it. "Un, deux, trois et ici" (None of us could for the life of us remember "in") had begun.
I felt not shit.
"Tell them off for egg laying!" My brother shouts, in response to the smallest French girl hanging around the base just waiting for us to peak out.
"Oh piss off, what the hell is "egg layer" in French?" I shout back.
"Oeuf! Oeuf is egg!" says my triumphant sister sprinting towards the bench that counts for the "maison".
"Couche d'oeuf! Couche d'oeuf! Pas de couche d'oeuf!" is our best approximation and we launch it at the baffled children who continue to giggle and run around with these laughing adults and their two little boys.
I felt really not shit.
By the time the light faded and the French parents began ambling across to find out where their children were and take them home to their first night of sleep with their own new family holiday memories in, we had 14 French children whisked in to our game.
I lay down on my combination of air bed and the French countryside that counted for mine and felt really, really not shit. I was sun burnt and tired; full of paella and a weird basil cheese we'd paid too much money for at a market. I'd played in a park with my brother and sister and some random French children we couldn't speak to but had played a game with; it was just like the past. The relief at still being someone other people want to play with... my god it was like a shower after sunshine or a kiss on the top of the head. The relief that, as a team; we still got it. I cried for the best reasons that night.
The next day I nod to lots of people on the campsite as I walk a furiously hopping 5 pee filled five year old to the toilets, "Yeah, that's right; I still got it. Probably still can't drive a boat but me and my sister are the ones your kids want to play with".