Family strife: the one thing you can bank on
Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 15, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so. . . baffling
“I’M not going any further!” insists Emma, managing an involuntary Fosbury Flop over the latest stile and thudding to the ground. “Look! A blister!” (Her almost-tangible exclamation marks virtually cut through the air and lodge in my rump.) She tugs off a sock and presents a slight red mark on her big toe. Hardly a case for Holby City, is it? I suggest. The wrong thing to say, obviously – but then we’re all a bit low on blood sugar. Combined with fresh air and the requirement to move a muscle, a pimple transforms her countenance from its default setting of “teenage sullen” to “foul, turning stormy later”. A bank holiday . . . don’t you love them?
It’s my own fault. Why let a free day slip away when you can venture out en famille? No-one cheered, mind, when I suggested it the previous day – apart from Jane, who declared a state of independence and said she was staying at home with the new Alexander McCall Smith. (I assume it’s his latest book, rather than a new man. Although . . .) “What’s that in your hand?” demanded Her Grumpiness (Emma). Ah, my secret weapon: a new guide called Kiddiwalks in Suffolk: 20 rewarding but not over-taxing strolls around the county. She looked at me as if I were a BNP canvasser. Admittedly the title isn’t going to inspire a 15-year-old girl (or a 10-year-old boy like James, come to that) but a day out is a day out – and I got them out of the door with the help of an ether-drenched handkerchief. So here we are in lovely Eye. We’ve started from the nature reserve by the river and skirted the town, across fields and farmland – carefully, of course – through woods and along tree-lined lanes. James is content to amble along, trailing a stick in the dirt, though spirits are flagging as we pass a crinkle crankle wall. I break out the emergency rations; Suffolk’s not exactly the Derbyshire Dales, but Kendal Mint Cake nonetheless goes down a treat. “We could make a detour here and look at the ruined castle,” I exhort, jauntily. “It was a prison for 400 years, and when it later fell into disrepair the locals carted away stone for building materials. That’s interesting.” “Oh Dad, you’re so lame . . . even lamer than me,” sighs the blistered one, with a rare ironic quip. “OK, you win,” I say, a bit tetchy by now. I pull out another book: Children’s Norfolk & Suffolk. “Page 111. Next bank holiday you can go to Pleasurewood Hills theme park. Your mother is dying to take you, I’m sure. My turn to stay at home – with a glass of dry white wine and Stephenie Meyer.”