A DAY AT THE SEASIDEEvery year, about this time, my wife wakes me up with a playful slap and says, 'I've got an idea. Let's drive for three hours to the ocean, take off most of our clothes and sit on some sand for a whole day.'
'What for?' I will say warily.
'It will be fun,' she will insist.
'I don't think so,' I will reply. 'People find it disturbing when I take my shirt off in public. I find it disturbing.'
'No, it will be great. We'll get sand in our hair. We'll get sand in our shoes. We'll get sand in our sandwiches and then in our mouths. We'll get sunburned and windburned. And when we get tired of sitting, we can have a paddle in water so cold it actually hurts. At the end of the day, we'll set off at the same time as 37,000 other people and get in such a traffic jam that we won't get home till midnight. I can make interesting observations about your driving skills, and the children can pass the time sticking each other with sharp objects. It will be such fun.
The tragic thing is that because my wife is English, and therefore beyond the reach of reason where saltwater is concerned, she really will think it's fun.
Frankly, I have never understood the British attachment to the seaside.
So when? last weekend, my wife suggested that we take a drive to the sea, I put my foot down and said 'Never - absolutely not', which is of course why we ended up three hours later, at Kennerbunk Beach in Maine.
On arrival, our youngest - I'll call him Jimmy in case he should one day become a lawyer - surveyed the scene and said, 'OK, Dad, here's situation. I need an ice cream, a Li-Lo, a deluxe bucket and spade set, a hot dog, some candy floss, and inflatable dinghy, scuba equipment, my own slide, a cheese pizza with extra cheese and a toilet'.
'They don't have those things here, Jimmy,' I chuckled.
'I really need the toilet.'
I reported this to my wife.
'Then you'll have to take him to Kennebunkport', she said serenely from beneath a preposterous sun hat.
By the time We found a toilet, little Jimmy didn't need to go any more, so we returned to the beach. By the time we got there, some hours later, I discovered that everyone had gone off for a swim, and there was only one half-eaten sandwich left. I sat on a towel and nibbled at the sandwich.
'Oh look, Mummy,' said number two daughter gaily when they emerged from the surf a few minutes later. 'Daddy's eating the sandwich the dog had.'
'Tell me this isn't happening,' I began to whimper.
'Don't worry, dear,' my wife said soothingly, 'It was an Irish setter. They're very clean.'
I don't remember much after that. I just had a little nap and woke to find that Jimmy was burying me up to my chest in sand - which was fine, except my head - and I managed to get so sunburned that a dermatologist invited me to a convention in Cleveland the following week as an exhibit.
We lost the car keys for two hours, the Irish setter came back and stole one of the beach towels, then nipped me on the hand for eating his sandwich and number two daughter got far in her hair. It was a typical day at the seaside, in other words.
'Lovely', said my wife. 'We must do that again soon.'
And the heartbreaking thing is she really meant it.
(Extract from "Notes From a Big Country" by Bill Bryson)