Better than Mills and Boon

This isn’t an internet dating blog entry, although one of them will be forthcoming in due course. Suffice to say it’s providing hours of amusement, but (because I am fastidious in my tastes) no romance yet. For that, where better can I slip than between the sheets of a book?

The Easter long weekend took us to a Woolacombe, where we stayed in a caravan with some friends and our cousin, who also brought along his retinue, the various members of which descended on us a varying times. It was bitterly cold, although not snowing as it was in the rest of the country. As we played beach volleyball, I began to laugh at the absurdity of the situation: the wind was horizontal and it was near freezing, but we were going to have our beach activity no matter what. Anyone other than the English would have just stayed inside and toasted their tootsies by the fire.

The next day I went for a walk by myself along the shore. The tide was out and had left pools of water in the sand which I skipped over. Coming back was tortuous, as the wind was icy and determined to fold me in half and then, joy of joys, it began hailing. I finally made it back to the caravan for a game of Scrabble, which I lost because someone helped H (again) and I subsided into a deep sulk.

On Sunday we went for a long walk along a headland, then down to a cove with black sand and a log smouldering from a fire. A dog, going bananas in the sea air, bounded around with a stick. I collected some rocks for my fish bowl, and on the way back H and I sank into the green grass at the top of the cliffs the way we used to do when we were kids on the farm, watching the birds freewheeling and the sea tossing up white balls of foam into the air above us.

We ate dinner at The Thatch and enlightened the English as to the anatomical meaning of this term in Australia, then played bingo at the vile club in the caravan park for novelty value. The kids’ games room was filled with brightly coloured slot machines and the adults’ room, full of pokies, was identical, thereby making for an obvious transition from one kind of game to another, more damaging one.

After bingo we settled down to watch Ocean’s Eleven. ‘Oh,’ I said scathingly as a car backed up with an enormous piece of equipment on board (don’t ask me what it was), ‘it’s such a boy’s film.’
A looked at me pointedly and said, ‘And what did we watch last night?’
I squirmed. It had been Pride and Prejudice. It was an otherwise beautiful film except for the scenes with Keira Knightley in them. Twiglet is clearly suffering from a want of vitamins because she has rictus of the jaw and can’t move her muscles properly. Unbelievably, she wasn’t as thin in this film as she was in Atonement, in which she closely resembled a coat hanger.

The next day we set off home via Doone Valley, which a friend had told us about during another clifftop walk. The road into the valley was steep, with trees crouching on either side, and I said that I wouldn’t like to be caught on that road on a dark and stormy night. We pulled up at Doone Valley Buttery for second breakfast, and came upon a sheepdog with a screw loose. It had a fascination for stones, but if you threw her a stone, she’d take it down to the creek and stand guard over it in the water. We drove onward over narrow roads through twisted trees and thickly grassed banks, pausing by a brook for photos. I expected Heathcliff to come striding over the grass and to pinion me against a tree but alas, the vision didn’t materialise.

At lunch we stopped at Dunster, where there was a castle. We had lunch at a pub which had an African Grey Parrot called Nelson in a cage. Nelson wouldn’t talk if you were looking at him, so when the old men who were sitting nearby exited, he set up a whole little landscape of croons and whistles, and then erupted with, ‘Wanker!’
‘Nelson!’ the bartender scolded him.
Said bartender was similarly odd. Overhearing our conversation on facial and body hair (specifically on getting a free exfoliation when a girl kisses a prickly boy) as he set down our plates, he added, ‘I do like a good stache.’
After lunch, full of Cumberland sausages, we wandered down the road to a paddock and watched more dogs galumping about, then into the National Trust gardens, which were just beautiful, not least because of the magnolia tree that was in flower. We climbed the hill to the castle, and once at the top realised we had to get our skates on as none of us wanted to be left behind in the waiting room at Swindon train station.

And the romance? It began as soon as I opened the covers of Lorna Doone when I got home. There was tall, strapping John Ridd fighting the equally strong, but murderous Doones to get his girl, who had been born into the wrong family. That was a good enough plot to keep anyone reading, but what added to my delight was the way the strands that seemed to end in questions were caught up and woven back into the fabric of the work in that wonderfully logical, but improbable, 19th century way. And it wasn’t so much the characters themselves that lit up my mind, for John was faintly misogynist and Lorna needed a man to defend herself – but rather the quality of their love. It sprang up in their childhoods, then endured and made them stronger: John’s love pushed him to become braver, Lorna’s washed away her pride and breeding. It was the alchemy of love that made me fall for the book, and want to begin it again as soon as it had finished.


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