The rain sounds like ball bearings hitting a baking tray. The crazy-paved path leading to our door has become a river. Suddenly the dash we made to Devon seems a big mistake – that’s if you can call a nine-hour crawl past Bristol in sweltering heat a ‘dash.’ What we would give for that scorching sun to break through again.
‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ Tracey says.
In Britain we know tea has magical properties at times of stress or stilted conversation, but I doubt it will turn these humble surrounds into a stone cottage with an Aga, inglenook fireplace and view of Lundy Island. Joe pokes a cupped hand through a gap in the door as if that might not be real rain after all and giggles. I’m glad he’s enjoying himself. We booked late and we booked cheap (by Devon standards) and I’m already struggling to bite back the blame. Our one proper holiday and we’ve gone and booked an allotment shed. Nine hours of driving and I could’ve put a sleeping bag next to the lawn mower and compost. Because it turns out we’ve rented a shed in the corner of a farmyard. The cutesy touch does nothing to calm my temper. We sit on a creaking camp bed, dripping and watching steam rise from our clothes and wondering just how long a week this will turn out to be. Milo shivers and tramps into a corner burying his head beneath his tartan blanket.
‘I agree with the dog,’ I say. ‘You’ve really excelled yourself this time.’
Tracey stirs the tea, wisely ignoring me. I pull out the camp bed and stretch and find my face is three feet from a dripping sink tap.
‘We need to get out of these damp clothes,’ I tell them.
That isn’t as easy as it sounds in a converted shed with a cramped narrow corridor resembling an escape tunnel. We have to set up a complex ‘traffic light’ system of knocks and whistles to avoid the bedroom door hitting the bathroom door or the bathroom door knocking the kettle off the hob or the matches into the simmering mushroom soup.
I step into a bathroom the size of a telephone kiosk. A limp shower curtain missing hooks is clinging to a wonky rail. I turn the dial and I’m dowsed in ice-cold water. The dial thing gets stuck and scalding jets turn my shoulders scarlet. I’m no beanpole but when I’ve finally got the water to a bearable temperature I have to stoop to get beneath the shower head. Unfortunately crouching means the shower curtain sticks to me like cling-film, so I’m bone dry and wearing a PVC dress decorated with sparkling starfish while the rumpled lino is flooded.
‘That’s it,’ I say. ‘No more.’
Tracey tells me to calm down. ‘Where else are we going to go anyway? Everywhere is booked up.’
I go to reception to protest, feeling foolish in shorts and T-shirt when I should be dressed in sou’wester and bonnet. There’s no one at reception and it’ll remain that way for the rest of our stay, but I decide I’m not leaving empty-handed. I wait for seven minutes, dripping and shivering before I pick up a leaflet for cream teas and tramp back to the allotment.
After thirty hours of rain, Lord of the Rings and Monopoly our prayers are answered with a glorious morning. ‘Right, let’s go,’ I say.
Tracey frowns, thinking I mean home. I shake my head. ‘We got through it. We can do this. Let’s make the best of it, eh?’
Tracey smiles and gathers the beach things. As a veteran of holiday camps in Ayrshire and Fife she was never going to be phased by a ‘sprinkle’ of English rain. So we paddle and splash and watch the boys build sand castles and complex dams and we even get to see a dramatic and, mercifully successful, helicopter rescue. When the rain returns we find a local deserted baths and wallow in the luxury of a lane of warm water each. We find hidden bridle-paths hemmed in by hawthorn and an ancient church once plundered by the Vikings. We’re offered lobster as we watch the fishermen land their catch at the harbour. After our last swim and as a pick-me-up before the M5 I remember the crumpled leaflet. Just along from the pool is an Edwardian villa with a deserted pitch and putt and views of a misty Lundy island. We sink into padded leather sofas and tuck into our scones and strawberries with lashes of cream so thick they might’ve been applied by bricklayers.