Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Chalk and Cheese

Having arrived and installed ourselves in our hotel in Lyme Regis, all seemed to be going well.

But then... not everything went quite perfectly... except when it did. Our days were a peculiar mixture of ups and downs, highs and lows, chalk and cheese.


Initially, we were more than happy with our hotel room, with its proximity to the "games room" that allowed us to sit in peace while LittleBear fell asleep, its distance from the bar and restaurant meaning we were spared the comings and goings of late night revellers, its view of the sea via a quiet courtyard. And then The Other Family arrived. They occupied the two rooms beside ours. They had large dogs who appeared to need to go outside every hour or so. They had a deaf grandfather with whom they attempted to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire? late into the night. They had children who were prone to slamming doors and running up and down corridors. They had a mother who stumbled down the corridor, glass of wine in hand, telling her 7 year-old child that he couldn't go to bed yet, despite it being 10pm. By Saturday morning, BigBear was muttering that he wanted to drive home that day. We spent a particularly grim breakfast, staring at the tablecloth and not speaking.


I gently approached the nice people at reception and explained that we were not having the most restful time, what with the noise from The Other Family, and the dogs, and so on. This is not my usual style, since it involved both speaking to another human being and complaining out loud*, but the Bad-tempered Breakfast required desperate measures. And thus we ended up being moved to a different room. A room beside the King Edward Lounge, a residents' lounge that nobody else appeared to want to use. So essentially a private sitting room. We were, alarmingly, above the bar. And yet, after about 9:30 there was merely a murmur from below. More enjoyably, the bar was within baby-monitor range of our new room, and we were able to sit and have a pint of beer together while LittleBear went to sleep. If we hadn't been so utterly shattered after being kept awake by The Other Family, we might have (a) managed to find something to talk to each other about and (b) not given up and gone to bed ourselves at about 9 o'clock.

Our own private sitting room


The hotel's "games room", as well as being equipped with full-sized snooker table, table-tennis table, and bar billiards table had an ottoman full of board games. LittleBear was wildly excited to find that there was a Scrabble set, and spent a large portion of time when we were trying to get him to do something else, agitating to know when we could play. And when we came to play... there was no board in the box. And his world began to crumble. Feeling that I needed to spare others from such levels of distress, I took the box to reception to hand it in and let them know it was perhaps less playable than imagined.


When confronted with the Disappointing Scrabble Set, the young man at reception said, "Oh, I didn't know the board was missing, but I've got a new one here we hadn't got round to putting in the games room yet. You could take this one." So we christened the new board, and I was trounced at Scrabble by a six-year old again**. 


Our first fossil-hunting day dawned bright, clear and sunny, which was a lovely day to be out in. Unfortunately, it was also a continuation in the delightfully mild winter that has resulted in very little in the way of fresh erosion and fossil exposure.

We re-introduced ourselves to the Lovely Fossil Men, C and P, who are friends of a friend, and joined the fossil hunt again. And LittleBear bounced up and down on his toes, arm stretched high, desperate to answer every question. The poor gents had to resort to saying, "Yes, we know you know, but how about some of the other boys and girls? Or grown-ups? Or anyone?" And when it came time to hand out some pre-found ammonites, LittleBear found himself at the back of the queue, as C pointed out, "you have been before, and you do have lots of fossils, so we'd better let the others have some first." My little moppet's bewildered face clearly didn't understand what was going on.

However, LittleBear had obviously touched a soft spot in P's heart, because he lurked behind C, tapped him on the shoulder and muttered to him that he had a special fossil for LittleBear. Which is how my spoilt small boy received a beautiful little pyritized ammonite with a fossilized parasitic worm on its back, and not just a boring old ammonite on its own.

And down the beach we stomped, hunting for fossils, and finding a quite considerable quantity of ammonites, belemnites and crinoid stems. But then... woe and calamity... I found an ichthyosaur vertebra. Surely this is a good thing? You'd think so. But no. The problem was that I found it, thus shattering the internal narrative LittleBear had constructed of his triumphant discovery of a vertebra. And thus we found ourselves, miles along a cold and windswept beach, with a rather poorly, over-tired, small boy, sobbing his heart out at how wrong everything was. P and C were rather concerned, and I had to do my best to assure them that it was nothing to do with their fossil trip. We managed to insert some chocolate-chip cookies into LittleBear, and drag him back to the town to find some lunch before hypothermia and starvation caused any further damage.


Our second day of fossil hunting followed hot on the heels of the Bad-tempered Breakfast, and was an expedition undertaken only by LittleBear and me, while BigBear went to explore the cliff path. And LittleBear, his expectations suitably adjusted downwards, had a lovely non-tearful time, finding all the normal fossils. He bounced up to both P and C when we encountered them on the beach to tell them what he'd found. He was utterly untroubled by the absence of complete plesiosaurs, and quite delighted with everything he found. He did demand that I stop looking for belemnites as it was "not fair" that I'd found more than him. In fact, at one point he removed one from my hand and threw it back into the shingle, to even things up, but I allowed that to glide past, for the sake of an enjoyable few hours with my moppet.

We raced back along the damp sand, leaping over little streams and giggling together, to reconvene with BigBear at the sea wall. And then we all had a little pause while LittleBear "dammed" a rock pool and declared proudly that he'd completely stopped the flow of water from one side to the other.

Our collection of easily-portable fossils


LittleBear, being (I hope) a rather typical small boy, has a distinct reluctance to do what we want to do on rather too many occasions. Often, to my frustration, the thing that we're suggesting is something I know he'll enjoy. Which is how I ended up having to cajole and drag my small boy a matter of a few hundred metres ("but it's miles Mummy") to a museum full of awesome fossils. Because what LittleBear really wanted to do was play Top Trumps in our hotel room, and not have to any of those terrible holiday activities his parents were suggesting.


As well as finding, as predicted, all the awesome fossils, we also discovered that there was a cool craft activity going on in the museum. Because Dippy is on tour from the Natural History Museum, they had a 3D-printed copy of his skull, and a artist/educator who was getting children to join in making a model of Dippy's skeleton with glue, and black tissue paper, and toilet rolls and straws, and all the other good Blue Peter-style stuff. And the three of us settled in with the friendly artist man and had a lovely half hour of gluing and sticking and generally having a nice time.

Making a miniature Dippy

Extra Cheese 

As I believe I alluded to when describing the songs LittleBear was making up, Squidy came on holiday with us. Some of you may not remember quite how big Squidy is. He needed to wear a seatbelt to be safe while travelling...

Squidy's coming on holiday.

 But he did like being tucked up in bed

And yes, LittleBear did manage to fit into that bed with his squid. And a penguin. And a stingray. And a hammerhead shark.

But most of all, Squidy enjoyed pretending to be Meryl Streep, sitting at a table used in the filming of The French Lieutenant's Woman, where Meryl sat.

The French Lieutenant's Squid

* As some of you may have noticed, I am awesome at complaining in private, or in writing, but doing so in person is not my thing at all.

** The six-year old in question does receive a certain amount of help from his doting mother, but is developing into a keen Scrabble-player.

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