Home comforts rediscovered

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Monday: We don't need to go abroad in the holidays because abroad comes to us. Trying to get out of the drive this morning we wait for three Germans, a Swede and five of the inevitable Dutch. The Dutch seem to love the Hart van Kent and negotiate their way slowly from Bodium Castle to Sissinghurst, rubber-necking at every hop field and weatherboarded cottage as they go. But this week we, too, are tourists, navigating by guidebook. We only moved here a few months ago, and this is our first chance to look around at where we've fetched up.

We drive to Canterbury and discover we've fetched up in France. The streets are packed with disorderly French children and their frazzled minders. "Jean-Paul n'est pas ici! Ou est Jean-Paul?" Tuesday: Here in the garden of England, shopping is more like gardening. You go to this field for your strawberries; that farm shop for fresh peas. If you organise things properly you need never set foot in a supermarket. But driving around, is not a very pastoral pastime. The country roads are clogged with contractors' lorries, supermarket trucks and, of course, the Dutch. Then there's the hectoring roadside pubs - desperate to catch any passing Euro-trade. Traditional British Pub Food! Traditional British Cream Teas! Real Food! Real Ale! Traditional Sunday Roast! That last car park is empty.

Wednesday: To Romney Marsh, in a convoy of NL cars. The marsh starts abruptly, the minute you turn east out of Rye, and the contrast is absolute. Gone are the hills and twisting lanes. In comes a flat world of huge skies, reedy ditches and lapwings. It's not exactly beautiful, but if you are an end-of-the-map sort of person it's ten times more compelling than the oast-house prettiness of the Weald.

There are 14 medieval churches planted around the marshes, many much larger than their sparse congregations could ever have warranted. They are plain as Shaker houses, with restored interiors full of the flooding light. In the churchyard of one, E Nesbit, author of The Railway Children, is buried, her grave marked by a wooden board. For once we seem to have shaken off the inevitable Dutch, and when we stand looking down at it, the only sound is the wind in some nearby willows.

Thursday: Small flocks of the Lesser Spotted Teenager drift through the house this morning alighting on the computer, or to feed in the kitchen. They all seem to be called Tom, except for one or two who answer to things like Scoz or Sheep. The Toms say they all sit together in class, the better to confuse their teachers. It seems to afford them much pleasure.

In the afternoon, to the beach. The Dutch are there, of course, eating tidy home-made picnics from snap-top containers. It's easy to see why they pass on Traditional British Pub Grub!

The adults are deep in their Hart van Kent guidebooks, muttering about wijngaarden and historische landhuizen but their tow-haired children, stare at the grey sea and bungaloid backdrop over their plates of potato salad, and you can see them wondering why on earth the family had to come here for a holiday instead of, say, Majorca.

Friday: Tomorrow we depart the Hart van Kent to see Nelson Mandela in London. I know we will only see a small, elderly man with hard-to-understand English, but to me he is a symbol of all the many manifestations of courage and humanity we saw when we lived in South Africa, under the clenched fist of apartheid. I want to pay him tribute in the flesh. Also to be able to say to the children just once in their lives - look, never mind Superman, that's what a true hero looks like.

Hilary Wilce is a TES columnist and has three children.

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