Saturday, 23 August 2008

Not a relaxing time on Dunstable Downs

Tiger is flat out on the sofa, drugged with pink fluid. Over her snoring body, Daddy Dig says he will look after things now, so off we go because she will be quite safe. I doubt it, but Squirrel and Shark need a break from the hospital ward we have built out of the front room. They have spent several hours bouncing round the room like it's made of rubber, and I am in danger of going mad, so I agree, and bundle them into the car to drive to Dunstable Downs. Here, while Shark and Squirrel throw themselves about, I hope to relax, because a woman with little sleep needs a simple path, like watching the clouds pass by while engaging in some Celtic imaginings and MrSoftee ice cream eating.

But it's never that simple is it? Lazing about, watching kites, eating ice cream and saying that cloud up there reminds me of a bottle of beer. Because it is Dunstable Downs Environment Day.

The jolly young woman at the craft table suggests Shark and Squirrel follow the nature trail 'because', she says with a broad and winning smile like an outdoor studies student in her first year at university, 'you will see some wonderful nature and it will only take you half an hour!' If there was an award going for cheery group leader, she would win it. Even her hair bobs up and down enthusiastically.

Well as everyone knows, Grit is a sucker for a field, so off she goes, with the remaining healthy Gritlets trotting behind her, anticipating a quiet relaxing stroll along the hilltop.

If only it could be so. Within five minutes Shark has a big squeal because the printed nature studies booklet is blown off by the wind, then she drops all the crayons and everything stops for twenty minutes while I retrieve the booklet from a prickly bush and work out how many crayons I can hold in my bra because no-one has any pockets. Then we see a dog and that takes another fifteen minutes of Squirrel making breathless whimpery noises while perched atop a wooden pole because she is convinced it will savage us to death, when all it wants to do is collect its slobbery rubber ball. Next we have to photograph a butterfly that won't keep still and that takes ten minutes and some jumping up and down in frustration. When we get to the post where we have to do a rubbing and find out about a red kite, I listen to a big argument about who knows more about red kites, birds and dinosaurs - Shark or Squirrel - and that takes thirty minutes. It takes twenty minutes while we wait for a man to throw himself off the cliff edge. Then we go back to stalking the wildlife, taking CCTV photographs of their every move to prove we have been up a cliff and in a field all at the same time.

Two and a half hours later I stagger back into the visitor centre, like a clapped out old banger with its engine missing. That and two arguing kids and two completed trail booklets. Miss Enthusiasm is bouncing up and down with her matching hair while Grit in her dotage is all but flat on the floor waiting to pass out with nervous exhaustion and the least relaxing time she has had of it since that time in Borneo when she thought the plane was going to crash. And did I ever deserve this persecution by relentless Squirrel energy? Because a voice pips up, 'Mummy! Red kite masks! I want to make one of those!'

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