Last January, when our youngest children were turning 11, a friend said to me: Let's go fossil hunting in Dorset on the last Bank Holiday in May.
What she didn't say: Let's go play on a pebble beach while we still have the chance . . . before the Adolescent Age (of cell phones, sullen, closed faces, and a general dislike of parents).
Sure, I said. I'm game (even if it means being damp and chilled all day, because you can never count on the weather, no, not even in May). Last time we played on a beach, the wind was a cold whip and my wellies got stuck in the sucking mud. We laugh about it still . . .
We allowed three hours for the trip, but it only took two. (Leave on a Sunday at 7 am for optimal traveling conditions.) By 9:30 we were drinking coffee and eating chocolate chip cookies (just slightly melted) on a picnic bench by the beach.
The weather was glorious: a day like only a handful of days granted each English weather year.
For an hour or two, we looked for ammonites and belemnites in the gray rock of the crumbling cliffs. The best fossils are churned up in the February storms, our guide said. I'll take a sunny day in May instead, I thought. Never mind the ammonites . . .
As the day warmed, the siren call of the sea became irresistible. Fossil hunting was replaced by shell seeking.
As the day warmed, the mothers became laden with discarded jumpers and shoes. My daughter, always a water baby, longed for a swim suit. She is just that bit too old, and modest, for nude bathing.
The boys grew hungry, as boys always do, but my daughter didn't want to leave the beach.
We wound up the day with a late lunch at The Anchor Inn. Sun-happy revellers spilled out of the pub in every direction and ate on picnic tables which overlooked the sea.
As I stood in a long line at the bar, waiting to order drinks, the man in front of me joked with the barman: Last time I saw you, it was a howling gale and you were in a polo-neck! When was that, asked the barman? Last August! barked the man.
On this fine May day, the sea was a becalmed, beckoning blue.