The Real Military Housewife and Co. went on holiday last month. Our first holiday abroad as three.
It’s not really a holiday in the traditional sense when it’s no longer the two of you, is it?
We pretty much followed Toddler’s (formerly known as Baby) routine as we would at home. Only now I was acutely aware of beads of sweat creeping towards my shorts clad bottom and was vaguely horrified, yet curious, by the fistfuls of sand that were being eaten in delight.
I jest. It was fabulous.
Where else am I able to have a glass of Prosecco for breakfast on a Tuesday?
Besides in my kitchen. With the curtains closed.
Upon our return we were scheduled to participate in the annual Engineers Walk. A airforce tradition that has been going for over fifty years, first trodden by our Fighter Controllers. It was the first time we had heard of its existence, let alone entered it. Rumour had it, it was a pub crawl.
I didn’t know much about it. All I knew was that as I don’t drive I was going to be very, very good at an activity that involved walking. I was probably going to win. I was going to have to get people to fill in application forms in order to be on our team, the demand was going to be that strong. I’d probably be awarded a medal. I would have to make a speech. Look, in all honesty, I was probably going to be on the news.
The Friday night before the walk commenced Toddler was dispatched to my in laws, who we had brought up for the occasion and He and I drove to the Officers Mess for the scheduled health and safety brief. According to the flyer that He had brought home, it would be followed by a warm welcome from the station commander along with dinner and a drink. A drink. That is why we specifically drove, because in our minds it was to be a serious affair with high vis jackets and emergency contact numbers, some curry and a glass of wine. We would be in bed by 21:00. At THE latest, we agreed.
Walking into the Mess we were greeted with the sight of a rock band warming up and an enthusiastic pregnant lady waving us over to sign us in and collect our walking packs.
(Hail Mary Tally: 1)
Proudly brandishing our bag of goodies we headed for the bar and sought out our usual table of companions. Sitting with our little glasses of wine we diligently announced we’d be leaving after dinner so we could rest up for the big day. We said this as I began some nonchalant lunges to make sure everyone knew how serious and committed we were.
Everyone that had done the walk before looked at each other and smiled knowingly. Some gave us a thumbs up. Some snorted and signalled another round.
It was just after 1am that I realised I was about to down my fifth jaegerbomb with a woman that I hadn’t seen in years, surrounded by a generous heap of empty wine bottles, cackling loudly. He was deep in his lager and conversation with fellow colleagues and a mosh pit had formed on the far side of the bar, no where near the band. The band were nowhere near the band. It was carnage.
He and I eventually tumbled through our front door. We hoped it was ours. We set our alarms for 05:30 which would get us back to the Mess in time for the scheduled greasy fry up before we were all bussed off to begin the charitable trek (The one that I was going to win) and then we both fell down on or around our bed.
There was a sharp, grey light falling about me and grappling for my phone I realised that it was 06:30.
“Ah, Ding Dong!” I shrieked as I leapt out of bed and into the shower. I am joking. I did not shout, “Ding Dong.”
“We are very late,” I grumble to Him. He doesn’t stir, “We’ve missed breakfast.”
(Hail Mary Tally: 4)
We, and when I say we, I mean I, manage to have a shower and blindly pull together a vaguely sporty ensemble. He managed to walk down the stairs and out of the front door.
By 07:00 we are roadside with a back pack, Dog and a map, ready to flag down the passing coach.
Scrambling up the steps, greeting the driver and a sea of pale, grey hungover faces we find seats. He ends up a few rows ahead of me. His head is lolling. Some one motions to me that he is dribbling.
I am slumped next to an elderly army general in a three piece tweed suit who reeks of tobacco, strong coffee and opinions. He immediately begins to rant his old mans rant. Saluting at random. The air is permeated with diesel and weak chatter.
I pretend to be having a chat with Dog while being a little bit sick in my mouth.
As he begins a monologue about his third wife I motion to him that I am probably going to be a little bit sick in his lap. He stops talking and gravely looks out of the window at the thick fog creeping across the silent farm yards that we keep passing. He mumbles a few expletitives and bangs his wooden walking stick on the floor before falling silent once more.
(Hail mary Tally: 2)
We are encouraged off the bus in front of an old, elegant hotel, The Victoria. The grey stone work dewy and cool. The waiting staff usher us quietly inside and begin handing out pints of lager and Bloody Mary’s. I feel smug as I accept mine and watch Him creep towards a sofa in a quiet corner. For some reason the horrendous hangover that I should have been suffering has merely brushed past me and I down my vodka and tomato juice in one.
There is an excited buzz building in the air. There are 150 officers and their spouses with a few dogs and kids, all beginning to wake up, a few are stretching, others are throwing about playful banter in accordance to the debaucherous night before, everyone is smiling or trying to. I rally our team together, another couple, Harry and Amy (Yes, I was surprised at the lack of force people used in order to gain a guaranteed spot on this winning contingent!)
We set off.
(Bloody Mary Tally: 1)
“20 miles eh?!” Quipped Harry as we set our pace.
“Sorry?” I asked, confused, “20 miles?”
Harry nodded as he adjusted his backpack and began setting his sports watch, “Yeah, the walk? It’s 20 miles.”
Dog squatted and did a massive poo.
I felt like doing the same.
This was news to me. I fumbled in our walking pack and skimmed the map, he was right.
The first pub on our route was another three miles away.
“Walk faster!” I command.
After a hearty fry up of bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, mushrooms, fried bread, fried potato, grilled tomato, a few cups of coffee and an orange juice in the third pub, The Craster Arms, He is feeling more like himself and can just about manage a pint of Ale at the next pub, The Joiners Arms.
(Bloody Mary Tally: 3)
As we perch on a picnic bench in the beer garden watching the walkers trickle in and out, high fives and back slaps aplenty we sip on our drinks and attempt to fill in the quiz that accompanies each pub stop. The table next to us have just downed 20 shots of sambuca. It is not even 10am. They are not going to win. I am filled with confidence as I march towards the marshall to have our quiz verified and stamped. I smugly inquire as to how far in front our team is.
“You’re right in front,”
(Hail Mary Tally: 3)
“For next year.” He finishes.
(Hail Mary Tally: 4)
I break the news to my team mates. They all shrug and continue nibbling on a shared packet on Mini Cheddars.
(Bloody Mary Tally: 4)
The next part of our walk involved an exquisite trek across the vast expanses of coastline. The sun is failing to burn through the low set cloud and fog, as the sea mist settles over us. The ripples of the grizzly clouds mirroring the patterned, damp sand. Dog hurtles towards the waves that are breaking on the horizon as we climb gingerly over monstrous hunks of whitewashed driftwood and through colossal pools of water, a breeze rustling through the dune grass rising above us as we navigate around mounds of sodden, decaying kelp. We finally cut through the dunes into a silent caravan park and down a gloomy, oak tree shrouded lane and begin our descent to the half way point. A golf club nestled in the shadows of the almighty Dunstaburgh Castle. The cliffs fall away unveiling gentle waves and a menagerie of sea gulls and black crows that circle the ruined turrets.
It is at the golf club where the men folk pay a fee to be dressed, made up and accessorised to finish the walk as women. All in the name of charity and tradition. The results are outstanding, floral tea dresses and sparkling head scarves are the source of many shrieks of hilarity and a warm feeling towards the innocence in dressing up for a good laugh. Watching as unknowing, conservative businessman stroll off the 18th hole ready for a cold one and being overwhelmed with the confusion that is a bunch of very hairy women gulping pints.
Unbeknownst to us:
…in order to win the walk you must cross the finish line at 15:00.
We trundle on. The rest of the walk is familiar ground for us. Dog, Baby and I explored this part of the coastline many times over the summer and Dog shoots off to excitedly greet the cows and the sheep. The clouds are darkening and there is a distinct autumnal chill in the air. Thick fog is rolling over the still slate waters as we trudge to our local pubs.
The Jolly Fisherman in Craster is hidden behind the tiny harbour. The little fishing village is cloaked in the pungent scent from the local smokehouse and is sheltered from the North Sea gales by the deep harbour walls. He had been saving himself until we reached the beer garden with its sheer drop to the crashing waves below. He had been dreaming of the smoked kipper pate he was going to devour with fresh, crusty slabs of bread. Of which they had stopped serving by the time we minced in.
He had a KitKat instead.
It’s 16:00. I’m not going to be on the news.
Which is a good thing really as my hair is beyond windblown, plastered to my face, my make up has evaporated, and I’m carrying a bag of dog poo.
(Hail Mary Tally: 7)
(Bloody Mary Tally: 5)
We have four miles to go. Our team has somewhat broken down. Dog is out front, rustling through the undergrowth, searching frantically for something or anything as we approach the farm that we walk through every day on our way down to the shore. Harry and Amy are ahead of us, secretly discussing a short cut and quick marching home in time for the rugby.
He and I are in a comfortable silence, walking with the wind, day dreaming our own day dreams. Too tired to talk. There are plenty of teams dotted about in front and behind us.
Huffing and puffing up the long, steep path that winds from the beach up to the refreshingly cooler coastal path we spot a rotund figure in the distance. He is bulging beautifully out of a suit, resting on the bonnet of his car. He has an ironing board with a white table cloth thrown over it. Breathing in sharply he lurches up, twiddling his handlebar moustache he shouts down to us, “last two Gin and Tonics here if you want them!”
(Hail Mary Tally: 63)
We are coming to up to the final mile. The last pub is glowing in the dusky distance. The twinkly lights from various harbours add a bit of romance to the sweaty, achey bodies that are being drawn to The Fishing Boat Inn. He, Dog and I are walking side by side. The Gin and Tonics providing giggles and glory. Or Goggles and Gory. At that point, who knew.
Stumbling up the driveway to whoops and cheers we claw our way into the humble fisherman’s pub. A fire is roaring in one corner and the rugby is roaring in another. The heavy beams soaking up the ambiance of achievement. The windows are steamed up and the bar staff are gritting their teeth as almost 150 people place an order for pints and packets of bacon crisps.
We’re done. We high five and collapse into a gasping, pained heap.
There is a rumour spreading that we’re all heading back to the Mess for curry and A drink.
(Hail Mary Tally: 64)
(Bloody mary Tally: 6)