Wednesday, 27 April 2022

My 70th birthday present

I'm seventy on 6th July, and want something to permanently mark the occasion with. Something very personal. Something that I'll have with me henceforth, that won't wear out. The usual things bought as birthday presents won't do. 

I've decided on a ring. I will wear it all the time - well, not when doing anything mucky, or when taking a shower! - but I'll have it on my finger all day, and it will be worth displaying. It mustn't cost too much, of course. But I've got a budget of £1,000 in mind. My local girlfriends, as is our custom when one of us has a birthday, are putting up part of the cost - £100+ between them - and I have the £895 I got from selling my Leica X-U camera recently. So my ring money is in place. It's just a question of discussing the precise design, the metal to be used, and the stone to select, with Rebecca at Pruden & Smith in Ditchling, where I have an account. That discussion will take place early next week. Then Rebecca will get on with making the ring for me.

The design is a no-brainer. Two years ago I was going to have, as a birthday present, this silver ring with a Cubic Zirconia stone:

That one wasn't going to cost anything like £1,000! The silver and the CZ stone made it much less expensive, though still a nice present. I was very drawn to the modern and very simple design, with a setting that displayed most of the stone, not just the top of it. My girl friends loved it. But in the end I got Rebecca to shorten my pearl necklace, and use the four pearls now released to make a pendant with, and I had that for my 68th birthday instead. 

But I didn't forget that ring. Now I'm going to have a version of it for my 70th birthday, but not in silver. I'm looking at white gold - 9 carat, maybe 18 carat - and a different stone, probably a light blue topaz.  Indeed a light blue sapphire would be nice! But with gold and jewellery prices as they are nowadays, I will have to be careful not to blow my budget. The important things are that the ring looks fabulous, whatever the materials, and that it's durable. So a metal that suits the design, and a stone that is sufficiently hard. I found a picture on the Internet of another ring being offered online, which gives an approximate indication of what mine might look like when finished:

The stone could be just as appealing to me in a shade of green-blue, but I still want to keep the colour lighter rather than darker. I'm not choosing the stone colour according to my 'birth month' or on some astrological basis. I might come to regard this ring as an essential companion, ensuring good luck - a status that one or two other possessions have - but I'm not going to be bound by conventional wisdom on this kind of thing. 

I'm conscious that my friends are paying only a small fraction of the cost of this ring, so to make them feel they truly have a significant stake in its making, I have consulted them extensively on how the ring should look. 

One thing in particular: on which finger should I wear it? I think it would look very nice on the ring finger of my left hand. And there are practical considerations that point to that finger. I want the ring to be safe from accidental knocks, so it needs to be away from the edge of my hand. I think it would look and feel odd on my middle or index fingers; and these are anyway - along with the thumb - the fingers most used for manual tasks, and therefore to place a ring on one or other would run an increased risk of its getting messed up or damaged in some way. The ring finger is the safest.  

And yet this is the finger that is traditionally - at least in this country, and in this society - reserved for wedding and engagement rings. Asking around, I get the impression that there is no hard-and-fast rule that insists a woman must leave her ring finger bare if unmarried, widowed or divorced. It's available for other purposes, and she can do as she pleases. Well, I know what my Mum would have said about such freedom. But I am of a younger generation, and I'm not one to pander to tradition if it doesn't suit me. And it's such a waste of finger-space, if the ring finger is left unused! So I'm going to wear this 70th Birthday Ring on my ring finger. It will - as I put it to my girl friends in one of my emails - be analogous to an eternity ring, marking an important stage in my life, and looking forward to the best years yet to come. That's the idea, anyway.

In any case, I do feel entitled to use my ring finger. I was, after all, married in the dim and distant past. It won't matter if it might suggest that I'm still a married woman, because (a) it's some protection from unwanted older-male attention; (b) I think many married women will feel more comfortable if they see a sign that I'm hitched, and no threat; (c) in any event, the reality of the situation is that I am independent and intend to remain so, and wish to do nothing that could encourage anything more than ordinary friendships. There is of course a possible drawback: I might be asked about my husband, which I don't want to talk about. But then, I can explain that it's actually my 70th Birthday Ring - an important piece of jewellery - and as deserving of a place on my ring finger as any bride's trinket. Really, it's hard to argue otherwise. 

An unlikely holiday destination

Well, that's done. I've booked a week in June at the Caravan and Motorhome Club's site at Ashridge Farm, at Ashwell, north-east of Baldock in Hertfordshire. 

I agree, it doesn't sound much of a holiday destination, although a glance at the map will reveal that I'll be pitched well out of town in rolling countryside. I'm there primarily to explore quiet parts of Eastern England that the beach-seeking tourist doesn't much visit. But there's plenty nearby to reward a week's pottering about in the car. Cambridge is an easy drive away to the north-east. The pretty countryside of northern Essex and southern Suffolk, and attractive towns and villages like Saffron Walden, Thaxted and Finchingfield, are only slightly further to the east. I can get to country houses like Audley End and Ickworth House. I can explore the Stour valley, right down into Constable Country if I want a proper day out. And if I really want to, I can reach the east coast anywhere between Burnham-on-Crouch and Harwich. 

It would be handier if the Club had a site near Colchester, but I suppose they have judged that there is still insufficient demand. There are of course farm sites all over the place, and long ago in 2006 I stayed twice at one not far from Thaxted. It was delightful, but now that I'm older I want proper sites with staff to assist me if anything goes wrong.  

A week will be quite long enough on this occasion. I'm saving up my main spending for my Scottish holiday in September. Hertfordshire is relatively close to Sussex, and the fuel cost will be very manageable. And if I can't see all the places I want, then I can easily return. The clincher is that ever since they introduced online charging for the Dartford Crossing, getting into Eastern England from Sussex has become much easier. For years I shuddered at the thought of the toll queues stretching back for miles. It's not like that now.

All my 2022 caravanning is now firmly booked. Caravanning (including of course campervans and motorhomes) is getting so popular nowadays that you do need to book well in advance, at least for the Club sites. It's the effect of Covid on holidaying habits, and rediscovering the staycation. It's still possible to book a night or two at very short notice, but getting a pitch for a week or more at short notice has become very tricky unless it's early or late in the season and not part of a bank holiday weekend. So nowadays I nail most of my bookings in January, and will stick to plan. In fact I hang the rest of my year on my caravan holiday bookings. 

Where's my free spirit, you might ask. Ah, I might keep rigidly to my holiday booking dates, but when away I feel free to do things on a whim. I'm on my own, and can suit myself, shuffling daily destinations around according to the state of the weather and the impulse of the moment. I'm not the kind of tourist who says 'it's 2.30pm on Thursday 12th, we ought to be at X, because that's what it says on the schedule I worked out'. Apart from meetups with friends, I don't do schedules. What I want every day is a good drive, plenty of things to photograph, and nice lunches. Simple pleasures. 

Saturday, 23 April 2022

What you can do with plastic boxes

When I return from my caravan holidays, there is usually a problem or two needing attention. The caravan itself, bought new at the end of 2006, is getting old and things are starting to wear out, or break, or come adrift, more and more. Usually minor things. But after every outing I know that something will need attention. 

This time there was peeling vinyl wallpaper in the bathroom: an easy fix once home, as I had the right adhesive ready to use. 

But there was also something else, not so easy to put right. The shelves inside the fridge had collapsed yet again. It's the bumping and jolting that minor roads to farms produce. Every pothole (and there are a lot of those these days) can cause movable items inside the caravan to jump a little - no matter how slowly I drive. And with sixteen years of wear and tear, the shelves in the fridge were getting weak and prone to collapse much more frequently than they used to. 

It's annoying, but I arrange matters so that the shelves can subside only a little, coming to rest on the top of plastic tubs placed strategically underneath them, to catch their fall so to speak. So they can't go far, and most things on the shelves stay put, even if the shelf itself is out of position and has to be emptied and put back to where it should be. 

But some things roll sideways, and fall out of the fridge when I open the door after reaching my destination. Occasionally the sundry movements of the caravan while being towed are enough to make some items do a somersault, and if lids come adrift...well, there may be spillage to mop up. So very irritating! Especially if I've driven a long way, and want to relax.

On my recent caravan trip to the West Country, those shelves gave way several times. On one occasion, the shelf in the door, which carries the milk bottles, got such a jolt that it set off  a weird reaction. One of the plastic milk bottles - a fresh, unopened bottle - folded in on itself, squishing milk all over the inside of the fridge. Most of this particular spillage collected at the bottom of the fridge, but some leaked out onto the caravan floor. Oh joy. 

My heart sank when I contemplated the mess. Lots of mopping and wiping put things to rights, but I'd now had enough. I was determined to get rid of nearly all the original shelving in the fridge and find a different storage solution. 

The trouble with caravan fittings is that no matter how nice they look when new, they have to be lightweight, and that means using lots of plastic which will, given time, become brittle and weak. Caravans are not built like tanks!

Here is a shot of my caravan fridge interior in 2017. It's almost eleven years after purchase, but things still look good:

And yet I was already coping with the upper shelf collapsing. That's why that tub is underneath, to catch its fall. The tub would be filled with foodstuffs of course. You can't afford to have wasted space in such a small fridge! At the top is the freezer compartment, which I'd just cleaned. (As you can see, the freezer's a bit on the small side)

As yet, no plastic failure except in the door shelf, which I'd strengthened with this back in 2014:

But later in 2017 that door shelf cracked and sagged. I improvised a repair that lasted until this year, although it wasn't a pretty or skilful one. But I succeeded in making it strong enough to take the weight of three or four milk bottles:

Then in 2020 the spring catch that kept the fridge door closed securely lost its spring, and I improvised again with curtain wire and hooks to keep the door firmly shut when towing:

I wouldn't of course have undertaken these amateurish fixes when the caravan was new. But as it aged, and its value for selling on receded, I felt appearances no longer mattered so much - although I've always aimed to do a tidy job, and not an ugly, slapdash bodge. But I know my limits: I'm no DIYer. 

And so to 2022. The fridge and freezer were still working fine, keeping all contents either nicely cold or solidly frozen, but that collapsing shelving (and the blue translucent plastic bin underneath, now cracked) had to go. It was beyond any repair I was capable of. What could I replace them with?

The answer seemed to be a layer or two of plastic boxes that rested on each other, and perhaps nested inside one another. The problem was now finding stout boxes of the right size and shape to fit snugly inside the fridge. I scouted around locally. It wasn't so easy. The main problem was getting a long narrow box for the fridge floor, the one I'd put vegetables in. And then I remembered that Mum had been a Tupperware enthusiast, and that I still had a long narrow plastic Tupperware box in a kitchen cupboard. I dug it out. Would it fit in the caravan fridge?

Perfect! And how satisfying to put that Tupperware box to good use after it had lain unused in my kitchen cupboard since Mum died in 2009! 

Now a larger plastic box to rest on top. B&Q had one that would fit, and I bought it, although once home I found that a little rough surgery with a hacksaw was needed on its front corners, so that the fridge door would close:

I was going to use both boxes without lids, so that the cold air inside the fridge could circulate freely. Obviously, if there were any leaks or spillages, the mess would be contained inside one or other box. Both were easily removable and easily washable. 

Where was the milk to go? At one end of the upper box. And to hold the bottles in position, I now needed a third box that would nest inside the upper box. This would contain sauce bottles and similar things, and would have enough inertia to keep the milk bottles upright. A visit to Lakeland gave me the third box I was looking for. And this is how it would rest up against the milk bottles:

The width of the upper box was just right for taking three milk bottles in a row like that. They had to be at that end because, jolting apart, the main tendency was for items inside the caravan to slide forward (that is, towards the right in my shot) every time the caravan was braked. 

There was plenty of space underneath the blue-rimmed Lakeland box: 

The caravan would now be 'shelved' only halfway up. This kept hard things well away from the cooling fins. And there would be plenty of room to place light but bulky items I didn't want to squash, like lettuces, or kale, on top of everything else.

This then was the final set-up, with nearly all the original shelving gone, and plastic boxes substituted:

To my eye, it looks neat and practical. I don't think there will be much of a problem pivoting the green Tupperware box out from under the upper boxes, if I want to take out some broccoli, or asparagus, or whatever. When closed, the flanges in the inside edge of the door will lock into the hacksawed cut-outs on the upper box, to stop it moving around when the caravan is being towed. 

I'm off again in mid-May. I'm hoping this new arrangement will work pretty well. Certainly, no more collapsing shelves!

Saturday, 16 April 2022

The knee is definitely improving

The getting-up-from-the-pilates-mat event that sparked off the osteoarthritis in my right knee was over two months ago. Within a week, I had a swollen knee that felt oddly unsolid, as if half-dislocated; and there was gradually-increasing stiffness, so that getting up in the night was difficult, as were my first steps in the morning. The odd twinge apart, pain has been confined to aching. I took painkillers only for a short while.

Various people I know gave me recommendations and suggestions, for which I'm grateful. I followed some of this advice, but it seemed to make no great difference in my own case. In the end, the official NHS advice to simply exercise the knee as much as possible has done the trick, assisted by my determination not to limp if I can avoid it. Adopting an unusual gait just puts a strain on the other knee, and makes various muscles in my legs, bottom and back complain. So even though I can't yet walk at any pace that could be called 'brisk', being on my feet and walking about is clearly working. 

On firm level ground, the knee feels almost normal now. Slopes, especially downward slopes, continue to put pressure on the knee, but are much more manageable than they were. Steps and stairs remain hard to cope with - going up or down remains a tedious one-step-at-a-time business. But I'm now hoping that will change in the weeks ahead. 

Meanwhile I keep my stick handy, just in case needed, although I mostly carry it rather than actually use it.

I've now been given access to the clinical report on last month's X-ray. It's couched in medical language of course, but I googled the meaning of various words and the gist became clear. Basically, the knee has suffered wear and tear, but not to a serious extent requiring ongoing treatment. My condition is not in any way exceptional. I am of course stuck with the knee as it is, and need to treat it as a weak point, potentially troublesome, and certainly needing TLC. So be it. But I think I can get it back to nearly how it used to be, if I'm careful and sensible, although some activities are definitely now unwise, as they would stress or damage the knee. I need to eke out its remaining functionality!

So to this morning. The knee was still stiff after sleeping, and I needed support from my stick to make the first few steps, but then my knee freed up, and within ten minutes I was walking around fairly naturally, and with minimum discomfort. I think some healing is going on. The swelling is less than it was, and the right knee no longer looks two sizes larger than the left. It also seems to me that the recent warm and sunny weather back home in Sussex has done my knee a power of good. The frosty nights in Devon did not help my knee one bit.

I suppose I may have osteoarthritis elsewhere, not just in one knee. It'll be biding its time, and will suddenly flare up in my fingers, or in an elbow, or my neck, if some event triggers it. I hope not, but it's an unpalatable thought I must not hide from.

A new driving licence

My present driving licence runs out on 5th July, and from 6th July (my birthday) I need a new licence for those aged 70 and over. It has finally come round, the era of old-age motoring! 

I applied for my new licence this morning, online. You can do it in advance, if you are going to be 70 in the next 90 days. I thought it wise to get my application in now, so that (so long as there are no hitches) I should have the new licence before my next caravan outing in May. 

I thought it would be a difficult procedure - applying online - but I was quite wrong. The form was easy enough to complete. I had ready my passport number and all the other other details needed. And I had nothing to report in the way of potentially-troublesome health conditions. 

Apparently the DVLA will now do some cross-referencing to confirm my identity. They also want my old plastic driving licence back, cut in two - presumably the new driving licence won't actually be authorised until the old one is in their hands. Well, it went off this morning from the local post office, at 10.53am, using 'First Class Signed For' delivery. I've therefore done all I can to avoid delays.

Somewhat to my surprise, there was no insistence on supplying an up-to-date photograph. I suppose that's because both my current driving licence and my current passport are of recent date: December 2019 and November 2020 respectively, and the photos in them would still be a good likeness. I wonder which they will use? The driving licence photo, or the passport photo? Neither is flattering. 

The new driving licence will be valid for three years, then I must reapply at three yearly intervals, for as long as I want to keep on driving. Since I love driving, and want to be roaming the country for as long as I can, certainly into my late eighties, that means at least six more applications to deal with in the future. Hey ho.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Brunel's Pumping House

The famous nineteenth-century engineer for the Great Western Railway, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, flirted with a novel means of train propulsion in the company's early years. This was 'atmospheric' propulsion. Brunel didn't invent it, but he thought he saw ways to improve it and make it practical for real-life use. 

So far as I understand it, a pipe with a continuous slot in the top side was laid between the tracks (there was plenty of room, those being Broad Gauge days). The slot was sealed with a lubricated leather flap. The air inside the pipe was sucked out by coal-fired pumping stations at intervals along the line. Below each train was slung a piston that fitted the diameter of the pipe. As the train moved forward, the shaped rod that connected the piston to the train momentarily unsealed the flap, allowing air to rush in and push against the piston, propelling the train. When working properly, air pressure would push the piston (and the whole train) forward smoothly, and at speed. 

I don't quite see how one got the train to start moving in the first place, nor what happened where lines joined or diverged, as that would mean smoothly combining two slotted pipes into one, and yet somehow preserving the vacuum. Tricky. 

Brunel was however so confident of his atmospheric system's power to propel trains up quite steep gradients that he built the main line through South Devon with hillier sections than would otherwise be feasible for a single conventional locomotive. This of course saved money in construction costs, and must have been attractive to the GWR, and instrumental in their agreeing to adopt the system. It was up and running by 1847.

You'll have spotted the fatal flaw already: the leather flaps. At the time no better flexible material existed, and no weatherproof lubricant either. The pipes leaked air in, reducing the vacuum and therefore the system's efficiency. The leather quickly split with wear and tear. To cap it all, the fixed pumping stations consumed enormous quantities of coal - the vacuum had to be maintained whether or not trains were running - so what was saved in construction costs was more than cancelled out by mounting coal costs. Brunel had to admit defeat, and in 1848 reverted to conventional steam locomotives. The system had lasted only one year. Unwanted material was sold off at a colossal loss. And South Devon was now stuck with sections of steep railway line that were always a challenge until the diesel era. 

Most of those pumping stations are long gone, but one remained at Starcross, on the main line south of Exeter, on the very banks of the River Exe estuary. I went to see it.

Approaching Starcross from the north, I was held up by roadworks. But a dark green GWR train (that's the modern company, not the original one), probably bound for Plymouth and beyond, passed by and relieved the tedium.

Having found a place to park, I first had a look at Starcross station, which is also the western destination of the hourly cross-estuary passenger ferry from Exmouth. This can be seen best in these 1998 shots of mine. You first have to cross the footbridge (from which the pictures were taken: not so easily accessible to me in 2022, with my knee being as it is), then proceed right to the end of the down platform and onwards to a pier, which you then walk to the end of. Quite a rigmarole really, and I wonder how mums with young children in buggies manage, or people with laden bicycles for that matter.

Things looked smarter in 2022, in particular the platforms were tarmacked and not wooden, but otherwise not much had changed. The Italianate roofs and tall tower mark the location of Brunel's Pumping House at Starcross. 

Here are some modern (2022) views of the station and its signage.

Another station that would seem bleak and cheerless on a winter day. As it was, the brisk breeze encouraged me to keep moving. I walked along the road to the Pumping House, for a closer look.

I'm guessing that there was once a siding that enabled coal wagons to enter the Pumping House through that arched doorway, to discharge their loads within. The boilers to drive the pistons that sucked ait out of the atmospheric pipes would have been further inside, and the tall tower housed the chimney. By the looks of it, the tower part was the first built, and the rest were additions.

It's all very solidly constructed from stone, with ornate features abounding. But then railway architecture was often elaborate, even for workaday buildings that the public had no access to. Such impressive buildings couldn't have come cheap. But the railway wanted the investing public to know that their money wasn't wasted on flimsy constructions. 

And of course, the Pumping House has lasted for 180-odd years, which shows how Brunel's designs typically stand the test of time. Nowadays the Pumping House is the headquarters of the local 'fishing and cruising' club. You'll notice a ramp leading down to a tunnel under the railway. I couldn't resist having a look.

Hmm. wet and uninviting! I didn't venture through. 

Back at the Pumping House, I saw a red plaque and a nearby a panel that explained the history of this particular location. Amazingly, the underground reservoir of water needed to provide steam for the pumping engine was long forgotten and only recently rediscovered in 2018, perfectly preserved. 

My next stop was Dawlish Warren, only a few miles further along, the subject of my last post. Starcross was far more rewarding as a place to look at.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Dawlish Warren

I don't have very many childhood holiday locations to remember, mainly because we didn't have many holidays back in the 1950s. But I remember Dawlish Warren - or at least I can visualise our chalet perched at the top of a slope overlooking the station. We were there in 1957, and we must have all come by train: Mum and Dad; my younger brother Wayne, still a toddler; myself, only five years old; Auntie Peg and Uncle Wilf; and their son Richard, also a toddler. 

No pictures of Dawlish Warren survive from so long ago. Dad may have brought along his box Brownie camera, but he was never one for taking still photos; which is why, once I was past the 'gorgeous blonde baby' stage, there were so very few shots of me thereafter. Dad eventually became much more interested in amateur cine photography - done on the cheap, with 'free films', although to be fair he gradually acquired a decent Canon cine camera and a proper projector, and basic cutting-and-splicing equipment for editing the footage. He captured the family that way. But he didn't really get into cine until the mid-1960s, and the fad lasted only a few years. The rest of us were never keen to be filmed. Wayne and I felt very self-conscious about starring in one of Dad's productions. I used to squirm at the results. I looked gauche and embarrassed. I still have the films and the equipment, untouched for decades now. Let them rest in peace.

I think that most of the still shots that still exist from my childhood and teens - apart from my own - were taken by Auntie Peg, who was a far more enthusiastic snapper, and certainly provided Mum with copy prints for the family album. 

So my recollection of what Dawlish Warren was like on my first acquaintance in 1957 have depended on vague personal memories from sixty-five years ago. Well, not quite: I recall driving through in 1981. I saw, as expected, a lot of new development. But essentially the place seemed unchanged. The chalets were still there, up on that rise. I couldn't see anything of the sea front - the railway was in between - and as it was late afternoon and raining I didn't stop to have a look around. So that fleeting visit in 1981 - itself forty-one years ago - didn't modify in any way the original bucket-and-spade impression. 

Fast forward to 2022. It seemed to me that a revisit, and this time a proper one, was long overdue. What would Dawlish Warren be like now? 

The Warren, incidentally, is a finger of land covered in grass and sand dunes that juts out across the mouth of the River Exe. At the eastern tip of the Warren you are not far from Exmouth on the other side of the estuary. Most of the Warren proper is given over to golf and a nature reserve. I would have liked to have taken a long walk to explore it, but my osteoarthritic knee, though improving, wasn't up to it on the day. At its western end, close to the railway, there is a promenade, and facilities for visitors more interested in standard seaside pursuits, such as amusements and rides for children, and places of adult refreshment. There is a large car park, not too expensive, surrounded by pines. Ah, I now remembered that there were pine trees at Dawlish Warren in 1957 - not these of course - just as you would expect in a sandy-soiled spot.

Having left Fiona there, I headed towards the station. Could I jog my vague memories that way? I took a cut behind that white building in the shot above, which turned out to be a cafĂ©. 

Hmm. An advertisement for Brunel Carriages - old railway carriages converted into modern holiday homes with a difference. Not a new idea, of course: 'camping coaches' could be found in many places on the British Railway network at one time, usually in sidings next to a seaside station. I think the original ones were still around during the 1960s. I've no idea how good they were for a carefree holiday. Not too dissimilar to a narrow boat or a longish caravan or motorhome, I'd say. Nowadays there are many fewer of them, and the interiors are generally rebuilt to a good modern standard. I've come across them from time to time. For instance at St Germans in Cornwall in 2015 - an old carriage lately restored:  

Yes, you'd certainly get a great view of passing trains!

And again in 2019 at Rogart, in the far north of Scotland:

You wouldn't be much disturbed by passing trains at Rogart, where the standard service is four trains a day each way. St Germans would be different, with a standard hourly service each way. And at Dawlish Warren there are several trains per hour. Quite possibly the novelty of holidaying in a railway carriage, whatever the modern fittings and decor, might get a bit wearing. Even if hard of hearing, there would be the vibration. But don't let me put you off. After all, it would be very convenient indeed for an escape to Exeter's big city shops, restaurants and museums or the palm-tree delights of nearby Torbay. Or, on your doorstep, the entrancements of Dawlish Warren itself.

So to the station. A chappie was renewing the signage as I arrived.

A rather bare-bones affair, Dawlish Warren station. Not a comfortable place to hang around for a train on a windy day. The most interesting thing was that man in a raincoat on the other platform, toting a DSLR with a big zoom lens. I couldn't decide whether he was a railway buff or just there, as I was, to recapture very old memories of a childhood holiday. We must have been coeval, after all. I tried to catch his eye and get into conversation, but he didn't respond.

So, on to the resort awaiting me on the seaward side of the tracks. The sign chappie was still up on his ladder:

Just around the corner was a row of traditional beach shops, and a low, narrow tunnel to get cars and people under the railway lines to the wonderland beyond.

I was irresistibly drawn through that tunnel. What would I see? Emerging, a children's fairground on my right. 

They clearly want to impress on the kiddies that Dawlish Warren means glamourous living, Miami-style. And in fact the whole thing could have been lifted from Disneyland Florida:

The whole thing, that is, apart from references to pirates, that constant English seaside resort theme.

For the 'Fast & Furious', there was a slide:

I can't recall what lay at the bottom of this slide. Perhaps an oubliette.

For the slightly older child, there were Go-Karts, and a clue as to where parents might go when feeling peckish: 

In the distance, beyond the rather unkempt greensward, was a promenade next to the sea wall. I headed there. and studied the view.

Those holiday coaches are in the centre of the bottom shot. So they'd look out on grass, a sea wall, and a children's fairground. But they'd still have the novelty of trains passing every quarter of an hour. What's not to like?

Did any of this jog my memory? Sadly, no. Apart from maybe the tunnel. Clearly there is sand at low tide, and I must have enjoyed my time on the beach back in 1957, with my bucket and spade. But such sunny moments from a long-past summer couldn't be recaptured from these bleak views on a cold 1st April. The couple sitting on sea-defence rocks at the foot of the concrete beach-access steps are making the best of it, but the scene is uninspiring. No doubt it's much livelier in the summer, perhaps even reminiscent of Miami Beach, but I don't think I'll be back in a hurry.