Karen Kay on why we all need to get out more

PUBLISHED: 10:31 29 August 2014 | UPDATED: 10:34 29 August 2014

Karen Kay. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012

Karen Kay. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012


Virtually deserted pools, empty safe spots for cycling and swings at a standstill. The mysterious case of the vanishing families needs some investigation

It was a sunny afternoon in July, and the kids poured out of school, bounding with energy. After a brief, laughter-filled runaround on the bright green parkland, mothers began ushering offspring into cars and all became still as they scattered in various directions. So we grabbed our goggles and towels and headed for Chesham’s open air pool, eager to continue our fun in the sun.

“It might be busy today,” I warned my daughter. “We may have to queue if they are doing timed sessions.” So eager was she to frolic in the warm water, she said she’d be happy to wait.

But there was no queue. There was no timed session, as is often the case on a sunny day. In fact, the changing rooms were devoid of people and as we ventured out into the walled space that houses the pool, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were only five other people in the water. My husband, daughter and I almost doubled the number of users. Where were you all?

The water was 84 degrees. Two hours later, after a session of swimming, jumping, diving and playing, we were alone, a trio of a happy punters with two life guards to watch over us.

That night my daughter ate a hearty supper and slept the sleep of a sated child who has lived her day to the full. She woke the next day alert and alive, ready for more of the same after school.

We didn’t swim that afternoon, but took her bicycle to the village common and she spent a blissful hour in a deserted green public space, stopping only to glug from her water bottle. Where were you all?

This summer, we’ve headed out for early evening walks with not a soul in sight as we criss-cross the Chilterns with the sun setting in the distance. We’ve been to the playground, where the swings and slides were sadly devoid of the little hands and feet that should be clambouring over them. Where were you all?

I’m baffled. We spend months complaining about wearing coats and whinge about wellies and carrying umbrellas. Then, when the sun arrives and stays for a holiday, we disappear indoors. Where are you all?

Please tell me the TV hasn’t been on? Please tell me the kids aren’t playing Minecraft. Reassure me they aren’t glued to a tablet, living vicariously via other peoples’ updates on social media. I want you to put my mind at rest, and confirm that you weren’t doing the ironing or worrying about the dusting when you could have been breathing in the summer air, boosting your vitamin D intake, and having a simple picnic instead of slaving over the oven.

Sometimes, the chores can wait. When you have the chance to enjoy an English summer, seize the moment. Make some memories. Get the endorphins going. Spend time with your family. And you know what? Ironically, it gets you talking in a way that you never do when you’re confined indoors, going about your business as individuals.

Perfect start to Sunday

One Sunday morning a few weeks back, we made a bee-line straight for Peterley Farm in Prestwood, where the pick-your-own facility is a bucolic summer treat. Crouching down and plucking pillar box red strawberries from their shady habitat is one of life’s simple pleasures. Watching a punnet fill with blood-red fruit, begging to be eaten, and being disciplined enough to delay indulging, is a summer ritual that should be enjoyed by all.

Then we headed to the farm’s newly-installed yurt, christened the ‘Wild Strawberry Café’. Here, we met friends for breakfast, an incentive to get our weekend morning moving. Sitting at picnic benches surrounded by banks of pinks being picked to sell in the farm shop, we enjoyed eggs scrambled to that just-perfect consistency, served with delicious salmon and freshly-baked bread. Pots of tea and cafetieres of coffee provided kick-starts to the day, while our daughter played with friends on nearby hay bales.

One thing that really stood out was the trio of young serving staff who made an idyllic al fresco breakfast a perfect start to the day.

So used are we to slovenly service that comes with a grunt rather than a smile, it was a breath of fresh air – literally – to find ourselves greeted with the kind of warm welcome that leaves you wrong footed in the 21st century. That this came from two men and a woman who were probably in their late teens, perhaps early twenties, restored my faith in the future of our nation.

When I asked if my daughter could have strawberries or raspberries instead of blueberries on her pancake, the waiter not only came back with a cheery ‘yes’, but he’d used his initiative and anticipated other queries, too.

Yes, it was a little indulgent, and we couldn’t justify it every weekend, but tucking in to fabulous fare, accompanied by the kind of attentive service that elevates an average eaterie to an epicurean experience, was a treat worth every penny.


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