If I'm honest, my daughters surprised me. For the first multi-hour walk we'd done in months, they were in very good spirits. The wind was blowing a hoolie, to the point my yougest was occasionally worried about being blown away, but we were still determindly walking along the beach.
We tried sheltering in a dip in the shingle, and it worked, after a fashion, as long as we lay down and hid amongst the plants. When we were flat on our backs, the wind screeched above our heads, furious that it could no longer toy with us. And the sun shone through the wind's impotent rage, warming us, and filling us with joy and optimism.
And, as I lay back, snuggled into the shingle drifts, with my youngest's head on my chest, I felt alive in a way I hadn't felt for months. The darkness was beginning to lift.
After months of edgy, self-conscious, fast-paced walks around the neighbourhood, it was lovely to dawdle, to enjoy the view, to relax. To just be in nature, to enjoy the feel of the wind in my face, the salt in the air, and the crash of waves against the arm of the harbour was a deeper, richer pleasure for having been deprived of it for so long. To be outside without fear of judgement, or a need to watch the clock, felt like freedom in a profound way.
Lockdown was easing. Social distancing was easy right where we were. And the girls were walking with daddy again.
Back in nature
Nature has been there the whole time, of course, while we've been locked away in our homes. The sea has been relentlessly crashing on the shore, even when there's been no-one there to watch it. And, indeed, on our occasional, brief and harried trips to the beach during our daily allowed exercise, we were often alone - or close to it. People kept their distance, everyone alert both to keeping safe and to the sense of judgement that came with the perception that you might be breaking the lockdown rules.
But the rules have changed (for all of us now, not just Dominic Cummings), and we free to take our time, to enjoy, to linger. To be in nature again.
Even at the beginning of the bank holiday weekend, it still wasn't what you'd call busy. The wind was strong enough to keep the kitesurfers off the sea, and the walkers off the beach. A few people were admiring the power of the sea as it pounded explosively against the harbour arm, and a family were playing near the water, exulting in the mix of fear and excitement that the waves brought.
But other than that, it was just us and a few other hardy souls, making the most of our increased freedom. My daughters, liberated from the need to be seen to be exercising, ended up doing far more exercise. They ran and played and created games with their toys, and told each others stories as the hours slipped by. They left me enough time to explore the beach with my camera, and to just lie on the beach, watching the clouds scudding overhead.
The end of the new beginning
It didn't last for ever, of course. Hunger began to gnaw at the girls, as it will do in very young people who've just spend a couple of hours joyfulling testing themselves against the wind, and reaching an amicable draw. My youngest began to complain that her legs were hurting, and the stops became more frequent, and more emphatic. It was clearly home time.
Like a hungry man given access to a banquet, part of me wanted to gorge myself on this time outside until I couldn't take it any more. But I know my girls well enough to know that it's not worth pushing them too far. Better to end it while the experience is still good. That way, the desire to get back out burns that much stronger in all of us and for longer.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is our new normal, for a while at least, Unlimited time outdoors, as long as we can keep ourselves to ourselves. Nature is back in our lives - and in the week to come, we were ready to take advantage of it again.
God, how I've missed it.
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