Summer Secrets at the Apple Blossom Deli
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Well, that’s what the dog-eared copy of The Guide to New Beginnings currently poking out of my handbag on the front seat has been trying to convince me.
The last month has been a bit of a blur. It feels like just yesterday I was sitting at my desk, mindlessly yet happily going through the motions when one of my bosses perched on the corner of my desk, offered me a new job in a different location and, before I knew what I was doing, I said yes. A more exciting role in the company and a pay increase appealed, of course, but more than anything it was the chance take my 8-year-old son out of life in inner-city London and raise him in a cute little coastal village up north. I’ve been worrying about a few things recently and getting out of the city seemed like the best solution – the only solution, really.
I was born and raised in Croydon, only moving closer to central London as I got older. My son Frankie has never known anything other than life in central London, living in a small flat, catching the tube to school every day. This isn’t the life I want for him though. I want him to grow up in a small town, in a close community. Somewhere with scenery and fields with real grass, away from the pollution and commuting to school on busy trains, overflowing with unfriendly people.
I love my city and I’m proud of my roots, but after living here for all of my thirty-one years on this planet so far, now just feels like the right time to leave and try somewhere new.
I’ve always liked the idea of a fresh start. When I was much younger I would look forward to New Year’s Eve because to me, starting a new year felt like starting a new chapter of my life. I used to start each year with a brand-new notebook, a diary of my thoughts. It’s been a long time since I did that though, what with taking on more and more work as the years have ticked away – and being a single mum doesn’t exactly allow for much free time. That’s all going to change now though.
As well as the self-help book I’ve been reading to help me prepare, I also have a new Moleskine notebook ready for me to document my journey in just like I used to. I might not have my usual backdrop of fireworks and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to thrust me into my new beginning, but as the journey up north progresses, the concrete jungle we’re so used to has slowly but surely transitioned to fields of green and wide open space, and it is exactly the breath of fresh air I’ve been gasping for.
I’m too busy taking in the scenery to remember to change gear at a junction so the car stalls, giving us a jolt strong enough to wake Frankie up.
‘Mum,’ he whines sleepily.
I glance at him in my rear-view mirror and watch him rub his tired eyes.
‘Sorry, kiddo,’ I say. ‘Your mum isn’t used to driving a manual.’
Frankie doesn’t need me to tell him that; this isn’t the first time I’ve messed up with the gears today. Well, living in the city centre, I’ve never needed a car, so I haven’t driven one in years. The only car I have driven occasionally – my mum’s – is an automatic. Still, it was so nice of my bosses to give me a company branded VW Beetle to drive up here in and use as a run-around, even if it is an offensive shade of lime green. They’ve also rented us a cottage that looked positively picturesque in the photos they showed me. It feels weird, moving here without having visited, but everything happened so quickly. I’m sure there was time to do things properly, to come and scope the place out and make sure it was everything I hoped it would be, but I just really wanted to get out of town so that Frankie could start the new school year with everyone else – well, that’s what I told them, at least.
‘Are we there yet?’ Frankie asks for the first time. I’m proud of him, for being so well behaved. Most kids would go bananas during a long car journey but my boy has only started to grow impatient in the last thirty minutes.
‘We are,’ I tell him excitedly, although I can’t help but notice that he doesn’t seem as pumped as I am. ‘You excited?’
‘I guess,’ he replies. ‘It’s gonna be weird.’
‘It’s gonna be amazing,’ I remind him. ‘I know you’ll miss your school and your friends, but you’re going to make new friends, you’re going to go to a much better school. We’re going to live in a big house and there will be fields where you can play, and we can walk to the beach – every day, if you’d like.’
‘There’s no McDonald’s,’ he tells me in a smart tone, as though he’s sure I already knew that. In truth, I did already know that there wasn’t going to be a McDonald’s nearby, and that we were going to have to travel thirty miles to get my son a fix of his favourite chicken nuggets. Apparently, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t make them as ‘good’ as McDonald’s can.
‘There is a McDonald’s just a short drive away,’ I tell him. It might not be the same as London, where there’s a Maccies on every corner, but it’s going to be fine. ‘You’re going to have everything you had in London, plus more.’
‘Sam said he’s been before to visit his nan and granddad, and he said it was boring,’ Frankie informs me.
‘Where?’ I ask curiously, although I’m pretty sure his fourth favourite friend from school isn’t the right person to be taking this kind of advice from.
‘The north,’ he replies.
I can’t help but laugh.
‘The north is pretty big, kiddo. And maybe it was boring because he was visiting his grandparents’ house – grandparents are boring.’
‘Viv isn’t boring,’ Frankie insists.
‘No, she certainly isn’t,’ I reply.
My mum, Vivien, isn’t at all grandma-ish – she won’t even let Frankie call her Gran, she says she looks too young, and, in her defence, she does. She’s always been conscious of showing her age, insisting I call her Viv instead of Mum. She puts her all into being a cool grandparent and, to be fair, she’s great at it. She was a cool mum too, much to my embarrassment. It’s going to be weird, not being just a short train ride away from her.
After driving through nothing but green fields and dry stone walls for a while, Marram Bay is suddenly visible in the distance.
There are two ways we can go; one of them seems the right way, but the satnav insists we go the other, so I stick to what the map tells me and head for the town centre.
‘We’re here, kiddo,’ I announce.
‘It looks boring,’ Frankie says with a sigh.
At the start of the trip he seemed excited. In fact, I think we spent the first hour of the journey singing along to the radio.
To try and distract my son, I flick the radio back on.
‘…and I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to hear that Rufus the Labrador is safely back at home now. And that completes today’s breaking news,’ a voice on the radio says. I make eye contact with Frankie in my rear-view mirror. He looks just as confused as I do.
‘We’ll be finishing the show earlier today, to join in with the festivities on the front. Tune in tomorrow to hear all about it. Ta-ra.’
‘So I’m guessing that’s the local radio station,’ I laugh. ‘Wanna go check out the festivities?’
Marram Bay is such a beautiful town. It’s small – even smaller than I expected. The town is cute, like something fresh out of a romantic movie – with ivy creeping up the walls and around the sweet little windows of the houses sitting at the top of perfectly tended gardens. Few houses look the same here, which I like. Everywhere has so much individuality and character.
It takes us no time to go from green, open space, to farmhouses, to cottages, and finally to the seafront with its cute, quirky little shops.
‘Erm…’ I can’t help but say, catching sight of the bizarre festivities on the seafront.
‘Where are we?’ Frankie asks.
‘When are we?’ I laugh to myself.
Upon closer inspection the town doesn’t just look old-fashioned – it looks like the setting for a Second World War book. The windows are covered with white tape, everyone is dressed in out-of-date clothing and the place is overrun with soldiers and army vehicles.
As we crawl along the road running alongside the seafront, we catch the attention of a woman in her late thirties. She’s wearing a blue and white polka dot tea dress teamed with navy gloves, complemented by her brown hair that is neatly pinned into victory rolls. I stop the car at the side of the road, just as our eyes meet.
‘Are we in the past?’ Frankie asks.
Of course, I know that we’re not – that we couldn’t possibly be, unless we’ve wandered into some sort of Goodnight Sweetheart portal – but I don’t really have an answer for him.
I smile at the pinup girl at the side of the road, only for her to cock her head in puzzlement. Why is she confused? I’m the one suddenly in the past. She calls over her friends – a land girl and an apparent member of the WRAF – who join her in staring over at us, chatting amongst themselves.
‘Maybe we should go,’ I say, but as I go to drive away, I – of course – stall my car again. Come to think of it, the lime-green, company-branded Beetle is probably the reason everyone is staring at us.
After another judder, it occurs to me that my loud (both in volume and colour), German car is probably ruining the war-era aesthetic of the festivities.
‘Ship, ship, ship,’ I say repeatedly, until I finally get the car moving and drive off.
‘Swears!’ Frankie chastises me.
‘I said “ship”,’ I point out. ‘Remind me who is the kid and who is the mum?’
‘I could ask you the same thing,’ he replies.
Frankie is smart for an 8-year-old, however, as a by-product of this intellect, he thinks he is much smarter than he is. I know that I should probably be the one keeping Frankie in check but he’s no bother at all…which is probably why he ends up keeping me in check instead.
‘Let’s go see the house,’ I say cheerily. ‘We’ll meet the locals some other time.’
Like, I don’t know, maybe this decade instead.
After spending the past few weeks – and a chunk of our journey here – trying to convince my son that we would be moving somewhere wonderful, I’ve driven him straight into some kind of weird place that seems to be literally stuck in the past. But in two minutes we’ll be at the beautifully titled Apple Blossom Cottage.
I glance quickly between my satnav and the road until we approach our destination. I spot the cottage of my dreams, hiding away behind a wall of leafy trees. Through the green leaves, the stone bungalow almost looks like part of the landscape. I’m so used to living in London, surrounded by either ugly old office blocks or new, ultra-modern, sky-grazing skyscrapers. Outside the garden walls, Apple Blossom Cottage is enclosed by nothing but fields – this change of scenery is exactly what I need.
It’s a small, but gorgeous little cottage, just perfect for the two of us. The stone walls are covered with all different kinds of climbing plants, from ivy to roses, giving it a uniquely colourful beauty that I haven’t seen before. The white-framed windows are small, peeping out from behind the plants. The frames look like perhaps they need replacing – not that I’m an expert, they just look a little tired. Then again, I imagine that’s what you’d think if you looked at me at the moment, courtesy of the bout of stress I’m suffering. I’m hoping that as soon as we get our things moved in, I can finally let go of my stress and relax into country life.
The place reminds me so much of a smaller version of Kate Winslet’s cottage from The Holiday (only with a far superior garden), and while I’d always thought of myself as more of a Cameron Diaz type, I feel like this is the place for me.
I step out of the car and take a photo on my phone. I want to remember my first glimpse of our new home for the rest of my life. I don’t just feel like I’ve arrived – I’ve arrived. I’m here, outside this perfect house, in a gorgeous small coastal town, about to start my dream job with my healthy, intelligent son by my side. Maybe it is possible to have it all…at least, that’s what How to Have It All, another of my hastily bought self-help books, has been trying to tell me. Packing up and starting your life again is a big deal, so I wanted to do some reading, make sure I was prepared for anything and everything. This job is so important to me, but Frankie is even more important. I just want to be a good mum – preferably one of those ones you see on Instagram with an adorable baby in one arm, and a wooden spoon in the other, standing in their immaculate kitchen (bigger than all the rooms in my London flat added together), posing in a way that makes them look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
My proportions are more Victoria sponge cake, than Victoria’s Secret model. Sure, we’re a society who celebrates the ‘dad bod’ (Leonardo DiCaprio is like a fine wine, only growing more devastatingly gorgeous by the moment) but they won’t be putting my ‘mum bod’ on any catwalks in barely there underwear anytime soon. But each stretchmark and varicose vein maps the journey I went on to come back with my son, and I’d take that over a Victoria’s Secret model body any day – even if it would significantly increase my chances with the aforementioned Mr DiCaprio.
I chase my son, who is currently part-boy, part-aeroplane, in the back garden.
‘Wow.’ My jaw drops.
It is suddenly apparent where Apple Blossom Cottage gets its name from: the army of apple trees surrounding the garden, and the apple blossom plants scattered amongst the greenery and brightly coloured flowers, that I’m not even going to pretend I can identify. I don’t know much about apple trees, but I’m guessing early September is when these beauties are at their best, because there are apples everywhere.
Frankie runs over to me with an apple in each hand.
‘Can we eat them?’ he asks.
‘We have to wash them first, but yes,’ I reply, delighted that my chicken nugget-craving son is suddenly thrilled at the thought of an endless supply of apples. ‘We could even bake an apple pie, would you like that?’
‘Better than the ones at McDonald’s,’ I tell him, instantly regretting mentioning the ‘M’ word, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. Baking is not something that I’m good at, but I’m sure it still counts if we buy readymade pastry and simply assemble the pie, right?
I stroll over to the large pond at the end of the garden and lean over, looking at my reflection in the water. Maybe I can earn strong, single-woman, pie-baking, yummy-mummy status here – wouldn’t that be nice?
‘Can I unlock the door?’ Frankie asks excitedly.
‘Carefully,’ I tell him, handing him the keys from my bag. ‘I’ll be right behind you.’
Inside my bag, in the hidden pocket usually reserved for ‘women’s things’ and the rape alarm I always felt an uneasy need to keep on me at all times in central London, the corner of a postcard pokes out. I quickly push it back inside and zip it up. I’ll worry about that later.
Frankie flies off towards the front door excitedly as I try to keep up with him in my heels. I’m just walking around the corner when I hear his voice.
‘Er…Mum,’ he shouts, and I don’t like the sound of it at all.