Launching Lazy Days, a new book by Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie
This novella is the true story of our family’s first proper holiday back in the Seventies. Looking back, I wonder what made us think it was a good idea, but despite all the things that could have gone wrong, we had a fantastic time. I was the Skipper most of the time, and for some reason decided to record our adventures in a small notebook. We were young and without husbands, Anita was a widow, and I was glad to be rid of mine (and that is another story. Money was precious and scarce back then, but all the saving and sacrifice turned out to be worth every single memory we all cherish.
This notebook has been treasured and kept safe, despite numerous house moves and family disasters, as a symbol of our courage and determination. Renting a boat on the Norfolk Broads could so easily have been one of the stupidest things we had ever done, but even after 40 years, we have such good memories of that time.
Over the years, we often thought of making it into a proper book, but along with everything else in our often-complicated family life, it was something we never got around to. Until just recently, when we were looking for some old photographs, found the now fragile notebook and knew it was time.
It wasn’t as easy as we imagined it would be either, for our logbook writing skills leave a lot to be desired, but there was just enough information entered on those pages to get us started.
A new book from Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie
Available NOW on Amazon
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Excerpt from Lazy Days – Saturday
We had waited a long time for this day to arrive, and now the time had arrived, we could have flown to the Norfolk Broads powered by our excitement. The tension coming from all of us made the air crackle with electricity as we prepared to leave. Going anywhere with the kids is never easy, but we had planned this holiday with far more skill than our usual days out, and researched everything of interest and planned our route to ensure plenty of happy days. For the first time in our lives, we would be miles from home on a boat for two weeks. There would be six of us on this holiday, two women, four kids and two small dogs. There was the possibility of enough trouble there to last us a lifetime!
I wasn’t expecting much trouble from the teenage girls, Anita Jr and Heidi; but the two younger boys, Stephen, ten and Darren, eight would be a challenge, for they have the knack of finding trouble anywhere. Added to the mix were our two small dogs. Lady, a cross between a Pekinese and a Yorkie, blessed with sharp teeth and a ferocious dislike of strangers, and Katy, an adorable chocolate coloured toy poodle pup.
Getting them all in our car proved a bit tricky. A big Ford Granada, normally a comfortable fit for all of us, but this time we had Heidi, our younger step-sister to fit in too. She had been staying with us while her mother was in the hospital.
I sensed an air of resentment as the kids tried hard to fit themselves into the back seat. Various elbows were used to show disapproval, prompting a chorus of complaints. For a moment, it looked as if we wouldn’t be going anywhere. The situation looked hopeless. Anita finished packing our luggage into the boot of the car and appeared at my side.
‘Is there a problem here? Do we want to go on this holiday or not?’
No one spoke, but as I watched, a subtle relaxing of tightly packed bodies occurred as they all thought about it. They knew their mother well. She would cancel everything if they didn’t accept their fate and settle down, and if the holiday was cancelled because of them, they would never hear the end of it.
I am always amazed by the way Anita handles her brood. It must come with practice, although I doubted I would ever learn how to do it! You probably need to be a parent first.
Looking at them, resignation on all their faces, I prayed the boat would be bigger than it looked in the brochure. I also prayed I would get us all the way to Norfolk without incident. I hadn’t been driving long, and my nerves were already stretched to breaking point.
We had been up since before dawn and ready to leave by 7.15. As we drove through the dark and empty streets of London, everyone is unusually silent. Probably wondering, like me, if this could be the biggest mistake of our lives. After several wrong turns and a massive frustration overload that nearly has me screaming, I finally find the A12, the road that will take us all the way up the south-east coast to Norfolk.
The sun had come up, so at least the weather looks like being a lovely day. The dogs are asleep, snuggled around Anita’s feet on a blanket. There is no fighting on the back seat, and I wonder if they feel as scared as I did. The plan is to go as far as we can before making any pit stops for refreshments and/or toilet breaks, so we pass swiftly through Chelmsford and Colchester without stopping. The traffic begins to build up as we approach Ipswich, so we decide to stop for a well-deserved break.
We pass several roadside cafes, but most of them looked small and unappealing but when we spot a Little Chef, we decide to take a chance. Several bladders were screaming, including mine, so we have to stop somewhere. Anita walks the dogs to a patch of grass in the car park, while I escort everyone else to the nearest toilets.
The Little Chef is very American and modern. I have a quick look at the menu, hoping there will be enough suitable food for our fussy lot. They have a selection of burgers, chips, pasta and sandwiches, both toasted and ordinary, so there should be something there for everyone. It would be cheaper to take away, but the thought of everyone trying to eat in the car didn’t bear thinking about, so I don’t mention it.
From the moment we walk into the restaurant, I sense everyone staring at us. They probably expect trouble, or at least, noise. This is always possible, of course, but today I hope not.
Anita Jr and Heidi settle for toasted sandwiches, but the boys insist on chips. I want a decent cup of coffee, which I knew was unlikely. These places call it coffee, but this is usually where the similarity ends. It is hardly ever drinkable. Anita returns from walking the dogs and with a quick glance, appraised my parenting skills. ‘What are we supposed to be having then, Jaye?’
‘I wasn’t sure what you would like, but I was thinking of toast and coffee. What about you?’ I resented the implication I should have already ordered for her. As if I would presume, or even guess what to get.
She nods, so I leave the table to order the toast and while I wait, I watch them from a distance, amazed to see them talking normally to their mother and each other. I had yet to reach that level of acceptance, still regarded as a bit of a visitor by the kids. I hoped this holiday would go some way to making me feel more at home.
Back at the car, the elbowing starts again until they notice their mother watching. It’s amazing how fast kids can behave when they want to! I could tell by their faces that they think this holiday is a big mistake. But we are committed now, halfway there, whether we like it or not!
Six hours and 130 miles after leaving London, we arrive at the boatyard at Oulton Broad. To say we were all glad to get out of the car would be an understatement. The tension hadn’t eased at all and the muscles in my neck felt like rocks. Anita pats me on the back, probably for a job well done and I knew we could both do with several cups of decent coffee if we were ever to feel normal again. Our boat isn’t ready for us, adding to our growing sense of doom, so we pile back into the car to go shopping for a few essentials.
Back at the boat yard, I have trouble reversing the car into the tight parking spot. The wheels skidding on the gravel slope, unable to get a grip is a terrifying sound. For one horrible moment, I could see us in the water, car and all. I wonder if this could be an omen of what might happen to us on this holiday.
There were boats of varying sizes in the boatyard. Some of them were small, and I was getting nervous. What if our boat turned out to be the size of a sardine tin?
We needn’t have worried. Our cruiser was a huge boat, more like a floating dock. Called ‘Sovereign’ and supposed to sleep, 6/7 people. That remains to be seen, I thought. The boat is painted a pretty blue and white, with a large cabin area up front with a sliding canopy. This can be closed at night, creating the bigger of the bedrooms. We didn’t understand how at first, but after some investigation, we discover a double bed neatly hidden in the wall. What with all the seating for everyone, we were beginning to relax a little. There were two further bedrooms, sorry, cabins! A chemical toilet and shower room, and a long narrow galley kitchen. How I could cook anything on the tiny cooker was anyone’s guess, so sandwiches and salad might have to be the order of the day.
We finally manage to unpack our clothes and try to get organised, but the storage on the boat is so compact, it’s a bit like squeezing a gallon into a pint pot. This boat might be big but it’s still a floating dolls house! There is no room for the empty suitcases, so they go back to the car. Before we could cast off, the owner of the boatyard arrives to show us how to steer the boat and maintain the engine. The engine is huge, so much bigger than a car engine; looking as if it came from a boat the size of the Queen Mary! I have the mandatory driving lesson and didn’t disgrace myself too much, but the thought of being in charge of such a powerful craft was beginning to intimidate me. We would be alone, in the middle of nowhere. Masters of our own fate – were we ready for this?
We all agree the chemical toilet will take some getting used to. When you flush it, the pump squirts water everywhere and the kids tell me the chemicals smell awful. I can’t tell if this is true as I am getting over a cold and can’t smell anything. The toilet cubicle doubles as a shower room, so everything will get soaked in the process.
When we open the canopy/roof of the main cabin area, we immediately realise that the dogs will have to spend the holiday on their leads. Understandably, they are not happy about this, and neither are we, but there is nothing to stop them jumping over the side to get to the ducks!
I didn’t think being on their leads would work well either, as Katy leapt at a passing duck and ended up dangling over the edge of the boat, almost strangling herself which kind of proved the point. After being rescued, she tried to throw herself in again. My heart sank, thinking we had made a big mistake in bringing the dogs on this holiday. At this rate someone would have to spend the holiday dog watching, just to ensure we could take them home again. We couldn’t risk letting them off the lead either, as that would probably be the last time we saw either of them.
After a few frustrating minutes, Anita solves the problem by tying their leads further away from the edge of the boat. They could still see everything, but couldn’t jump over the edge!
We cast off from Oulton Broad and make for a place called Geldeston. We need a short trip to get the feel of things and get us out of the boatyard. I keep the speed down while I search for some confidence, but I found the Sovereign hard to control, even at a slow speed. No matter how hard I try to relax, it still feels like being the biggest mistake of my life.
It is beautiful here on the water, the scenery is amazing with loads of ducks and swans, and several horses grazing by the water. The sense of peace and freedom is mind-blowing. There are no houses on this stretch of the river and no noise, apart from the ducks. When we get in their way, they get annoyed and complain something fierce. Despite all my misgivings, I start to relax and enjoy steering the Sovereign. I am beginning to think it would impossible not to relax here in Norfolk.
The sun is beginning to set as we moor up for the night, a huge red ball shining on the water, painting everything with a rosy pink glow. Anita washes the decks, something we are supposed to do every day, and then we go for a walk. To discover we are on the wrong side of the river for the chip shop. Being on water and not a road will take some getting used to. Darren falls over a mooring rope, literally five minutes after being warned about them, so no change there.
In the absence of chips, we go back to the boat for beans on toast. The television is the size of a postage stamp, but the picture is good. While we eat supper, I study my family and can tell we will all sleep well tonight, as everyone looks exhausted. As adventures go, I think this one has the makings of being a good one. Lady looks ancient, straining to stay awake, her little head nodding. Katy, the younger dog, wouldn’t be far behind.
Bedtime is a riot, as the kids discover it’s not a bit like being at home. The girls carry on like a pair of nuns when they discover the sheets and blankets are not to their liking. Funny how fussy they can be when normally such slobs at home. Anita takes charge of the situation, and within minutes everyone is comfortably sorted out.
It seemed like only five minutes later, all the kids are asleep and we could finally relax for the first time today. It is chilly now the sun has gone down. We are moored near a church with a clock that chimes the hours. We discovered this after putting the kitchen clock in a cupboard because we couldn’t stand the ticking. It is so quiet here.
So, we had made it through day one. All things considered, it hadn’t been bad at all, no big arguments and no major disasters. Heidi managed to be seasick for all of twenty minutes, so this was all right too.
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I had no intention of becoming a writer. I loved to read, and for most of my life, that was enough for me. More than enough really, for I am a compulsive reader and will read anything I can lay my hands on. Give me a bookshelf full of books and I will start at one end and read my way to the other.
Then I offered to edit my sister Anita’s books. She hates computers, so I offered to type them up too. Before I knew it, my brain began to explore what other things I could be doing.
I tried to ignore that inner voice, for I was busy enough already. Anita was writing faster than I could format, and there were all my other interests too. Gardening, DIY, dressmaking and a host of craft projects. I love to be busy, but it came to the point where something had to give, never mind add something else to the list.
I considered myself a writer when I held my first paperback copy of my book Nine Lives in my hand for the first time. Up until that magic moment, I doubted I would ever feel like a writer. But holding that paperback copy finally convinced me.
My favourite character didn’t really appear until book two, The Last Life, and his name is Detective Inspector David Snow. The fact that my detective looks a lot like Tom Selleck should indicate how fond I am of him. I just love writing about him.
That was then, and I have now finished writing The Broken Life, the third book in my mystery thriller series. The characters just turned up in my head, one by one, nagged me for weeks until I gave in, and listened. So you can never say never.
This genre came as a surprise, for I lean towards the supernatural, spooky kind of book, so I have no idea where the idea came from. If anything, I should have expected to write medical stories, as I always wanted to be a doctor, and these are some of my favourite television programmes.
My favourite fiction book just happens to be The Scarlet Ribbon, Anita’s supernatural mystery romance. I was the editor for this one and fell in love with it. And no, she didn’t have to pay me to say this!
My life has not been easy by anyone’s standards, and now I am growing old, I sometimes look back and wonder how I managed to get through it all. So, the perfect epitaph for me would be… “She did her best…” Even though I made a pigs ear out of most of it!
Hi, my name is Anita and although I am 71, I am by no means a ‘silver surfer’. I have been writing fiction novels for a while now, but never managed to be picked up by any of the mainstream publishers. They all said they loved what I wrote, but found it hard to slot them into a category! It came tantalisingly close, but no cigar, as they say.
I realised I would have to try something else. I saved all of the rejection letters, because most of them had very encouraging comments. If my mother had slapped me as gently when I was a child, it wouldn’t have hurt half as much!
I even wrote to James Herbert once in desperation and he was so kind and supportive, it gave me the inspiration to continue writing.
Now I am retired and with the help of my sister-in-law Jaye, (who has learnt to be a ‘surfer’) we decided to dust off some of my manuscripts and try to achieve the impossible with a second chance to find out if anyone out there likes the kind of books I write…
How do I write?
I am a paper and pencil girl. You could chain me to a computer for years and nothing would happen! Jaye, on the other hand is managing to cope with all the editing and marketing, but then she has far more patience than I do. (And she is as stubborn as a mule which helps a lot!)
They say you are never too old to learn, but in my case never is another word for infinity!
What made me want to write?
I love music, especially country music. It always seems to take me to where my own hurt lives. Songs about heartache help my pen run along the paper, almost as though the pain writes the words.
How do I find my characters?
They tend to find me. I was listening to ‘Ruby, don’t take your love to town’ sung by Kenny Rogers and a few days later the characters for Bad Moon popped into my head and just took over. I seem to have an affinity with West Virginia and the people who live there. Just hearing the way they talk makes a connection in my head, maybe I lived there once in another life.
It was the same with The Scarlet Ribbon. The words of that song put the characters in my head and they pulled me in.
Not so sure where the idea for Simple came from, even though it is a similar story to Bad Moon, but there was a girl at school when I was eleven who had a bad stammer, and I often wonder what became of her.
The books I like to read…
I love the stories of Merlin and Arthur, but my reading list covers a wide range of genres. One of my all-time favourites is ‘River God’ by Wilbur Smith, the character of Taita really spoke to me.
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