We went to Sea Life today, as a family day out before Daddy goes back to work. It’s a bit of a trek from us, so we loaded up the iPad with Cbeebies programmes and set off before 9am.
Thankfully the children chose to watch Room on the Broom and Gruffalo’s Child, rather than the usual Octonauts and Charlie and Lola. I think I know every episode by heart, although I haven’t actually watched many of them.
I’m grateful for Octonauts, though, because I think it’s a large part of the reason why a trip to the aquarium was their choice of destination.
Being a Cbeebies programme, you know it’s mostly educational and fits as much in the ‘good’ screen-time category as the ‘mind-numbing TV’ one. However, it isn’t until you wander around Sea Life that you realise how great it is.
I saw a lion fish in one of the tanks and immediately identified it and knew it was poisonous. My daughter wanted desperately to see an octopus (like Professor Inkling) and we were as interested in the tiny creatures, like sea horses and jelly fish, as we were the sea turtles and sharks.
Aside from the lead characters in Octonauts (which, if you don’t know, include a polar bear, a penguin and a cat, living in an underwater pod saving creatures big and small) the programme appears to be both realistic and factual.
I do wince at the sight of a huge-headed polar bear working alongside an octopus and a rabbit of exactly the same size, and some of the other crazy things that happen in kids’ cartoons. But for the love it has given my children of the underwater world, I am truly grateful. I for one am not someone who ever complains about the cost of my BBC licence fee.
I also learned some great facts at the aquarium that I’m determined to use in my writing at some point, for their poignancy and humour. These are my favourites:
Female octopus lay up to 100,000 eggs and starve to death during the 6 months spent guarding and tending them.
Clownfish [think Nemo] start life as males and live inside a sea anemone, together with a female clownfish. The female prevents the males from changing sex by bullying them. When she dies, the largest male changes sex and takes her role.
Brilliant observations on the roles of women / mothers in nature. There has to be a story there, right?
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire’s shoulders prickled as she walked across the car park. In her memory she could see Conor hurrying to catch up with her, as he had done four months before, after her interview. Now she was away from the room she realised she was shaking.
How could he just sit there and act like we’ve never met? Just because I don’t want to come and live in this backwater town and be the little wife?
The vehemence of her thoughts shocked her. Conor had never suggested that she play second fiddle to him, or sacrifice her own career for the sake of his. In fact he’d suggested nothing at all except that he wanted to be with her.
Is that so bad?
She reached the relative safety of her car and her resolve crumbled. With her head slumped forward against the steering wheel, and her heavy hair creating a shield, she gave in to the grief that had swollen inside her chest. Despite the days of silence, she hadn’t really believed he would ignore her so emphatically.
At the edge of hearing, a tapping infiltrated her misery. Before she could analyse it, it stopped. She sank her head further into her hands, her sobs growing louder. With sudden violence, she smacked the steering wheel in frustration and jumped when the sound was followed by the click of the passenger door opening.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, you’ll break something. Your hand, probably. These old cars are built like tanks.”
The smooth voice slipped in between her ribs like a knife. She inhaled deeply, but kept her hair shielding her face, unsure how to react. She felt him brush the hair behind her ear, felt the heat of his breath on her face as he leant in close to look at her.
“It’s not advisable to wear mascara if you’re going to have a good cry, you know. You look like an 80s rock star.”
With a swish of hair she turned to face him, fury igniting inside like a raging fire. “Get out!”
Conor flinched but didn’t move.
“I mean it. Who the hell do you think you are, coming in here, cracking jokes like you haven’t ignored me for a fortnight? All because I want to have a life of my own. You’re pathetic.”
His face paled but he held his ground. “I’m sorry. I handled it badly. You surprised me, that’s all, and everything sort of crashed in.”
“You knew I was going to leave: I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t going to stay after the end of the assignment.”
“I know.” His voice barely crossed the space between them. “But wanting to leave is different to actually getting a job offer somewhere else. It was so final, and you hadn’t even mentioned it.”
“I’d only just found out about it! Conor, you act like we’ve been together for years. I’ve known you precisely four months; we were dating for a few weeks, if that. I don’t owe you anything.” Her anger surprised her and she wanted to apologise, but the car rang with her hot words.
“I’m sorry that’s how you feel.” Then, almost to himself, he added, “It seemed longer than that.” He paused, as if he wanted to say more, and then moved to open the car door.
He hesitated. Claire didn’t know what else to say. She just didn’t want him to leave, not like that. They sat in silence for a hundred years.
“Are you staying in town tonight?”
Claire nodded. “At a B&B. I couldn’t face the hostel again.”
“Come for a drink? Or dinner?”
A dozen different responses warred in her head and eventually her mouth formed round the word, “Okay.”
He reached for the door. “Text me your location; I’ll pick you up at 7pm?”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Without looking, she heard him open the door and close it softly behind him.
She saw the text flash to say he was outside, and checked her reflection in the mirror one last time. A pale, worried, face looked back at her and she forced herself to smile. Whatever happened, at least there would be resolution.
They walked in silence down to the town, without touching. The air crackled between them with all the charge of the lightning strikes she’d seen at the concert. Looking across at him she saw the tension in his face and knew that he felt it too. He turned towards her as she scrutinised him, and his eyes were a stormy sea. He opened his mouth to speak and she felt goosebumps trickle across her skin.
“I’ve missed you, too.”