For the first time since getting lost in Abingdon, Sarah delighted in going abroad. No school and two weeks with no adult supervision. Their first week with Billie's dad and his girlfriend didn't count.
Billie, of course, had travelled all over. She'd been to rock concerts with Kev and even hitched to a friends' place in Nottingham.
Sarah's dad drove his family to Poland across Europe twice, though. She'd also seen photos of herself as a toddler with Frances standing next to a dying octopus on a quayside. Ibiza, her dad told her. Otherwise, the family went on camping holidays. To the New Forest and Bournemouth for seven years running.
The summer of 1976
The family went camping in the New Forest; their tent pitched in a yellowed grass glade. Mummy did all the cooking on a two-ring Calor gas camping stove. We brought all our gear with us. With the car packed to the roof, Daddy couldn't see out the back window.
The grown ups assembled the tent while Shaz and Sarah went off to explore the greenery for good hideouts. They were in a closed off campsite so couldn't go far. The dirt was solid underfoot, and the bushes were dry and scratchy as they brushed past them. They didn't meet any other children, so played hide and seek until they heard Mummy calling them.
Dad had been to the chippie. Shaz had a sausage and chips. Sarah had a fishcake and chips with loads of vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and three sachets of tartare sauce.
Most days the family of four went to the beach, walking down Fisherman's Walk zigzag path to the promenade. Taking their flip-flops off to lose their feet in the fine-grain golden sand. After casting her eyes around for a while Mummy announced the prime location. Daddy hammered in the hired windbreak.
Mummy and dad brought their own lightweight garden chair and sun lounger. That way they didn't have to pay for the hire of deckchairs. Shaz and Sarah shook their towels out on to the sand and sat or lay on them. They wriggled their bottoms, legs and tummies to create a comfortable mold of ourselves in the sand.
Castles in the sand
Sarah always had a book on the go. She'd usually read until Shaz got bored playing by herself and turned to annoying her big sister. The girls had all the beach equipment. Castle-shaped buckets in primary colours with matching spades, long handled and short. They had little cocktail stick flags with a red dragon on them. Shaz loved to stick these into their creations.
Sometimes the fine golden sand wouldn't keep the shape of their buckets. So they fetched and carried buckets full of ocean to their spot. Then chucked the saltwater over the sand, and mixed it through to the sand underneath. When the girls didn't mix well or didn't use enough water, their sandcastles crumbled to ruins.
Most times, their dad joined in. He dug a moat and a channel to the sea. Shaz loved to fill the moat with bucket after bucket of ocean. The best times were when Dad dug a hole big enough for him to lie in and rest his head on a sand shelf. Then his two little girls buried him up to his chin! Sometimes he buried them up to their chins!
Sarah didn't like the sand all over her. Shaz revelled in it and all the attention from Daddy. He'd helped Sarah swim in the sea at Bournemouth. His technique was to put the flats of his hands on her belly in the water, as she lay horizontal. He had to be quick because she sank straightaway.
Her head held high, she moved her arms like a frog used its legs and thrashed her feet and legs. They moved along the shoreline together. Surprised the first time her dad took his hands away, Sarah stopped all activity and sank. He fished her out but she didn't want to learn to swim after that.
Sarah liked to use her daddy's nose clip while ducking her head under the water. He bought her and Shaz their own nose clips. Sarah never mastered the art of not letting water up her nose. She always swam better underwater than trying to float on top.
Lunch, snacks, and gulls
Mummy sat or reclined on her sun lounger and drank coffee from a Thermos flask. She smoked Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watched her girls like a magpie. At lunchtime she doled out the crusty white bread sandwiches filled with ham and cheese. A second Thermos would appear. The family sipped capfuls of lukewarm sweet tea to wash down the doorstoppers.
Mid-afternoon, Dad visited the promenade and Mr Softee. He brought us back 99s. Small cones for Sarah and Shaz, which made the Cadbury's chocolate flake appear huge. Bigger cones with more ice cream with what seemed like smaller flakes for Dad and Mummy.
The family sat on their towels, watching the seagulls swooping like kites to the sand. Their talons grabbing a crust or a fat chip and whooshing back up. They'd settle on a windbreak pole or promenade railing to scoff their catch.
Shaz would end up with ice cream drying on her cheeks and hands, blobs on her cossie and drips on her legs. Dad would take her to the shallow water and splash around in the waves with her until all the ice cream had washed away.
The sun sets
The last golden rays of the retiring sun disappeared over the edge of the simmering ocean. The girls shimmied out of their cossies under a beach towel held by their mum. She gave them a second towel to dry themselves. Then swapped the towel for underwear and clothes.
Clothed, they gathered their beach equipment and rubbish and headed for the promenade. They disposed of their rubbish in an industrial-sized metal bin on the way. Then joined the queue for the cliff funicular. The perfect end to a perfect day.