We are new still to this country, and I have an intense fear of missing out. This results in an awful lot of sightseeing, adventures about town, around the country and across the Channel.
This type of adventuring with children, I am learning, may be easy due to geography but is exceptionally un-English. Kid-1’s classmates spend half-term holidays in the country or at a beach. Why spend a week carrying two under-fives around historic sites and museums when you could tuck into the countryside for some quiet hikes and comfort food?
Wondering whether the English knew something that I did not, and with a few empty days to start Kid-1’s half-term holiday, I tried my luck on the country. We got lucky with a late cancellation and a great deal at The Pig, and with that we were off for two days to Brockenhurst.
The Pig is a hotel set on a farm that sources about 80% of your food. New Yorkers, imagine Blue Hill at Stone Barns, without the press, Presidential visits and prices. There are no tours of the chicken roost, pig grazing areas and horse farm, but if you ask the gentlemen who work here nicely they may take your little ones for a walk around the property. And if your daughter happens to fall into a patch of stinging nettle, they will whisk you off to the local pharmacy for some Benadryl.
The Pig is English in the most unselfconsciously English of ways. Americans frequently observe that the British are not motivated by money, and you see that here. There is no Pig gear to purchase, no trendy tasting menus on holidays. There is just the menu, and it changes daily.
Of course, this being Hampshire, you will need Wellies, and you will find these in all sizes near the reception desk. Take off your shoes, grab a pair and head outside. On Friday my boots were pink floral. They didn’t really fit, and it didn’t really matter. Kid-2, whose feet are small like her Nana’s, did not even come close to fitting into the Size Ones. She spent the days waddling duck-like in her lime green Wellies and losing first one and then them both to the muddy lawn beneath.
There is nothing to do at The Pig, and that left us with plenty of time to do everything that otherwise we would not. If you are not particularly good at enjoying white space time, which adults in general and urban adults in particular typically are not, this is your antidote.
Out front is a wooden rope swing. We swung three times a day, and the highlights were discussing with Kid-1 in great detail the patterns she wanted to make with her purple, yellow and green highlighters.
The English do lazy schedule-free days to near perfection. New Yorkers have to be re-trained on this skill; here we were. It is one thing to acknowledge the things that matter most and quite another to consciously and exclusively focus on those things for large chunks of time every day. We spent a plurality of our time here on that great wooden swing out front. Wide enough for us all, we awkwardly tried to pump in our too-big and too-small Wellies.
In London I would have taken that opportunity to explain the physics of pumping and pulling yourself on the swings. There’s never a wrong time for a lesson in kinetics. I left that hyper-educational mind frame in London; at The Pig we just learned to swing. After all, Kid-1 never asked me why the pumping and pulling worked; she just wanted to have fun. And we did.
A family out front, undoubtedly hearing our funny accents, asked “ah, where are you from?”
We live in London.
A raised eyebrow. “Very nice. But you are obviously not from there. Where are you from?”
The States (no surprise).
As an expat, I realise now how slightly awkward the “where are you from” question can be. We were really never from New York anyway, both of us having grown up in multiple other cities. Where am I from? Lots of places; here now.
Staying at The Pig, wearing my floral Wellies two sizes too small, puttering about the law, feeding grass to the chickens, spending all day listening to and talking with the girls about those small and physical things that occupy a child’s mind — do cows talk to each other? is it raining in New Jersey? let’s make a painting with green and blue and yellow and then purple and purple again patterns. when can I get my ears pierced? 13? that’s too late I will be married by then. How about when I’m five. — that’s the good stuff, the best stuff, and after two days of that, we were ready to take our train back to London. Brockenhurst may have been the most unadventurous of our adventures, but it did make us all a little more English.