Some of you might remember having visited
our beach hut the Maison Des Girrafes Marine Biology Field Station. We gave this up about a year ago due to lack of use on our part – as well as the fact that it was occasionally vandalised. Not to be deterred, we have inaugurated another and possibly more venturesome side-project, the Maison Des Girrafes Field Research Mobile Unit (FRMU). This had a small sea-trial last September, and now we’re just back from a week-long vacation research cruise.
A Field Research Mobile Unit. Researching. In a field. Recently.
The destination was Kelling Heath, a large touring park not even nine miles up the road from the Maison des Girrafes. One might ask why one should bother to take one’s vacations so close to home.
Six three four reasons come easily to mind. First, we live in a lovely part of the world where people come for holidays, so we needn’t go far to find a suitable spot. Second, given that Kelling Heath has been rated the best holiday park in the country, why should one travel further? Third, I find towing a caravan Field Research Mobile Unit a little stressful, even when I use a car, so a nearby destination is preferable – though I am gaining in confidence. Fourth, it means that we can get to the holiday destination even before the younger Croxii have a chance to ask that question dreaded of all holidaying parents, viz. and to whit “are we there yet?”
The subject of this year’s research was mechanisms of relaxation. I had planned to spend an entire week doing little except reading books, swimming in the well-appointed baths, and going for walks in the surrounding landscape. I can report that these activities did indeed contribute a great deal to relaxation.
For a start, I felt entirely un-irritated by proximity to other holidaymakers, even those with stereos or small children on bicycles. It could be that camping instils in its practitioners a bonhomie, perhaps engendered by a feeling of shared adversity. The prospect of having to fetch and carry water, traipse a hundred meters or so to go to the loo, and having to cook in a small space with inadequate facilities, fosters a certain camaraderie. It’s not that I mind roughing it – I don’t. Those of you who are scientists whose work carries them to remote and/or dangerous parts of the world will appreciate the excitement that confrontation with the
elephants elements elephants can bring. Back in 1998, for example, I quite enjoyed camping under the stars in the deserts of northern Kenya, protected by nothing more than a bedroll, a mosquito net and a chloroquine tablet. To walk the privies in those conditions, at night, one had to (1) make sure your shoes didn’t have scorpions in them; (2) walk across about fifty yards of sand dunes to the latrine (3) on sitting, ensuring that a pit viper hadn’t gotten there first, and so on. After all that, camping in England is a doddle.
So while Mrs Crox and Crox Minima slept in the Field Research Mobile Unit itself, I bedded down under the awning. The only concession I make to comfort is that at my age I really don’t like sleeping on the ground. It’s just too far down, and, once down, a long way up. So for this research trip I bought a folding camp bed. In fact, I bought two camp beds, and named them Julian and Sandy.
Reviews of the books wheresince Relaxation was Achieved shall be posted elsewhere. The swimming needs no further elaboration. I would gather my togs and direct onlookers that if I were away more than an hour or so, they should summon the Sea Mammal Research Unit. The walking, though – well, that did contribute a great deal to the ‘research’ part of the exercise.
As the name suggests, Kelling Heath is an area of managed heathland, a very particular environment which, according to the signs, is scarcer than tropical rainforest. Heathland is characterised by extremely poor soils, imposing severe constraints on the organisms that manage to live there.
What struck me immediately was a sense of home, for I grew up in the very similar heathland of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex – the landscape in which Winnie-the-Pooh was written. There was the same heather, the same gorse, the same birch trees with oak in sheltered valley bottoms; the same butterflies, the same birds. I was also conscious of summer drawing to its final ripeness. Sweet chestnuts were filling. I ate my first blackberry of the year, and everywhere rowan trees were in full fruit.
Just to make this English idyll compleat, between Kelling Heath and the coast passes the North Norfolk railway. The passage of the steam locomotives was clearly audible from the Field Research Mobile Unit, and it was easy to slip down to the tracks. I went down there several times hoping to catch a glimpse of Jenny Agutter, but she wasn’t there.
A train. Jenny Agutter not pictured.