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Of Cowes, horses and goldfish…

'Oh, Daaaarling,' trilled the woman outside the novelty shop in the middle of Cowes. 'Wouldn’t that be perfect in front of the back stairs second landing window?' She pointed to the three-foot model of a sleek yacht, priced £99. 'But then again, maybe it would be a bit small…'

She dragged her husband off, steering him away through the crowds. The girls and I watched them go, and then turned our attention back to the shop window, where we had also been eying up a model of a yacht, about three inches long, priced £4.99.

We were trying to find a present for the Sailing Fanatic, who was off skippering a chartered yacht for his firm during Cowes Week. We were there too - on the presumption that I might be less grumpy with the Sailing Fanatic for disappearing for a week of sailing in the middle of the (very long) summer holidays, if I wasn’t stuck at home.

Things were working out well. We’d had a week of glorious sunshine, beaches and bodysurfing, and the girls and I were now spending a week of walking, exploring and seeing the sights, while the Sailing Fanatic took to the waves.

We liked Cowes. It was absolutely mobbed and the crowded little streets made walking with an ice cream fraught with messy possibilities.

It was interesting - packed so full of boats and people that even a Reluctant Sailor couldn’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere.

It was also very wealthy; from the little jewellery shops selling Rolex watches to the shops selling designer sailing wear. Come evening women dressed in ball gowns would trip through the town on their way to some reception or other, sidestepping the unwashed sailors who spilled out from the many bars and pubs in the centre of town. Further along, smart motor launches delivered the great and the good right to the door of the Royal Yacht Squadron, while helicopters dropped effortlessly onto a nearby helipad.

But most of all, Cowes was fun. It buzzed with excitement and sailing enthusiasm. Even the girls were keen to watch the boats, hoping to catch sight of the Sailing Fanatic as he started or finished his races.

We managed it once, as the fleets whizzed home on a spinnaker run twenty yards offshore. We sat on the beach and watched the chaos, listening to the passers-by.

'I’m so worried,' said one. 'This morning I only had time to feed the horses and throw them straight out into the paddock. I do hope they’re okay.'

This caught the attention of my youngest daughter. She pondered for a moment.

'Mum,' she said eventually, 'did you remember to feed the goldfish?'

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