I was already planning to visit the Ladybird exhibition at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill, but the Mediterranean weather was an added bonus. Standing underneath this cupola, it felt as if I was in Greece.
A 180° turn would have quickly ruined that illusion.
For several decades, the Ladybird illustrators were overlooked in favour of their more quirky contemporaries. But although realism of Ladybird may have been less interesting artistically, children preferred it. We didn't want sketchy drawings that alluded to the real thing; we wanted the thing itself.
As an adult, I might prefer Miroslav Šašek's London to the Ladybird one, but the child in me loves the clear, unambiguous world of the latter:
Daddy is not having an affair and Mummy is not on valium.
Oddly enough, my early childhood was remarkably similar. The shopkeepers all knew me by name and train drivers smiled and waved when I stood by the railwayline. Terrible things may have been happening in the world at large, but not in Teddington.
Was it all the illusion of a small child? Was the real world more like this:
"Now bugger off and stop asking daft questions."
I'm not sure, but I think that Ladybird books reinforced the partial illusion that our parents tried to create when we were little: the world is a kind and safe place. Revisiting that vision can be a bittersweet experience, highlighting the disparity between our infantile hopes and the reality that awaits us.
A friend told me that last week, the long-forgotten fax machine in her office suddenly sprang into life, after years of silence. As the ancient thermal paper slowly and noisily emerged from the rollers, my friend realised that none of her 20-something colleagues knew what a fax was.
In the corner of the office, a man in his 40s was quietly laughing to himself.
After the exhibition, we walked over to the beach and enjoyed the novelty of sunbathing in mid-February, wriggling until the pebbles reached a comfortably orthopaedic configuration. It was some time before we noticed a dead dogfish lying next to us, camouflaged against the stones.
It was as perfect as a Ladybird illustration.