We had a short holiday booked for May this year. Just a week by the seaside for the two of us and Bella Kate dog. That’s had to be cancelled due to CV19 but we’ve managed to re-book for September. It got me thinking about holidays in the past and how much, at the moment , I miss the sea.
When we were children, our parents didn’t have a great deal of money and my Dad didn’t drive so we were reliant on the goodwill of Dad’s friends and extended family to drive us to our holiday destinations and bring us back a week later. I was very confused one year when I overheard my Dad telling my Mum that he had tipped his mate a pony for the trip.
I looked for the animal on the way there and on the way back but there was no sign. I was very disappointed because I had entertained dreams of keeping the pony in the garden shed with our guinea pigs.
On that particular trip we were being ferried down to a holiday camp in Hayling Island. I remember that there were two swings close to our chalet and that my older brother and sister always got on them first. I even have a photograph of them on the swings and me, disconsolate and leaning against one of the metal posts.
The other vivid memory is of the site gift shop. In amongst the sticks of rock, beach balls and windbreaks, there was a small book selection. One slim volume held my attention every time we visited. It was one of those cut-out doll books with a number of different and interchangeable outfits. I loved that book and wanted it desperately, but most of my ten shillings holiday money had already been spent in the arcades.
I went in every day to look at the book; to stroke the brightly coloured pages containing a variety of Chinese inspired outfits. I’d been brought up to respect books, so I was almost reverential when looking at it. I carefully put it back on the shelf; each time hiding it a bit further behind other books in case some other child came in and bought it.
The memory has a happy ending. On the last day of our holiday, my Mum took me into the shop and bought me the book. I was so happy that I could barely speak. Mum and the shop assistant shared conspiratorial winks. Many years later I found out from Mum that the shop assistant took the book down and put it under the counter as soon as I left the shop each day, putting it back whenever she saw me coming.
I played with that book until the tabs dropped off the clothes and the doll fell apart from over use.
The next year we were lucky enough to stay in the caravan belonging to the family of one of my big sister’s friends. Her father drove us down to Selsey Bill and back as well. No ponies this time. We stayed on the West Sands site and at that time there was great rivalry between our caravan site and the White Horse site next door.
The caravan slept six, was a drab olive green with a cream roof and was lit by gas mantles that had a fascinating smell, made little popping noises when they were about to expire, and were extremely fragile so NO playing with beach balls inside the caravan please!.
We were well placed; halfway between the sea, the shingle beach and the delights of the site ballroom, gift shops and amusement arcade. Evenings were spent up in the ballroom dancing to the March of the Mods and other such 60’s floor fillers.
Sometimes there were competitions and, courtesy of my Mum and big sister, one year I won first prize dressed as a Mexican bandit. I wore a sombrero and a very dashing striped towel over my usual shorts and tee-shirt. My sister drew an elegant moustache on my face with eyebrow pencil, and the piece de resistance was a cardboard plaque around my neck reading ‘Speedy Gonzales’, and which my artistic sister had used her skills to draw cacti in place of the d and the l.
I can’t remember what the prize was, but I do remember marching proudly around the ballroom and loving the applause. The moustache didn’t wash easily however, and I spent the rest of the week with a very red upper lip.
As a special treat, we took the bus to Chichester and looked around the Cathedral. Mum and I often went up to Winchester Cathedral on the bus from home, so this gave us a good opportunity to compare and expand our knowledge. My brother and sister stayed behind on the site. They had other things to do than hang around with parents and an annoying little sister.
My Dad got bored with the Cathedral quite soon, and hurried us off to an Italian restaurant where he ordered spaghetti bolognese for me because he knew that it was my favourite. When it arrived I couldn’t eat it. I was used to the kind of spaghetti bolognese that came out of tin and had a very dark brown sauce.
This spaghetti was white and very long; the sauce was a pale brown, had no lumps, and although I have no doubt that it was far more authentic than the tinned stuff that I was used to. It wasn’t right.
We left the restaurant because Dad was in a huff about the waste of money and my lack of gratitude. I was too young to understand his anger. The trip back on the bus was sombre and quiet. I didn’t know what I had done wrong or why my Dad was so cross, or why my Mum was so cross with my Dad.
When this isolation is over, I have a list of places I want to see again; some are close by and others require a bit more planning. Now I am older and understand the meaning of money and well-meant gestures, I’d like to go back to Chichester and see if the Italian restaurant is still there. If spaghetti bolognese is still on the menu, I will eat it and remember my Dad’s attempt to make a small girl happy.
Most of all, I want to be near the sea again. To smell the salt tang and the seaweed. To watch the tide rolling in and out forever, whilst the greedy seagulls search for food. Roll on to the happy days and holidays.
Look after your memories.