Happy Days and Holidays

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.

By chiara1421 Posted in Places

Glad Thursdays

Thursday were always special when I was a child.

My Auntie Glad visited on Thursdays. Whatever the weather, she would get on the bus and make the half an hour journey to visit us. A journey that involved a lengthy walk at both ends of the bus journey.

Gladys was the eldest of thirteen children, reduced to nine by stillbirth and infant death; my Father was the youngest. When their parents died, it was Gladys that took on the role of mother to their surviving siblings, but to my father in particular as he was only a baby. Two of the girls perished in WWII, and their brothers (and Gladys’s husband) showed a tendency to fall out with each other over nothing in particular.

When my parents married, they spent the first years of their life together living with Auntie Glad, her husband and daughter. From what my Mother told me, it was Auntie Glad whose support and encouragement helped them through those early days. My Mother was a volatile red-head. My Father was a brooder whose moods were later diagnosed as depression.

The epitome of a grandma; Auntie Glad was denied grandchildren of her own because her daughter had been starved of oxygen at birth, and had learning difficulties as a consequence. The family feuds between the other siblings meant that we were the only children that she had really close contact with, and we were the recipients of her unconditional love – and rainbow drops.

Nowadays people think of those horrible multicoloured lumps of puffed rice as rainbow drops. Some people call our rainbow drops ‘Jazzies’. To me, a rainbow drop will always be circles of milk chocolate covered on one side by hundreds and thousands, and delivered in white paper bags by Auntie Glad. One bag for each of us to in order to ensure fairness and no squabbling. It was an unwritten law that you never pinched a rainbow drop from someone else’s bag. Auntie Glad would know if you did and that would make her sad. We all loved her so much that we never wanted to make her sad.

Back in the days when our city still had a pier, Auntie Glad would sometimes visit on a extra day, in order to accompany my Mother and the three of us on a bus journey to town. We’d sit on the pier and play on the attractions, or watch the sea and the ships while Auntie Glad fed us wine gums from a capacious bag. As soon as I could read, I can remember tracing the word on a wine gum with my finger. ‘Port’ and ‘Sherry’ were my favourites, and there was something slightly naughty about eating sweets that might have alcohol in them. I think we all knew that there wasn’t but it was another family myth that didn’t need to be exploded.

It didn’t matter how badly behaved we had been; Thursdays wiped away all our sins and started us off afresh. I can remember decorating the walls of one of the rooms of our council house with crayons. It was a small room between the kitchen and the front hall and in some families might have been used as a dining room. We ate in the kitchen, except for Christmas when the kitchen table was brought into what we called the ‘Living room’. The little room (named by my Father as the ‘Glory Hole’) also housed the Understairs Cupboard; a place of magic, mystery and spiders, where various items we had acquired were put for ‘lateron’. I was convinced that this was all one word for years, and described a time when all the exciting objects would be taken out and used.

It was a Wednesday when I decided to do a Banksy on the party wall. My Mother took the silence as a warning, and came in from the kitchen to see what I had been up to. She was not impressed, as in those days, the removal of wax crayons on a painted wall would require bleach, hot water and a great deal of elbow grease. My Father was at work, my Mother shouted, I cried and my siblings stayed upstairs, out of the way and absolved of any blame for my doodling. (I still doodle.)

“I wish it was Thursday!” I cried.

“So do I!” cried my Mother.

Auntie Glad’s magic touched us all and made our world a better place.

She died when I was about eight, and although we still had some happy memories, the loss of Auntie Glad was hard to bear. Life went on. My Father wheeled a bicycle several miles from the cycle shop when he discovered that I had learned to ride. We went on caravan holidays to Bournemouth and Selsey Bill, and trips to Winchester Cathedral, sitting at the front on the top deck of the bus, clutching a bag of sandwiches and a bottle of watered down squash.

It was only a few years later that without Auntie Glad, the glue that had helped cement my parents’ marriage, came unstuck and the family split in three directions. My Brother stayed with my Father, my Sister had already left home and my Mother and I left the house in the middle of the night in a taxi hurriedly called by my big Brother from the phone box at the end of the road.

It wasn’t a Thursday

Many years later and with adult children of my own, Thursdays are always a glad day for me. They have the ability to lift sad shadows and invoke happy memories. Rainbow drops are a rare treat now but even as I taste the first one out of the bag (there are still sweet shops where you can buy a quarter of sweets in white paper bag), I remember Auntie Glad and sunny afternoons in the days when none of us had anything to worry about.

It seems that Thursdays have become the day for going outside at 2000 hours and applauding the heroes in all occupations who are doing their best to keep us all safe, fed and well during this difficult time. Another reason to be glad for Thursdays.