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

The year of laughing dangerously

The weekend started badly with my Lenten resolved smashed on Friday night by a well-meaning Uni Boy making me eat a bar of Milka when I got home from work.  It had been a very long bad Friday.  It should have been good – it could have been good – all three of my meetings got cancelled for reasons that had nothing to do with me but I still had to spend the day sorting out other people’s cock ups and turning my stream of consciousness notes from a meeting into some kind of comprehensible report.  God it was boring.

Got a lift half way home and nowadays the combination of music in my ears and my Kindle in front of me makes the bus journey bearable.  College Boy was out playing American football somewhere – not on the astro turf apparently as it wrecks your knees so the house was peaceful apart from whingeing cat.  Sports Relief made me cry all evening but then I could have changed the channel.  There was a major catastrophe in the kitchen when  the bag that Uni Boy was taking round to a friend’s house split and three-quarters of a bottle of vodka smashed and splattered on the kitchen floor.  Five minutes before the bus was due.  I made soothing noises, College Boy made hoots of derision and I left the kitchen in a hump to go and sit outside with the whingeing cat and calm down.

College Boy cleaned up the mess and patted me patronisingly but peace was restored and Uni Boy caught his bus.  Come home hub?  Come home from work and rescue me from these roaring boys?

Saturday was College Boy’s 17th birthday and we were up earlyish; the intention being that hub, my dad and I would take College Boy to Blackpool to meet up with some of his friends for a day’s swaggering at the Pleasure Beach, then having dropped him off we would drive on up to Morecambe and have lunch.

Blackpool was looking good; sunny and full of shiny happy people still because it was too early for the drunks.  The drive up to Morecambe – once we got off the motorway  – was lovely, so lovely that we decided to navigate the pretty way on the way back.

The Midland Hotel was splendid, I waved at Eric Morecambe’s statue, did a brief nod of obeisance to the memorial for the cocklepickers and we had an excellent lunch in a deserted restaurant with sea views.  It was sunny and the seafront was a magnet for handholding older couples.  My dad was happy as Morecambe is a special place for him and he enjoyed showing it off to us.

Back on the road and his navigational skills proved to be as erratic as my own.  We somehow found ourselves half-way to Kirby Lonsdale before we knew it and I had to call on the extra reserves of Mrs Sat Nav who lives in my phone.  Having asked her to take us back to Blackpool avoiding the motorway, she did so with gusto and a multitude of sheep tracks that led us to a very long road called Burnt House Lane.  No, couldn’t see one  – perhaps it got knocked down or rebuilt – or it was just someone’s idea of a silly joke?

The scenery was even better on the way back though and we arrived at a still sunny Blackpool in time to pick up a totally shattered College Boy, find some fodder for him and drive back home.  He fell asleep in the car and set a new record for stentorian snoring. Our laughter kept waking him up and rather than fuel his ever-present adolescent paranoia we had to pretend we were laughing at the radio.  Hmmm.

Uni Boy – having slept all day – but then he didn’t get back till 0330 hrs – was wandering around in the towelling dressing gown he wears as if it were a smoking jacket.  He was slightly gutted by the news that we would be waking him up at midday on Sunday because College Boy was having friends round and we were all too embarrassing for words – especially me.

We had tickets to see Richard Herring at Eric’s in Liverpool  for Sunday evening  – so having been evicted from our own house after lunch we drove over to Liverpool and spent a pleasant afternoon drinking cider and bitter shandy on the steps outside the Britannia at Otterspool trying to work out which hapless local was going to have the best sunburn in the morning.  It was nice actually spending daylight time with Uni Boy for a change.

The three of us went into Liverpool for dinner – which would have been nice except for the fact that the burglar alarm in the restaurant was malfunctioning and for most of our meal was emitting a high-pitched squeal.  They knocked 20% off the bill though and the noise drowned out the muzack and the hundreds of small children that arrived shortly after us.

To Mathew Street and more people watching – we’d been standing opposite Eric’s for about fifteen minutes when we noticed a queue beginning to form.  Eventually we wandered over and joined what we thought was the end – only to find that subsequent arrivals went to the other end and we ended up being the beginning.  The couple that we’d joined weren’t bothered so we stayed as we were until a very tall young man with much hair, beard and a bright green tee-shirt turned up with two girls and after making some very loud comments to each other about “we don’t do queueing” – positioned themselves in front of us and the door.

I really hoped the other door would open and we’d be at the end again but it didn’t and they went in first and took seats in the front row.  We opted for the safety of the third row centre – a good view and sufficient camouflage to avoid any flak. It worked.

Richard Herring was wonderful.  My sides ached from laughing and my mascara was wrecked.  Eric’s was a great venue and the large lad in green came in for some stick  from Mr Herring – just for being large, green, bearded and being in the front  row – Hah!

The house was still standing when we got home and nothing appeared to have been broken or removed.  Going back to work today was something of a comedown but hub and I are working on our year of laughing dangerously by seeing as many of our favourite comics as we can afford this year.  Comedy Store in Manch next month, Jon Richardson in May and Sarah Millican (again) in October.

It’s good to laugh.

Overton Hill (aka the Frodsham Monument)

Overton Hill

Few people will know this local monument by its official name, for many it is known as the Frodsham Memorial.  Perched high on the top of the sandstone cliffs overlooking Frodsham, for me this is place of many emotions and experiences.  I have visited with my children when they were small; half-terrified in case they ventured too close to the unguarded cliff edge and I have brought them back here as teenagers to watch the sunset together.  My husband and I are frequent visitors in fair weather and foul; never ceasing to be eased as we discover some new aspect of the view, our fellow visitors or the surrounding environment.  We brought my father up here on the day my mother died; needing to escape from the sterile hospital and seeking solace in the fresh air and open space.

The plaque that stands just inside the gate leading to the monument states that Overton Hill was donated to the people of Frodsham by local landowners as a place to remember those who gave their lives in the wars.  A short and undemanding walk through grass and gorse leads up to the viewing point where, under the shadow of the memorial stone, you can sit on one of the benches donated in loving memory, and watch the world go by.  On a day of optimum visibility, the panorama stretches from Moel Famau in North Wales to Jodrell Bank’s huge satellite dish; taking in the tall masts of Winter Hill, Liverpool Airport’s control tower, the constant lights of Castle Rock, the span of the Runcorn Bridge and the immense cooling towers of Fiddler’s Ferry power station.  Closer to view are the Mersey flood plains, the roaring motorway, the little purple train coming back from Chester and Frodsham itself, nestled far below the drop of the cliff.

Rabbits come here when the visitors have gone; leaving their droppings as the only evidence of their presence.  Once you zone out the motorway’s drone there is a choir of birdsong  and the wheeling antics of gull and magpies whilst  birds of prey loop lazily in the sky.  It is rare to come here and not encounter another human visitor; dog-walkers, photographers seeking to capture the breadth of the landscape, hand-holding couples both young and old, and when we visit today; a group of local schoolchildren on a geography trip.  They chatter like the magpies earlier seen, and this is interspersed with terse commands from their teacher, who like myself so many years ago, is worried that they will go too close to the edge.

On the way back to the car we stop, as we always do, to admire the progress of my favourite tree.  A blue spruce, just a little larger than the average Christmas tree, it stands to one side of the path, branches of almost furry needles outspread as if to send us on our way with a farewell and safe journey.  This then, is Overton Hill, a place of extremes; environment, inhabitants and emotions, a legacy left for our enjoyment and remembrance.

By chiara1421 Posted in Places