High Days and Holidays
Where do I begin to recall all the happy times that came with summer holidays and annual festivities? Money was always a bit tight, but Eve and Gordon made sure no one went without. I cannot remember Christmas before Cedar Avenue, but am certain maternal grandparents Elsie and Percy would have been centre stage. There was a pattern of love and tradition that embraced festivities that settled into joyous, comforting celebrations in the Sixties. Highlights included:
- Christmas stockings – oh, the joy of that empty sock becoming lumpy, bumpy and heavy at some point in the early hours. Was there any thrill greater than its weight on the eiderdown as you woke?
- The ‘big’ gift from Santa, usually a doll’s pram or new bike which felt huge as you pedalled and wobbled around the Avenue after a delicious Christmas lunch – throughout my life, whenever a bike has been hired that is a little too large, I am transported back to being seven or eight years old.
- Heaps of other gifts that always included annuals (Blue Peter, Bunty), clothes for ‘Tressy’ (her hair grows), a selection box and a tiny snow globe from our paternal grandparents Maud and Ernest.
- Preparing and rehearsing the evening entertainment for the adults – Debbie and Mandy, The Sunshine Girls (‘we are the sunshine girls, this is our sunshine show, we hope you enjoy the shooooow, and come back another, come back another, come back another daaaaaay’), this catchy intro (which we would occasionally sing together as adults, so strong were the memories) would be followed by various song and dance acts performed in matching homemade outfits – perhaps a natty red kilt with a cream hand knitted cardigan.
- The annual Kinloch Christmas Party, which always took place at the Beaconsfield venue that Mandy subsequently chose for her wedding reception. This always meant a fabulous gift, somehow Santa knew exactly what we wanted and it was always a BIG parcel, followed by masses of food and party games like musical chairs, not to mention the entertainer with his awesome balloon sculptures.
Summer holidays were almost as joyous, particularly bed and breakfast taken on farms in Devon and Cornwall. The journey itself was quite an ordeal – motorways were few and far between and Gordon insisted on travelling overnight, for a journey that could take eight hours or longer. Mandy and I would stay up late, then the family set out in the small hours to ‘miss the traffic’. Seat belts were not fitted in rear seats in those days, nor were they compulsory for driver or front seat passenger, so there was plenty of space for pillows and blankets, with us girls curling up together in the back to sleep the miles away. One of Gordon’s annual ‘almost new’ cars had a fold down seat rest on the back seat (complete with a neatly concealed cigarette ash tray) and this helped the us have our own space, although quarrels still abounded.
“That arm rest falls slightly to the left, I am definitely sitting on the right!”
“No, it’s not fair, I want that side!”
After Gordon had driven past a previously agreed point labelled on the navigational scrap of paper sellotaped to the front dashboard, guarded by a small doll in national dress stuck in position with Plasticine, he would pull over into a layby for a nap. Mandy and I would doze in the back at a level of unconsciousness that still leaked the sound of cars racing past or lorries lumbering up hills, complete with muffled gear changes. Eve might decide to make a brew, setting up the small methylated spirit burner with its bright blue flame laboriously heating up a tiny kettle; at some point this plan was replaced with a large tartan vacuum flask.
“Are we nearly there yet?” was the repeated cry after dawn.
“First person to see the sea gets six pence!”
Eventually we would arrive at our destination, probably around mid-morning, having successfully avoided hold ups on the A303. Despite passing Stonehenge for many a year, I had long been an adult before finally seeing it in the light of day. St Michael’s Mount was a particular favourite of ours, leading to another of our ‘in jokes’ that was regularly shared, right up to the weeks before Mandy’s untimely passing.
“Little does she know, but I’m St Michael’s Mount.”
This joke of innocents had the potential to be totally misunderstood by any eavesdropper, but remained a source of hilarity for many decades.
My love of writing possibly begun on these holidays, selecting postcards to send to nanny and grandad or keeping a diary. One holiday in Cornwall involved illustrations being added above one or two sentences, I clearly remembering my pride when Gordon remarked favourably on my sketch of ‘when the chickens escaped’. That particular recount was kept for many a year, testament to the power of a parent’s positive observation and the resultant boost to self-esteem. Praise from Gordon was few and far between, making this all the more memorable.
Around about 1963 – 1970, the family would also holiday on the South coast, either at Butlins or the Sussex Coast Country Park.
My memories of Butlins very much match the cinefilm from that time – large canteen style eating areas, watching swimmers through underwater windows beneath the surface of the pool, Red Coats as entertainers (so grown up!), Glamorous Grandma competitions, basic chalet accommodation and ‘wakey wakey, rise and shine!’ tannoy announcements at some ungodly hour of the day. I still treasure the little enamel badges collected in ’63 and ’64. The Country Park was smaller but far more select, with family photos showing Mandy gazing with wide eyed adoration at Nicky, the handsome young entertainer, as we hurtled towards adolescence. Happy times.