H is for Holidays

My father has still been stuck in hospital (although, fingers crossed, the signs are he may get hone today) so we have been commuting the 4-5 hour journey North to see him. It has, as might be expected, taken a lot out of what should be a joyful and happy time of the year and one I normally look forward to, a holiday which allows me to be social and indulge myself in giving presents (a favourite thing and should be no surprise to anyone who knows me well and has been on the receiving end). So, this holiday is not really going to go down as a classic.

But traveling North does remind me of childhood and childhood holidays, the memory of which can bring some reassurance that whatever current difficulties there is always some memories of family happiness that I can reflect on.

I had a whale of a time on holiday as a child. Up until the age of 11, we always went to the same place, a hired static caravan on a site called Warren Mill, that was a stone’s through from the village of Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast. Of Bamburgh – one of favourite places in the world, and somewhere that I think of as the true quintessential English village – I’ll probably waffle on about some other time. More generally, my thoughts have been to the innocence of childhood holidays. It never occurred to me that going to the same place every year might be boring; it did later as I drifted into my teens. In contrast, the very routine nature was a source of reassurance and something to look forward to. So, we would arrive the same route, saying hello to all the landmarks as we approached the caravan site. At the end, the sadness of going home was accompanied with saying goodbye to the same things, in the knowledge I would see them again the next year. Typically – being a child –  these landmarks included the huge castle and the church, but also the less well known ‘Monster’. Let me explain. The Monster was in fact an old dead tree, of decent size, lying on its side on the top of a rise just North of the village. To my young self it was clearly a multi tentacled beast from beyond, but oddly also a friendly one as it was always there to greet me. The Monster was probably the nearest I had to an imaginary friend. I do not know exactly how old I was when it first became a holiday landmark, but I do recall the excitement of seeing if it was still there as we arrived each year. And it was – albeit, even in my child’s eyes – clearly reduced every year as time and the process of decomposition gradually chipped away at it. But the core hung on, and even twenty years later when I next passed this way as an adult some vestiges still remained.

So, holiday was a routine. We would buy fish in chips in Seahouses, possibly accompanied by me buying some tat from the gift shops near the harbour, that seemed like Aladdin’s caves of exotic things with sea shells, and scorpions entombed in Perspex. Then it would be back to Bamburgh and along the winding road to Stag Rock (a magical place for me) and the great joy of large rock pools teeming with things to catch and examine, a process that would occupy me all day, to the point where one, unusually hot summer I badly burned my back in the sun as I was bending down so much. Even that – I could not sleep on my back it was so bad – had its plus points. Once healed, there was great fun to be had peeling away all the dry skin as though it were cling film, much to the disgust of my parents.

Well, I was a boy after all.


G is for Girders

I grew up in a house where the TV was on pretty much all the time, whether or not my parents were actually watching it. In fact, there was often two TVs on at the same time, one in the lounge and one with my mother in the kitchen. It was mainly for company, but it has resulted in myself having real issues with any level of quiet when I am home. Today it is more likely to be the radio than the TV, but there still has to be some kind of noise in the background or I start to get a bit edgy. This cause no end of amusement with us because the Lovely Wife is completely the opposite and likes nothing better than silence reigning. Therefore, if you ever visit our house you will be able to tell whether I am at home or not the moment that you walk in the door; if it’s quiet, I’m out. If the radio is burbling away to itself in the kitchen then I’m definitely in residence, an indicator that could not be more accurate than a flag posted from the roof.

The other thing that this constant exposure to TV brought was something I have noticed in others as well, which is how much we are victims of advertising. In many cases, certain adverts persist in our heads long after the product has ceased to become available, and they are often more vividly remembered than a lot of the programmes they were interrupting. It is very much a generational thing, where people who experienced them at the same time – especially through childhood – can revel in the shared knowledge that a Finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat; that Iron Bru is made in Scotland – from girders – or wonder if it is possible to get a copy of Fly Fishing by (and some of you are thinking of this ad as you read this aren’t you, the bit where the old man says, ‘Oh, my name? It’s….) J R Hartley.

Sometimes though you do get a blank look, as either by some fluke the person you should have been able to share the joke with managed to miss the saturation advertising (is Fry’s Turkish Delight really ‘full of Eastern Promise?’) or you realise the advert was a regional one. Coming from the North East one of my favourite adverts was for Tudor Crisps (which I am fairly sure no longer exists) where the cheeky paper lad takes a few bags out of his wages and uses them to bribe one of his (dumb) mates to help him with his delivery, involving what at the time was a notorious Tyneside landmark (as with the crisps, I believe the Dunstan Rocket is now gone). I don’t know why this makes me laugh every time. Maybe it is because it reminds me of people I knew (or indeed, at the time, the boy I was) and it is difficult to get more Tyneside in the 1980s then this. I mean it is even the flavour of the crisps featured – Spring onion, pickled onion, and tomato sauce flavours. Class (although there is another version with the boring flavours)

Or maybe I just really like crisps.

Anyway, here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2UfzAQ8Pfg and I am sure that I ‘ve now got at least some of you to decide to waste some time trawling through your favourite adverts on Youtube is a good idea. Go on, you know you want to, they are all out there somewhere you know.

(I’ll note that this week’s blog was brought on by a conversation over Croft Original Cream Sherry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z9s5-lOrUY After all, one instinctively knows when something is right. Apparently.)


F is for Family

Family is a funny thing, something that really is an accident of birth. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t but I think most of us could, in honesty, sift through the complexities of our own familial relationships and pick out the good and the bad.

Family is very much in my mind now as, at the time of writing, my father is in hospital being treated for a pulmonary embolism. I’m very blessed to still have him at all – quite apart from overcoming cancer almost seven years ago, it was probably only the thoughtfulness of the lady who comes into clean for him once a week that he is now recuperating; she thought he looked ill and took him into Accident and Emergency, and they quickly worked out that a blot clot – probably a left over from the cancer beating surgery – had made its way onto his lungs.

Unfortunately for me, it is over four hours’ journey to see my father so I see him only intermittently at the best of times, although I call him regularly. I wish he lived closer, but he would never move down south and he is normally comfortable where he is, in the bungalow I grew up in and where he spent most his married life with my Mum. After she passed away, he took several years to pull himself away from melancholy to a healthier state of sadness and resignation, although the wall to wall terrible made for TV romantic comedies are a bit wearing at times.

I loved my parents, but I would never have been able to cope with living with them once I became an adult and went to university (OK, after I became an adult post university!). It doesn’t take long for a point of contention to arise and it is usually something petty. I wonder if it might have been different if I had siblings, and certainly that would have been a major difference in the current situation. My parents wanted more than me, but in the end, I was all they got, and I’ve enjoyed the complete attention ever since. However, at times like this it would have been good to have had someone else to share the load. Do not get me wrong – the Lovely Wife and many friends I have can point out the drawbacks of siblings too, but it has occurred to me recently that my side of the family is dwindling to virtually nothing; apart from my Dad I have an uncle and his family, and some second cousins I know well, but basically that is it. At some point I will be in the situation where, in reality, my family is the one I have married into and most of the ties to where I grew up will be purely memories. It is not something I am looking forward to of course, but I am interested to see whether it changes my outlook on life and how I see then the concept of home, of family and my place in it, and whether my personal experience can be put into good use helping those who are not as far along the path as I am.

For the moment, I have to do what I can for my Dad, and be thankful for the time I have had with him and the possibility that exists for more time in the future. In the end, that is all any of us can do with the people we love, family or not, as we never know when they, or we, will be no longer there. In this, at least, we must not so much live in the moment as love in the moment.