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.