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Moving into my teenage years, holiday times became taken up by temporary jobs to earn holiday money. Butlins catered for crowds but all I remember of them was sweeping the streets in the one at Bognor just before it opened. On another occasion I worked through the holidays for a local builder, humping bags of sand or digging holes. Not very educational but good for building muscles. On another occasion I was given the responsibility of maintaining the generator running a set of traffic lights over a bank holiday period to keep the local traffic running. Power!  On another time in the summer holidays I got a job working in a wireworks factory helping the man who ran the cardboard store. When he went on holiday I ran it alone. More power!  But those were good ways of filling the long summer holiday.

But it wasn’t always like that. Living near the coast already must have suggested to my parents that we didn’t need to go anywhere. They bought me a canoe and I spent many a happy day off the south coast. Who needed ‘holidays’? Cousins came from town to stay with us and life seemed empty when they returned home after three or four weeks of whiling away those carefree days. My father bought a small sailing dingy and another dimension was added to the pleasures of summer. Who needed ‘holidays’? I realise we were fortunate even though not well off.

Getting married and having a family seemed to coincide with the growth of expectation of going away somewhere in the summer. The thought of travelling abroad with three young children deterred us and so, history repeating itself, for my wife at least, we hired caravans or holiday cottages. We would be into our fifties and with the children doing their own thing before we were introduced by friends to the joys of caravanning – real caravanning, a portable home towed behind the car to far flung corners of the country.

It was on one of these expeditions that something strange happened. We had booked in at several sites in the West country, which meant we would be away for three weeks. Both being teachers, that was possible without a strain on our holiday entitlement.  It was half way in to the third week on an idyllic site near the Welsh border, when one afternoon, sitting outside in the sun, it hit me: I could do this for ever. I didn’t want to go home. Up until then I had always been someone who constantly looked homewards. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve travelled the globe with work and thoroughly enjoyed it, but coming home was good. Suddenly I thought, “I must be getting old! I’m just content to sit here and enjoy ‘being’ with no things that have to be done.” It was an interesting point in life.

Since then we have travelled a bit and seen some more of the world but one thing I have noticed about modern holidays: you need a holiday to get over them!  More than that, I seem to come across a lot of people who’ve been all over the globe but who know virtually nothing of their own country.  Again and again when I have returned home from abroad, I have just been thankful of this green and pleasant land.

I suppose I am feeling pleasantly relaxed about the country at the moment because we’ve been through a period of much sunshine over the past month or so, and so little rain. Perhaps if we had grey, rain and wind, I might be rejoicing over living in an age where we can escape to warmer parts of the world, but for the moment, it’s good being around here.  

(Written at the end of Summer holidays)  Holidays when you are elderly aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be – but then that is also often the experience of people who aren’t elderly. For example, back at the end of August there were two groups of people who were counting days. The first were parents and the second were teachers. One couldn’t wait for tomorrow to arrive and the other wished it wouldn’t arrive.

But as I’m writing for those in the upper age bracket, you are probably neither a parent with young children nor a teacher. We can just sit in the wings and watch what goes on. But then you may be a grandparent and your role as baby sitter and minder has been very active over the summer. Rest time is no longer just around the corner, it’s back!  It’s lovely to have them in short bursts, but lovely to hand them back!   If you are retired, the cheaper holiday season has just begun!!!!  It’s one of the good things about being older, retired, and with no children at school.

Some of us don’t take holidays, and for that there may be a variety of reasons. One may be we can’t afford it or simply don’t consider it a good use of our money. For some of us, physical disability may make holidays hard work and so it’s easier to opt out. Even sitting on a coach can be wearisome.  The truth about holidays is hard to achieve. Here we are living in a time when everyone is complaining about inflation and the rising cost of living and yet thousands still seem to flock to our airports come the school holidays. We’re either digging ourselves deeper in debt or we aren’t in such hard times as people say.

Are modern holidays all they’re made out to be? If we don’t take a holiday, do we have anything to be genuinely envious about? Let me tell you the story of Jack who is slightly younger than middle age. Jack bought a package deal and ended up in a nice hotel on an island in the Mediterranean. Jack has a fairly demanding job and works fairly long hours and so was looking forward to a break in the sun. He went with a couple of mates. The hotel was all-in – except drinks which turned out to be quite expensive. That didn’t stop the three of them spending quite a lot of time in the bar in the evenings or in clubs in the town. The night life was demanding and Jack rarely saw daylight before eleven in the morning. By then it was so hot it was only a combination of ‘Factor 50’ and sunshades that kept him from turning into a lobster. Six days in and some food obviously didn’t agree with Jack, and so he spent the next two days in his bedroom and bathroom – but at least it was air-conditioned. He recovered enough to make the most of the remaining days. Several times they went on sight-seeing excursions which left their bank balances considerably depleted. When Jack got back to the office it was with a sense of relief and exhaustion. Friends commented on how pale he looked. ‘Factor 50’ does that for you, and he wasn’t going to mention two days in the bathroom. “Good time?” someone asked. “Absolutely brilliant,” replied Jack. Now I have often thought of writing a dictionary of alternate definitions, and so I suspect that “absolutely brilliant” would appear in it as, “Common meaningless response to cover up a disappointing time which you wouldn’t want any of your friends to know about.”

So, if you didn’t spend an arm and a leg on a holiday that fell far short of heaven, don’t worry, lots of other people did and wished they hadn’t – but they’ll never tell you that. A jaundiced view?  Possibly!  Yes, I know there are lots of people who do enjoy their time away but I also know that so much of what I’ve said, is the experience of many people. Funny old world, isn’t it!   If you’re off on a cruise somewhere at cheaper rates than they were three weeks ago, good for you. Enjoy.

Quote:   "Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today."
(Source: John Dryden)

16. Holidays?

(Written earlier in the year) It seems that a week rarely passes before some kind-hearted individual enquires of me, “Going anywhere nice for a holiday this year?” I’m afraid I’m sufficiently old that I can remember back to a bygone age when, to be quite honest, most of us didn’t take holidays. As a child, holidays were a wonderful time when we went roaming on the beach or the lanes where we lived, getting into mischief but enjoying ourselves immensely. The six week school summer holiday stretched away into eternity ahead of us it seemed. I only remember the sunny days. No doubt it did rain but that doesn’t remain in my memory.   My wife, slightly younger than me, must have come from a wealthier social strata because she has memories of her family going to a caravan on the west coast every year.