When I was a young lad, many moons ago, we used to have three weeks of holidays a year. I know this is hard to believe – many of my contemporaries, I am assured, had to make do with a one-day coach trip to Blackpool. I knew nothing of that. We had a car.
I read recently that there were only one million cars on the road in this country in 1950. A trivial number – one with which even the inept Transport for Norwich might be able to cope.
We had a Vauxhall: strangely, I remember its number: DPW 155. Later, we had a Rover, and then we had a Lea-Francis. Quite exotic. Then my father died, and we had nothing.
But that’s another story. Before that we enjoyed what I had become accustomed to expect: a fortnight in some such desirable location as Croyde, Hope Cove, Perranporth or Llangennith. The first two are in Devon, the third in Cornwall and the last in South Wales. Remote enough, but not foreign. We weren’t that well off. As I recall, we generally stayed in a caravan, which was static only in the sense that it wasn’t moving.
In addition to The Summer Fortnight, we also had a week at Hemsby, which was on the brink of becoming the arcade capital of the East. I remember putting pennies into strange machines where the only incentive, as far as I can remember, was getting them out again. These were old pennies, of course: trivial money, 12 of them worth 5p today.
But that wasn’t Hemsby’s main attraction. There was The Marrams, where we stayed in a rather exciting bungalow, and there was the Valley. Both are still there, though the sea is nibbling away at the protecting dunes.
I could go on in nostalgic vein, but the point I really want to make is that holidays in those days were relaxing. Holidays nowadays are anything but. On a recent Swiss train holiday (which I enjoyed tremendously) our journey home took 17 hours and required six trains, a coach and a tube journey. While we were away we also reached 11,000 feet above sea level, travelling by local railway, cog railway, funicular, cable car and through mountain tunnels, emerging into ice and snow.
On a previous trip this summer to the Outer Hebrides we experienced four ferry journeys and eight hotels, and travelled a total of more than 2000 miles.
Not exactly relaxing, and that’s without the dreadful hassle of air travel, which can induce a nervous breakdown all on its own.
So what are holidays all about? As my friends Linda and Anne might say, they are about relaxing on a beach, but I’m not all that keen on sand. I like a bit of wilderness. Most holidays I go on nowadays require several weeks at home to recover. Maybe I’m just getting old.
Well, I am getting old: no question about it. And with that comes the urge of the bucket list. How long have we got to go where we want to?
I am resisting desperation: my bucket is considerably smaller than some, and my horizons are not expanding. I even fancy a week in Hemsby. How sad is that?
We sit silently at the front, dumbfounded:
before us, close on 300 sons and daughters of Blakeney House:
no more stout Sir Thomas, no more learned sage,
no more Crome and Walpole, no more history’s page –
just a pleasant spot
on the North Norfolk coast, slightly susceptible
Those young eyes gaze at us,
relics of a bygone age,
consigned to the ark
(honour of the school, apparently)
and we gaze back, aghast
at how many years have passed
Echoes of the abandoned school song fade
across the playing fields
(was it joy we used to know?),
its tune stuck firm in our muddy memories
despite our efforts to finger it out
Did we really belong here?
No caps, no sacred lawn,
no gowns, no ties, no tuck shop,
no visions of selfish fame,
no absorbing aim,
no playing the game
Yet something lingers on
as the drizzle strengthens into a downpour outside:
the same gateway, a certain
sense of direction
And where have we been,
falling through cracks,
disappearing in unlikely places, or
sticking unexpectedly hard to those things we knew?
Those ancient, eternal things
are slipping away now,
and we do the same,
leaving a faint memory in younger minds,
something one Friday,
some old guys sitting there,
a ghost in the machine
This is a poem I wrote following a visit by a group of us to the City of Norwich School, where we had started our high school careers 60 years earlier. It borrows generously from the school song, which I have to say I still regard fondly.