Summer’s here and I’m sure a lot of lucky families start to think about their summer holidays. The luckier ones will be looking forward to travelling to faraway places overseas, thousands of miles away, journeying on a jet liner to warm, sunny climates where they speak different languages. Lots of children, clutching their ipads and dvd players, waiting to board the plane.
I never travelled on a plane until I was 19. When I did, I was too shy to complain that somebody had put grapes in my salad and, if that wasn’t bad enough, the grapes had gone off. I didn’t know about olives in those days.
When I was a child, holiday destinations were also in faraway places, which at that time, meant anywhere further than 100 miles from home. Dad would take a full day to check the car over, changing the oil, filling it with water, cleaning the plugs and measuring the gap on the thingy connected to the spark plugs with a special tool. I used to like to watch him do all this, provided it all went to plan. If it didn’t and he started to make those rumbly, sweary noises and stick his bottom teeth over his top lip, I made my excuses and went back indoors to play with Action Man.
We tended to go on holiday with extended family, which included Nan, Grandad, Aunts, Uncles and various cousins. This meant travelling in a convoy, with various families billeted into various cars, since not every family owned a car then.
For some reason, we departed in th middle of the night, like a bunch of escaping refugees. In those days, cars weren’t anywhere near as fast as they are now. There were less motorways and you had to rely on A roads to get you to your destination. Journeys to Devon from London could take 6 hours. Mum and dad were keen to get as much holiday time as possible, so would want to arrive ‘on holiday’ as early as they could.
Which meant that if you were a child, you were woken up very, very early, fed a couple of Phenergan pills and shoved in the back of the car before you passed out again. The aim of this exercise was to make sure children stayed unconscious for the entire journey, only to wake dazed and disorientated in a strange venue several hours later. I should imagine that the only other people to experience this would be kidnap victims.
Obviously, the parents saw it as a great advantage. No noise, no awkward questions, no need to play any silly games and avoiding the ultimate question, “Are we there yet?”
Not that I would always sleep for the entire journey.
I can remember sitting in the back of dad’s Ford Anglia.I was wedged in the back of the car with my Nan and mum. My granddad sat in the front, my dad driving. There appeared to be a thick fog within the car, reducing visibility to virtually zero.
“For f***’s sake, Pop, put that f***ing pipe out!” my dad yelled, his head craning over the steering wheel, his nose nearly touching the windscreen.
“Albert!” my mum remonstrated, “the boy’s in the back here!”
I could faintly hear Grandad grumbling, accompanied by a tapping noise. As the smoke cleared, Grandad could be seen knocking his pipe out on the dashboard.
“What are you doing!” my dad shouted.
Grandad gave him an exasperated look.
“I’m putting me f***ing pipe out, what’s it look like, yer dopey…”
“Albert!” shouted my Nan, for Granddad was similarly named, “the boy’s in the back here!”
Then there was the time the whole convoy stopped to help Uncle Bert. He was a nervous driver, so naturally he was given responsibility to lead the line of cars. When getting flustered over directions, Aunty Jo instructed him to ‘go over the next roundabout’. Which he duly did, leaving his Austin A10 precariously perched on top of a rather steep roundabout. All the family had to help push the car back onto the road, much to the astonishment and amusement of passing traffic.
There were the good bits, of course. The travel sweets in round tins, nesting in a generous pile of icing sugar, covered with wax paper. The stops along the way at transport cafes, where you could have egg and chips followed by a Jubly (cardboard pyramids full of frozen orange ice), whilst the hairy lorry drivers would entertain you with their magic tricks (these were the days when parents were happy to let their children be entertained by strange men).
But the best bit of all was actually arriving at your destination, knowing you had long summer days in a strange place, doing fun things, having coca cola and crisps, jellied eels and cockles out of a pot on the sea front.
How lucky are we now, being able to travel on planes, get to destinations thousands of miles away in the same time it took us to get to Devon.
All without being drugged and put in the back of a car. Though sometimes I think Lady BSM would prefer me that way…