Autobiographical Writing - 'The holiday' - A childhood memory
One early memory from my childhood is of a holiday in Towyn, Wales, in a shabby caravan park next to the railway line. It was a special holiday paid for by the social services children’s department for underprivileged families with young children. It was late August, the last few weeks of the school holidays. We travelled through the night. I slept most of the way. We arrived in the early hours and an eerie autumn mist hung around our feet. We shivered in the cold, yawning.
Mum unlocked the door to the caravan and instantly a horrible musty aroma greeted us. The caravan was filthy. Leaving our two suitcases perched at the bottom of the steps, mum set about cleaning the place from top to bottom aided by my older sister. While we waited, I played with my tiny tears doll and my two brothers kicked a ball about outside. It seemed to take hours. I drew a face in the wet mist on the window and pressed my doll’s face to the glass so that she too might see the trains going by. We waited in anticipation for our first view of the ocean.
Cleaning the Caravan
Eventually, the caravan was clean enough for us all to have some breakfast. Mum made toast while my sister passed around the cereal bowls and cornflakes, pouring the milk on that my brothers had ran to the little site shop for as soon as it opened.
After breakfast the cases were taken into the caravan, my sister unpacked as mum prepared some sandwiches for lunch and our day at the beach. My sister put all our clean sheets and pillows on the two sets of bunks in one large bedroom then hung all our clothes neatly in the wardrobes. I watched her from my cushioned bench near the window and wondered where mummy was going to sleep. It was obvious to me, even at five, that mummy couldn’t possibly share a bunk bed with any of us. My sister showed me how the bench I was sitting on converted into a double bed, thrilled, I declared that I could share it with mummy so that she wouldn’t get lonely.
Cross the tracks to go to the beach
Finally, we prepared to go to the beach. My sister had found two lots of buckets and spades in a cupboard under on the caravan seats and told me that we would make the best sandcastles in the world. Laughing, she took my hand and we all set off. Mum carried a basket of spare clothes and towels as well as our sandwiches and crisps and pop and cakes. My brothers had found a bat, wickets and ball and said they were going to have a game of cricket.
We waited patiently at the gate for the signals to change. I was a little afraid of walking on the wooden boards laid between the rails that would take us to the footpath to the beach. My eldest brother said we must be careful not to touch the rails otherwise we would be ‘fried’. I also worried about what would happen if a train came along while we were still in the middle? I remember the smell, a lingering pong like the smell at the fish market where mum went on Fridays. I was never sure if I liked the smell.
The signal changed, the gate went up, and I hesitated. In her annoyance my sister dragged me across, threatening me with her huge glaring brown eyes. My brothers ran on ahead, laughing and shouting, soon disappearing in their eagerness to wreak havoc and run free.
First glimpse of the Ocean
At the top of the hill, I held my breath; my mouth fell open in astonishment, the ocean, as far as the eye could see, with white horses galloping towards the golden sand, disappearing on the approach. The sun, by now, was high in the sky and people were scattered everywhere, so much so that at first I couldn’t see my brothers.
We walked along the sandy footpath until we had to remove our sandals so that we could walk on the beach. Mum found a nice spot close to the sand dunes and not too far from the water. She laid out a large blanket and knelt down to unpack the basket. My sister undressed me and helped me to put on my blue and white swimsuit. She then covered me in a milky-white cream. She told me that it would stop the sun from burning me. Then she changed into her swimsuit that matched mine – only bigger. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sea; it was awesome. I looked around in bewilderment trying to take everything in at once. I smiled so much my face hurt.
My brothers ran back, excited, telling us everything they had seen, and what they were going to do next. They set up their cricket stumps and began to play. My sister picked up the buckets and spades and we started to make sandcastles. Mum settled down to read a book telling us all to stay close by. I wanted to go down to the water but my sister held me back and told me we would go later after we’d made the biggest sandcastle, ever!
After a while our sandcastle started to take shape. It reminded me of the castle the dancing princesses lived in, with towers and windows. I imagined the princesses flying out of the one of the windows to dance the night away. It was really good and we felt proud. By now, my brothers had given up on their game and started to dig in the sand as well. They wanted to make a speedboat or a car. We watched them for a while until my sister took me by the hand and led me to the water. Mum shouted to us to be careful of jellyfish. I couldn’t imagine what a jellyfish might look like but figures they must be horrible for mum to warn us like that.
We paddled in the water. It was particularly cold at first but we persevered, making our way along the beach and back again. I kept a tight hold of my sister’s hand in fear of the sea dragging me away, never to be seen again. Perhaps I end up on a desert island like theSwiss family Robinsonor Robinson Crusoe, eating bananas and drinking coconut milk until a big ship came to rescue me. My sister laughed and told me that I’d drown before I reached any island. I squealed with fright and tightened my grip.
We spent most of our week’s holiday playing on that beach close to the sea and every day Mum made picnic lunches. She appeared to be happier away from home and everything although sometimes she seemed faraway. Mum had a lovely hot meal ready each evening and later we would all go for a walk in the dark singing songs like ‘show me the way to go home’ or if it rained we would play monopoly, scrabble or snap before bed-time.
Every night we formed a procession to the shower blocks. They smelled of toilets and provided homes for moths, spiders, daddy-long-legs and other creepy crawlies. Once ready for bed we all raced back to the caravan in our pyjamas carrying our towels and clothes, ducking the kamikaze bats. My brothers would shout ‘last one’s back a rotten egg’ or ‘ mind the vampire bats’. It was always a relief to get back into the caravan where mum would be waiting with cheese, crackers and hot chocolate for supper.
The Holiday ends...
We were at the caravan for a whole week, making friends with other families on the site and generally having fun. It was like Manchester never existed. We never wanted to go home but we missed our lassie collie puppy, ‘Brandy’ and our ginger kitten ‘Frisky’ and our budgies Peter and Paul, who were being taken care of by our next door neighbour, so when our social worker arrived to drive us home we were all packed and ready to go. Mum, again seemed distant. We drove along the coast road and waved goodbye to the sea.
I fell asleep on the trip back. I woke up in my own bed. I couldn’t understand why I could hear Mum crying. I crept down the stairs and peered through the crack in the door. Our neighbour was sitting with mum, arm around her shoulder. I listened. It seemed that dad had been round while we were away. I moved further into the room to see that all our furniture had been moved about and left in an untidy fashion; pictures and ornaments were broken and mingled with the plants strewn across the floor. The curtains were hanging off the rails in shreds and I heard my mum saying ‘how could he?’
Brandy had her head on Mums lap, whimpering. I saw the birdcage on the floor, empty. I ran to Mum and asked her where Frisky was. Our neighbour assured me that he was all right and staying at her house. I looked at the birdcage but didn’t dare ask. I knew that they were gone. The French window was broken. They must have flown away. ‘Why?’ I cried and buried my head in the Brandy’s mane.
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Fly away Peter, Fly away Paul
An extract from this piece is on p103 of this book
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© 2010 Leni Sands