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Autobiographical Writing - 'The holiday' - A childhood memory

Updated on June 14, 2016


First glimpse of the Ocean
First glimpse of the Ocean | Source
like whitehorses...
like whitehorses... | Source

The Holiday

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!

Having fun

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.

Lassie Collie Puppy
Lassie Collie Puppy | Source

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.

All comments appreciated.

Another childhood memory - A Christmas Story


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Peter and Paul had flown away.
Peter and Paul had flown away.

Fly away Peter, Fly away Paul

© 2010 Leni Sands


Submit a Comment

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    4 years ago from UK

    I am so thrilled, an extract from this piece of writing has been used (with my permission of course) in a Hodder Education Book 'Ready to Go Lessons for English, Step-by-step lesson plans for Cambridge Primary Stage 5' by Kate Ruttle and Edited by: Emily Budinger (ISBN 978-1-4441-7708-4) I feel so proud!

    My free copy of the book just arrived and it was very exciting turning to page 102/103 and seeing a lesson plan built around 'The Holiday'. It has taken so long to happen since they first inquired about it that I thought it was a wind up - it is so nice to know finally that it wasn't and that it was source here on Hubpages.

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    7 years ago from UK

    Thank you ahorseback.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Leni , We who lived these ways , do hold these memories up to the light once in a while and in doing so we become better people for it I think , awesome story!

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    7 years ago from UK

    Thank you Peanutritious for your comment, much appreciated.

  • Peanutritious profile image

    Tara Carbery 

    7 years ago from Cheshire, UK

    I found this a poignant read. Your words are tinged with wistfullness. A beautful but sad piece of work.

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    8 years ago from UK

    Thank you gr82bme your comments are much appreciated.

  • gr82bme profile image


    8 years ago from USA

    leni, I can't wait to read it. If this hub is a sample of your writing, I know I will have to read more

    peace, Tina

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    8 years ago from UK

    Thank you gr82bme, thank you so much for the comment and the encouragement. I am preparing to write a Novel based on my life's experiences - yes a novel not an autobiography but a story based on the truth where the main character ME gets to do all the things she imagined she'd wanted to do (revenge) but never had the nerve - like...any way the first chapter should appear in the not too distance future so keep checking back. Nice to have you following.

  • gr82bme profile image


    8 years ago from USA

    Well done! I know it ends up sad, but the way you wrote, it was like I was there too. Funny I thought the story was going to end up about how much older sister's do for moms.. Your mom was lucky to have her. My mom and dad fought all the time. He ruined a lot of holidays. Life goes on and we learn how to deal with life.

    You are a fantastic writer.

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    8 years ago from UK

    Thank you Phyllis, it was a lovely holiday during times when we were a family of loving brothers and sisters. I am glad you enjoyed the story.

  • Phyllis Doyle profile image

    Phyllis Doyle Burns 

    8 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

    Leni, what a beautiful story. Memories are so precious. I am so sorry that your story ended with sadness. I could see you and your family on the beach in my mind because you painted the scene in words so clearly.

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    8 years ago from UK

    Thank you Astra Nomik for your wonderful compliment - it is most appreciated.

  • Astra Nomik profile image

    Cathy Nerujen 

    8 years ago from Edge of Reality and Known Space

    I was transported to another time and place. Just loved this hub. What a great writer you are. Wonderful images from a childhood, and hooked me completely.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    great experience. i never had a few when i was little

    though a sad twist at the end and frisky left too!

    its beautiful. *thump up*

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    Sorry to hear of your Mum's bad experience and its aftermath. I regret most the loss of her fullness as a wonderful person, if she remained lost in depression. It's incredibly sad.

    You found a way to work it to get to sleep in the nice bed. Kids are so clever! It's surely a precious memory for you, considering what came after it.

  • maggs224 profile image


    8 years ago from Sunny Spain

    What a wonderful well-written Hub this is. You held me fast from the first word right up until the last.

    I related easily to your caravan holiday having experienced a few of these myself in childhood.

    I was enjoying the story immensely right up until the unexpected ending. The ending hit me like a blow to the stomach.

    This is powerfully written and you take your reader right into the heart of your experience with you. I look forward to reading more about your life. I am voting this hub up.

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    8 years ago from UK

    b. Malin, thank you for your kind words. I am finding it very therapeutic.

    dahoglund, sometimes the sadness takes over, thank you for taking the time to read.

    smallperson, it was a short escape for all of us as will be revealed in later hubs as I sift through my memories.

    attemptedhumour, this was one of my happier memories - it was the easiest to write, more will be revealed as I look back over my childhood, life's experiences that made me the person I am today.

    Nellieanna, interesting thought that - how mum would have written it? Mum went on to become a depressive after the break down of her marriage. This was probably the happiest time before all hell broke loose. Yes, I did get to sleep with her in the fold-out double bed? I think I made out I was having bad dreams or something...

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    Such a beautifully told story of a lovely memorable childhood experience. Don't you have to wonder how your Mum might have written it? hehe. She really did a lot to make sure it was a good outing for her brood! Each of you children had a unique experience too. I have to ask - did you get to sleep with your Mum on the fold-out double bed? :-)

  • attemptedhumour profile image


    8 years ago from Australia

    Hi leni, that was a typical tale of the reality of everyday life for of the non Brady Bunch variety. You wrote in an honest down to earth manner that captured the two ends of that intriguing happy sad spectrum. It does help to talk, or write about it and adversity, as you continue to demonstrate, is sometimes the best motivator. Cheers we will both have a few more of those events printed into our memories.

  • smallperson profile image


    8 years ago from Seabrook,Texas

    I cannot begin to describe my feelings toward your story, except to feel like a real writing beginner. As an only child, my parents would take me every summer to Balboa, California.To me it was a treat and put all kinds of dreams in my head about living by or on the sea.I didn't see the escape for my mother and my father's sacrifice to afford such a vacation. In recent years I lived out my dream by living on a motor yacht and also living in Miami, Florida. Your mother's short escape touched my heart.

  • dahoglund profile image

    Don A. Hoglund 

    8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

    It is a sad tale.

  • b. Malin profile image

    b. Malin 

    8 years ago

    How well I can relate to the happy time, as well as the pain, of your story...But it's so therapeutic to write about it. It's like reaching out to the "little child" in you and embracing it.

  • leni sands profile imageAUTHOR

    Leni Sands 

    8 years ago from UK

    Thanks for reading Dream on; the truth still hurts.

  • DREAM ON profile image


    8 years ago

    Wow what a story.I love the beach and I grew up from it all my life.I enjoy all the things you talked about.The ending was so different than I expected.A great week turned sad.Great writing.


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