MARK HAYSOM is the author of two novels – LOVE, LOVE ME DO and IMAGINE. His monthly Blog attempts to make sense of the world for his grandson, Theo – and for himself. Theo is now fifteen months old.
Ican hear it now: falling relentlessly, coming in a lashing deluge, tap dancing demonically on the caravan roof.
It’s the one constant of all my family holidays as a small boy: rain.
They say that the past is another country and all our summers were better there. Childhood memories should by rights then be bathed in golden sunshine. And there were sunny days, of course: there must surely have been.
But it’s the rain I remember most.
Sometimes it would start slowly, catching us unawares on the beach, drops falling like dark heavy tears, staining the sand. Sometimes it would come as a sudden downpour, sending us rushing, shivering to the car. At other times it would come in misty drifts, drenching us on the promenade.
But it was always there: the rain.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY
One time, in an age before motorways, it pursued us in torrents for the whole of a despondent stop-start journey to Devon; the road running like a river. We soon tired of the game: I spy with my little eye, something beginning with R. Rain, raindrops, rainwater: it was all there was to see.
In Torbay it fell all night, cascading from gutters. The following morning it was still coming down, almost horizontally in the wind – and, in a wild, desperate bid to outrun it, we were suddenly back in the car and off again. For sodden miles, we raced back along the road we had arrived by and then veered off towards the New Forest, towards the ferry, towards the Isle of Wight.
Where, of course, it was waiting for us; coming in stair rods from a black malevolent cloud.
Which is why, I guess, that a decision was made the next summer to abandon the British seaside and strike out to far flung shores.
It was 1963 and – while the rest of the world was still on the train with their buckets and spades to Blackpool or Brighton or Skegness – we were pioneers. We were on our way across Europe. To Spain!
Or to be more precise. We were on our way … in a car… barely stopping … with us four children, all under the age of eleven … crammed in the back seat … for seven hundred and fifty miles.
And when we got there? There was no rain – instead there was a pitiless sun burning at temperatures we’d never before encountered in our young lives. Burning so hot that it ensured that we were kept covered, or under umbrellas, or indoors for a mind-numbing fortnight.
We did it again the following year. In a tent.
Memories are short when you are young and we had banished the previous journey from our minds. We set off cheerfully enough.
It only took an hour for the mood to change – when we discovered that the tent wasn’t on the roof rack, that it had been left behind on the drive. By the time we had driven all the way home to collect it, we’d already had enough of the car.
And there were still those seven hundred and fifty miles to go.
All of which goes in large part, perhaps, to explain why for so many years, I looked forward to holidays about as much as a condemned man welcomes the dawn.
But it wasn’t just those childhood memories that discouraged me, it was the rest of it too. I approached each holiday not with eagerness, expectation, excitement – but with a sinking heart.
City breaks, I’d always loved: a short, sharp immersion in a new place, a new culture. But I never could see the point of lounging on a sunbed for a fortnight on a beach or by a pool.
I can do a morning of it, perhaps. Or, if I really have to, a day. But after that, I find it numbing, deadening, exhausting.
It’s made worse, of course, because with skin like mine – that, I swear, starts burning, indoors, in mere anticipation of a sunny day to come – it’s not just two weeks on a lounger. It’s two weeks on a lounger under a hat, under an umbrella.
Sitting for two weeks in the shade? It’s simply defeating.
I know that for millions of people it’s the summer dream. They work hard for it all year, plan for of it, savour every second of it. I can understand why. Of course I can. The life-affirming warmth, the wonderful sun-drenched lazy days of indulgence and freedom.
But it’s never worked for me. Such holidays were to be endured, not enjoyed.
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It was China that changed everything.
China had always fascinated me, I’d always wanted to visit – and in the early 1990s it was suddenly possible. For the first time, the country was opening up and you could travel with relative freedom.
Beijing, the Great Wall, Xian, the Terracotta Warriors, Nanjing, Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong: it was every bit as magical as I’d imagined.
And it was during that that extraordinary journey that I resolved that neither beachside or poolside were going to be for me again.
That from then on – with the help of a hat and a vat of Factor 50 – holidays had to be about exploration, discovery, adventure.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since: Europe, India, Africa, Vietnam, America. Always on the move.
It has been a restless, unforgettable journey.
So, Theo, as soon as you are old enough this is what I’ll tell you; this is what I’ve learned.
Once you’re done with dodging the rain, with having buckets of fun on a beach, don’t bother with the sun loungers. Life’s too short for that.
There’s a wide world waiting for you.