When I was 4, my family drove to the south coast of England for a traditional British holiday. I buried my favourite Thomas The Tank Engine toy (Percy) on the beach at Weymouth, and the next year we went back to the same place. I tried to find Percy, thinking it’d have stayed where i’d buried it. I searched for hours. I completely ignored the World around me, as if it didn’t exist, in the hope that my concentration may lead me to find it. I never did find it. I do wonder where that toy is now. I wonder if it’s at the bottom of the sea somewhere? I miss Percy!
My portrait of England, is the great British seaside holiday experienced as a child……
A sign on the motorway for “The South“. A traffic jam on the M5 in the rain. A fleeting moment of frustration when the slow lane is moving faster than your lane. The moment of joy when you see the sea. Only to find out it’s a river. A stop off at a motorway service station without realising that everything you want to buy for the rest of the car journey is going to cost your parents more than the worth of their house. The moment you finally do really see the sea and you hear the seagulls. The drive up to the gates of the caravan park. The wait whilst your mum or dad collect the keys to the caravan from reception. The sound of kids playing in the pool. The moment you step through the caravan door with the awful furniture and the rock solid beds, but still you’re magnificently happy. The pointless act of looking through all the wooden cabinets in the caravan living room as if you expect something of supreme importance to be in there. There’s nothing in there. Actually, there’s one glass. There’s nothing else. Certainly not my Thomas The Tank Engine toy. The camp site entertainment team of 20-somethings who can sing and can dance but are held back by their over aged head-of-entertainment team leader who should have quit this game twenty five years ago but still insists on introducing (“Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only….“) himself. Production of Grease tonight. Entertainers from Birmingham and Stoke putting on 1950s style American accents. You don’t understand why that is. But don’t worry, twenty years later, you still don’t understand. Back to the caravan. Go to bed. Wake up the next morning to the sound of seagulls landing on the roof of your caravan. Or if you’re mischievous like I was….. throw bread onto the roof of your neighbours caravan and watch the entire population of England’s seagulls land thunderously onto their caravan. Laugh at their misfortune. Revel in your evil genius. Leave the caravan for a beach day. It’s not even hot. It’s cloudy. But you’re on holiday. Beach day it is. Take sun cream and sun block. Just in case. Coincidentally, find that sun cream fourteen years later in a draw back at home, unopened. Dad thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to leave the caravan wearing shorts, and white socks with sandals. Walk or drive down to the beach. Get out the car. Mum with a bag and an horrendously uncomfortable straw mat for sunbathing on. Walk on. See the sea. Stop suddenly. Excitement time. Mouth wide open…… you’ve heard the mellifluous sound of the amusement arcade. The grab-a-teddy machine that drops Zippy JUST before the hole, every time! Everyone else’s kid seems to have a Zippy. Why don’t you have a Zippy. Well perhaps when you’re 22, you’ll win a Zippy….
Storm off in a huff. Notice the fish and chip stand. No longer in a huff. Want chips to take to the beach. Dad buys chips. But now you don’t want chips. You’ve seen ice cream. You want ice cream. With raspberry sauce. But you have chips now. Hmmm predicament. Luckily a seagull is on hand to make the decision for you. Lose your chips to the birds. Cry. Dad buys you an ice cream out of pity. Score! Down to the beach. More families claiming their spot on the beach, than there are grains of sand. Set up the wind screen. Dad tries to knock it into place with a rock. It doesn’t look very sturdy. One gust of wind. Wind screen falls down. Dad gets annoyed. Finally puts it up right. Bury Percy. TO THE SEA! It’s freezing. Seriously, why bother? You could literally freeze to death. Back at home, if your mum or dad asked you to stand or swim in water that appears to be colder than your freezer, you’d call childline and report abuse. Back to the beach. See the Punch of Judy tent. Judy says something. Punch slaps her. Kids laugh. Never has the glorification of domestic violence been such fun to watch. See men carrying surf boards. There’s more chance of a wave striking your bathroom sink than on a beach in Devon, what the hell do they think they’re going to be doing? See donkeys. Demand a ride on one of them. They look miserable. But fuck it, you have no concept of animal abuse yet, so go for it! Woman sunbathing topless over there. Ew. Boobs. Off the beach. Starting to get too cold. Mum grabs your feet in a towel to wipe off the water and sand. She doesn’t realise it hurts like hell to rub them dry of sand! Back in the car. Your shoes seem to be full of sand. Empty them at the back of dads car. He wont know. Back to the caravan. Eat at the club house. Watch the kids talent show. Thank the heavens you’re not competing. You have time now to take the piss out of the contestants. Girl tries to sing over the rainbow. Try to contain your laughter. She comes joint first with the only other contestant. You think it’s rigged. You’re only six years old and you’re convinced there’s a conspiracy. A contest without a winner? They planned this in advance. You just know it. The announcer is the Lee Harvey Oswald of South England. You eat your dinner. Go back to the caravan. Sleep time. Wake up, watch with excitement the weather forecast, say “it’s sunny back home”, dad goes to the caravan park mini-market to buy a paper. Finish breakfast. Time to do it all again. Zoo maybe? Water park? Saturday comes quickly. Time to drive home. Sleep in the car. Wake. See the miserable buildings of the smokey dilapidated city that you live in. See your house. Boo. School soon. Not for Percy. Lucky bastard.