Celebrating times gone by, as we simultaneously enjoy what is currently happening, is the fine balance that this group is often blessed to find during our discussions and reflections. The current brighter, warmer days have admittedly helped create this balance as we ponder on past summer memories and associations!
I was certainly left feeling uplifted by hearing the sunny memories the group shared. What stood out for me was the mention of adventures in mountains, laughter shared with friends and family, the rituals of regular holidays, cricket games, sunburn stories, ice creams under endless blue skies and simple but delicious picnics. I hope you enjoy these stories too. Please comment below with memories of your own!
In remembering summer holidays, I thought of two particular memories of my life: one when our boys were young and we went to the coast, and later when my husband and I spent many trips completing high level routes in the mountains.
In thinking of our seaside holidays, I recalled how much fun we had with our canoe, usually in South Wales. My husband built the canoe – a two-seater which we could sail with one child and one adult – for which I made and fitted waterproof splash covers. We wore life jackets, of course, and the boys quickly learned how to handle the paddles, so we became quite good canoeists. Here is a photograph taken where our youngest son, Alun, was probably about five or six and was in the bay at Saundersfoot, with me.
Later, my husband and I extended our hill and mountain walking in this country, to experience high level routes in Europe. These routes, when we stayed each night in a different mountain hostel, often involved following tracks set up for the Alpine troops during wartime and needed climbing skills and equipment. They were really satisfying. Here are two photographs taken in the Italian Dolomites after we had reached summits between 2900 metres and 3200 metres high.
The next photograph my husband took as we were descending from the summit of the Schiara at 2563 metres down to the Setti Alpini mountain hostel at 1400 metres. This was in the Dolomiti Bellunese and we needed four hours to do it – very tiring but hugely enjoyable!
Really happy days, and I wish I was still young enough to do it now.
What is Summer? The two-week scorcher each May or September? It certainly isn’t a full quarter of the year, equal in length to the other three seasons. No, for me, summer is the six-week holidays, which somehow manage to stretch and stretch until standing on the threshold in mid-July and peering September-wards leaves you seeing nothing but endless weeks of outdoor play in the baking sun. The reality is, of course, quite different, but even now, as a teacher, the promise of summer holidays casts its spell on me at this time of year. As I type, I’m just days away from breaking up, and I take pleasure in mulling over the question: Which moment is the sweetest? Friday lunchtime, when the school closes early? Saturday, with school firmly behind me? Or that first Monday morning, waking up without an alarm?
For a decade of my childhood, the summer holidays meant the cottage: the Peter Brook Centre, a farm building turned bunkhouse near Cerrigydrudion in North Wales. The cottage was owned by Colne Valley High, the secondary school in our corner of Huddersfield, and the one I attended. It was the school’s outdoor pursuits centre (indeed I went with my form in Year 8). My Great Auntie Pat worked at the school and, as a staff member, could hire it out for her sprawling extended family each August. We cousins had our own dormitory, and spent the nights playing pranks on each other while the adults played gin rummy and got Grandma Evelyn tipsy on Bacardi and Coke. Many of the outings we repeated year after year. I’d be hard pushed to name my favourite. Crazy golf in Porthmadog? White water rafting in Bala? Climbing Snowdon? Or tobogganing in Llandudno? We were once there during ‘the eclipse’ (goodness knows which one!) and off we went, walking, looking at it through homemade viewing boxes. Grandad Bob led us. We ended up in a bleak forest, and he convinced us that some animal bones were the remains of a centuries-old Celtic people. A black sky, human remains… we were well and truly spooked!
Perhaps it is because we packed so much in that I remember the six-week holidays lasting forever. I’m glad I trick myself, year in, year out, into thinking they’ll never end. Who needs an accurate perspective when the best six weeks of the year also feel like the longest?
“Summer time and the livin’ is easy.”
That’s how it felt for me in the school holidays.
I remember being 10 years old, quite gangly with my thick jet-black hair which had been neatly plaited that morning. I stood in front of the mirror in the hallway and admired my look. I was wearing a handmade dress my mother had finished only last night. It was covered in butterflies, my favourite things, and sat neatly on my hips. I twirled around and around as my dress blew in the gentle breeze. I smiled so hard at my reflection in the mirror that my cheeks hurt. This was the beginning of my fabulous summer.
We had finished packing my suitcase the night before. It wasn’t an easy task as I was quite undecided about what to take and what to leave behind. I was going with my mother to Auntie Zeta’s house. She lived in an enormous house in Lewisham, London. We were leaving my brothers behind, while mum and I had tickets for the train. I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of having two whole weeks with mum to myself.
It was a bit sad leaving my twin brother Stanley, but I could live with that, and I didn’t feel guilty for long. Dad was going to be at home with the boys while I was going on an adventure.
This was how my summer holidays began for as long as I can remember. I had loads of cousins at Aunt Zeta’s house (and I didn’t have to do chores). My time in London was the best. I would enjoy telling my brothers on my return how much I enjoyed it and how spoilt I had been. I must say my tales didn’t always go down well. Especially because we had left them behind.
Summer holidays for me were the best of the best.
We swung open the gate at the top of the narrow private road, Dad drove through, then on and on downhill through the woods until we reached a solitary, single-storied house made from Lakeland stone. We all piled out as he walked on down the track to collect the keys from the farmer. Opposite, a gate led into an overgrown garden, alongside which was a tantalising footpath towards the lake glistening through the trees.
Stepping through the front door was like stepping into the life of a family similar to those in stories we’d read by Enid Nisbet or in girls’ comics. The house was a holiday home, passed down through generations, the walls decorated with sepia Edwardian photographs in which the boys were dressed in sailor suits and the girls in long frilled dresses. There were bookshelves packed with classic children’s books, novels by Hugh Walpole (later we found out he’d lived nearby) and bound volumes of the Punch magazine. There were tennis racquets, cricket bats, board games and large indoor wooden games kept under the enormous settee: bagatelle, shove ha’penny and indoor skittles.
Aptly named The Warren, all the bedrooms led off from a central living room with a faded Turkish-style carpet, painted floorboards and an open hearth. Ours was long and narrow, with three single beds with iron bedsteads, lumpy straw mattresses and feather-filled eiderdowns. The house smelt musty, the sash windows didn’t open easily and once, to great consternation, a bat flew in to the stone-flagged kitchen! But we all loved our summer holiday there and our family returned more than once in subsequent summers. I remember the exhilaration of climbing the hills behind the woods, the scent of bracken damp with dew, the excitement of spotting red squirrels and the comforting call of wood pigeons (new to us then).
The Warren is still there, now renovated, still completely on its own in woods belonging to the National Trust. For any of us, a visit to Derwentwater always involves a walk past it, bringing back treasured memories of those happy family holidays.
One of the glories of our intermittent Saturday morning sessions is that often pre-conceived thoughts regarding the topic are put aside as our memories are stimulated during the opening meditation. This was certainly the case this week as anticipated reminiscences of both watching and participating in memorable cricket games were replaced by recollections of being stung after kneeling on a bee in a Blackpool boarding house and of walking along the quay in Conway, North Wales.
Both of these memories were from family holidays of more than half a century ago and as it happens one of my earliest “cricket” memories is an associated one. I can vividly recall listening to commentary from a Test Match on our portable transistor radio while travelling by train to Conway for one of those summer holidays. I still relish listening to erudite descriptions of play etc. and the friendly banter between overs of “Test Match Special”. The dulcet tones of the various broadcasters across the years are some of the most evocative sounds of summer to me. I even feel a tinge of sadness when the final delivery of the last test of the summer is bowled.
There is also something in the nature of the game itself, with its generally slow tempo allied to fluctuations in fortune inherent in all sporting activity, that has meant some days watching a cricket match live have proved quite contemplative. For this reason, and because I always wanted to visit the ground, I decided to spend my 50th birthday attending a game at Worcester.
The more observant reader of this blog would have remembered that I have already shared this memory, in another context, here about a year ago. I make no apologies for revisiting it, however, as it both fits in with the topic nicely and was such a wonderful and vivid memory.
Picnics firstly sprang to my buzzing mind on hearing the word summer. Eating outdoors was a real treat. One of my favourite old family photographs is of my mother and her sisters in the hay field enjoying a well-earned break from the backbreaking work in the 1930s.
By the time I helped with haymaking in the 1950s, my uncle had one of the first tractors in the Holme Valley, so the grass was cut, turned, baled and carted back to the barn with the help of the tractor. I loved the smell of the newly mown grass, then the warm smell of the dried grass that was made into bales to be taken back to the barn to be stored as winter feed for the cattle.
Another of my treasures is a poor quality photograph of three generations of my mother’s family having a picnic by a stream just below where the BBC Holme Moss transmitter is.
My grandmother and her sister, Mary Hannah, are sitting on the slopping grassy bank with their straw hats on. Three of my mother’s sisters and their children, together with one of her cousins and her son, are all enjoying tucking into sandwiches in the sunshine. We children are wearing our swimwear, girls in homemade sheering elastic costumes and boys in knitted trunks. As a red head I had very fair skin which freckled and burned easily in the days before sunscreen. I remember being covered in Calamine lotion to cool the heat of the sunburn on our return home.
During the bilberry picking season we used to picnic near the most productive bushes which were about an hour’s walk away from our house. A very simple feast of egg sandwiches with very dilute cordial, followed by homemade fruit cake were enjoyed in the fresh air. Even now I much prefer to pack a picnic rather than use a cafe when we go out on trips, remembering what fun we had as children.