SOJOURNS AT HOME AND ABROAD
I don’t remember anything of the holidays that the family went on before 1969. I have heard mention of places like Pagham, Selsey, Winchelsea and Sandbanks and have seen the photographs. Whether I went to any/all of these or just remember them from photographs or family mentions of them, I was too young to mentally tie whatever my baby eyes saw to those place names.
All family holidays that we went on were two weeks in length and always during the school summer holidays, Mum and Dad always booking the holiday well in advance to be sure of getting their preferred choice and a good price. Mum’s part-time work as a telephone operator contributed enormously to the holiday budget enabling us in later years to travel to foreign climes.
Wherever we went, I always recall how exciting it was to arrive, settle in and explore both every nook and cranny of the accommodation and the surrounding neighbourhood; and how disappointed we would be when the fourteen-day holiday that had once stretched out seemingly endlessly before us would finally draw to a close. Right up until the halfway point of the holiday, it seemed like there were still loads of days left. But after the halfway point, the number of days remaining seemed to dwindle all too quickly. In later years of course, one would arrive back from holiday and want to go and see one’s friends ASAP to show off the tan or to catch up on what one had missed while away.
It’s worth noting that these days, Sandbanks – one of those 1960s destinations – is a VERY respectable area with astronomical house prices!
1969-70 – Scratby, Norfolk
These are the first holidays I have any real memories of. In both 1969 and 1970, we stayed in chalet bungalows in Scratby, Norfolk. The ’69 bungalow was called St Ives, and the ’70 bungalow was called Fermoyle. There was a steep flight of steps descending the cliff face to the beach, and on the second holiday, an orange plastic football deflated in the heat of the garden at the height of summer, to be replaced by a similar white plastic ball. Beyond that, vague memories of new buckets and red metal-blade spades being bought, visits to Caister Castle, Great Yarmouth, Hemsby and Cromer, from where I acquired a pack of playing cards at the lifeboat station, are as much as I can recall. Sometime around this time, Liz and Steve had been on some sort of camping holiday in Northumberland about which they reported having helped some poor soul who had been tied to a railway track!!
1971 – Hunstanton, Norfolk
The summer of 1971 brought another Norfolk family holiday, when we were based in Hunstanton, the only Norfolk resort with a west-facing coast and very close to Wisbech and Kings Lynn. Unbeknown to us children, some of our Harper ancestors had lived in these towns a hundred years earlier. We stayed in a bungalow right next to the coast with only a road, the concrete seawall and the shingle beach between us and the sea. In the evenings, the tide would come in right up to the seawall which was very steep and consisted of rows of steps interspersed with smooth, narrow slipways. We children would all sit on the seawall in the evening where one time, Gill who was still only five years old, came very close to sliding down one of the slipways and into the deepening sea. These days, the sea wall looks much the same; however the road between our lodgings and the wall seems very much busier.
Our evening treat would be an ice-cream with chocolate or strawberry sauce drizzled over it, bought from a passing van. By the end of the week, the chocolate sauce bottle had almost finished so the ice cream man let us keep it, to our childish delight. Other recollections remain hazy apart from the sliced bread bought from the local shop. The breadmaker’s name on the packet was Wagg, and when one loaf was discovered with mould growing on it in the hot summer air, it instantly became known to us as ‘Wagg’s Mouldy Bread’, a term that appeared to offend Dad if used too frequently. To Nick, Gill and me, behind his back, Dad occasionally became “Waggy” instead of “Daddy”.
One of the features of early holidays with my parents was that we would have bought for us, our regular comics’ Summer Specials – usually thicker versions of the comics with extra stories and puzzles. The trick here was to not read the whole comic on the first day, but to make it last as far into the holiday as possible, after which we would read each others’. Also, Mum and Dad would buy each of us a new paperback. I remember receiving “Worzel Gummidge” one year which I think was just a little too old for me (I was only six) and just could not get into. Mum and Dad replaced this after a day or two with a less challenging book called “Ponda and William on Holiday” which was about a boy and his toy panda. A year or two later, I was ready for Worzel Gummidge and enjoyed that too. Some of the other holiday books that the others received included “Stig Of The Dump”, “The Silver Sword”, “Catweazle” and “Children Of The Stones” all of which had been children’s television series.
1972 – Oulton Broad, Norfolk
1972 brought our first boating holiday. Two weeks in a motor launch named KC1 at Oulton Broad in Norfolk. That is, we stayed in a chalet close to the water’s edge and would go out most days on the launch, visiting various local places of interest. I particularly recall travelling towards Great Yarmouth where we stopped at Burgh Castle, the mooring smelling really badly of sewage; and Berney Arms Mill – a windmill near to the point of ”The Broads” that motor launches were not allowed to pass beyond. I also remember peeling potatoes with Gill in the back of the launch, with our life jackets on. For some reason, I didn’t go on the trip to Beccles (where as it turned out, our great-great-grandmother, Maria Baxter had come from) and stayed with Mum at the chalet – maybe I wasn’t feeling well that day?
Oulton Broad is only a mile or so from Lowestoft, so I don’t doubt that we went there a few times, and I recall visiting Kessingland Zoo a few miles south along the coast.
Speaking with my brother Steve, he looks back on this holiday and wonders what his own children, Richard and James, would make of it. Fair enough if there is plenty to do, and look at, such as over the next three years’ holidays when there were swing bridges, lift bridges and locks to contend with. Indeed, at the time of writing, Steve is wondering whether he might take his boys on such a holiday in the near future. But perhaps chugging around on the Broads does not seem so appealing.
1973 – River Thames
For the next three years, every holiday was a boating holiday. In 1973, we covered the River Thames in a light-blue cruiser called “Caribbean Queen” (pre-Billy Ocean’s song of the same name – maybe the song was named after our boat….?), embarking at Reading. The little I can remember about this holiday is that we passed Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire mansion of Nancy Astor who was the first female Member of Parliament in the UK. Later on, the house would become more notoriously known as the house where John Profumo, an early ‘60s cabinet minister, consorted with Christine Keeler, a prostitute, not suspecting that she was also sleeping with Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attaché at the embassy of the Soviet Union. This relationship, undertoned by the risk that state secrets could fall into the hands of the Russians, effectively brought down the Conservative government of the early 1960s.
Swimming in the Thames near Lechlade, close to the source of the river, sunbathing on the boat’s flat roof, running aground and using the boathook to push us off, the stench of the chemical toilet and a cow at the window are all fond memories of this holiday and themes familiar to the next two years.
1974 – Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Summer 1974 saw us take to the 127 mile long Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the longest canal in Northern England. We picked up our boat at Silsden, near Keighley in Yorkshire, just a short train ride from Skipton. This boat looked more like a traditional narrowboat than the “Caribbean Queen” cruiser of the previous year. We travelled east along the canal beyond Bingley towards Leeds, though I don’t believe we actually reached the city. Nor did we travel as far west as Liverpool. However we did cover quite a distance inbetween over the two weeks.
Much of the work negotiating the various lift bridges, swing bridges and locks was done by Dad, Steve and Liz. As Nick, Gill and I could not swim at this age, we were usually not allowed to help except perhaps with holding the mooring rope to keep the boat steady when in locks, letting it out if the boat was descending and keeping it taut if ascending. We were all obliged to wear life jackets just in case we ended up in the drink.
My personal fear was that the rope might get caught around my foot and that I might get dragged into the murky depths of the lock. With practice, hopping from boat to lockside became easier, but I always felt a sense of trepidation looking into the depth of the swirling waters. The bridges usually needed someone to sit on or lean on part of them to lift or swing open to allow boats to pass through. Locks were more fascinating as, having guided the narrow boat into the enclosed space, a windlass would be used to open sluice gates at one end of the locks to either let water into or out of the lock depending on whether the boat was travelling upstream or downstream. It was important to moor the boat within the lock, as if it drifted towards the door through which water was pouring, it was very easy to get the bow or stern soaked, which certainly happened once.
Some of the highlights of this canal for avid canal lovers are the series of interconnected locks. The most extensive of these is the Bingley Five Rise, a staircase of five interconnected locks lifting the canal sixty feet at a gradient of 1:5, which considering how long it took to negotiate a single lock, and with boats going both up and down the staircase at the same time, must have taken thirty minutes or more to pass through.
The scenery when not in open countryside tended towards the industrial. There were old mill and brewery buildings lining the rivers, some dilapidated, some renovated. Further afield, particularly around areas such as Burnley, the surreal view consisted of factories belching smoke into the sky from massive chimneys, whilst we sat in the sun on the roof of our barge eating sandwiches.
Another attraction near the canal is the town of Haworth, where the renowned Brontë sisters lived. Built on a very steep hillside, it was quite a climb up the cobbled streets to the parsonage where the three sisters, Charlotte, Anne and Emily wrote their famous books, “Wuthering Heights”, “Jane Eyre” and “Agnes Grey”. Haworth is also famous through having featured in one of my favourite films “The Railway Children”, based on the book by Edith Nesbit, along with the nearby station at Oakworth. Both Oakworth and Haworth are linked by the Worth Valley Railway, a five mile steam railway linking the towns to Keighley.
1975 – Grand Union and Oxford Canals
1975 brought our final boating holiday, this time on the Grand Union and Oxford Canals. Again squeezing into a narrowboat somewhere near Rugby, we visited Oxford, Banbury, Braunceston and Cropredy, as well as negotiating the deepest narrowbeam lock on the English canal system at Somerton, a rise or fall of twelve feet. One of my personal highlights of this holiday was negotiating the 2794m Blisworth tunnel which opened out at the village of Stoke Bruerne. Having looked around the canal museum there, we had a drink at the canalside pub where aged ten, I tasted my first mouthfuls of beer. Pretty horrible I thought at the time, though my opinion would soon change.
The only other major event of this holiday was hearing that due to water shortages, the locks at Napton would not be usable after a certain day. Consequently, we had to travel a long way in just a few days to be sure to negotiate the lock before it closed.
1976 – Club Tropicana, Porto Cristo, Majorca
(Fri 13th - Sat 28th August 1976)
Hooray. We have reached 1976 and our first holiday abroad, indeed the first time that I had travelled out of England. This first year, we resided in a resort called Tropicana close to Porto Cristo on the island of Majorca. Having flown to Palma, the coach took a further hour and a half or so to travel the forty miles to the resort. Notably, this having been my first flight on unlucky Friday 13th of all days, I spent the latter half clutching the then-ubiquitous sickbag (you don’t seem to see them anymore) for the descent into Palma’s airport. Our chalet was a few hundred yards from the beach, and seems to have consisted of nothing but bedrooms and a toilet. The most memorable thing about the chalet was the ant infestation in the roof which was countered with a liberal spraying of ant killer. At night, the crickets in the undergrowth beyond the patio doors punctuated the silence with their rhythmic chirrups.
The centre of the resort was a building in the style of a windmill, complete with sails. It was here that we would have our “continental” breakfast each morning consisting of rolls and jam or marmalade, juice and tea or coffee while foreign tourists would plump for the cheese and ham. Wasps were constant dining partners attracted by the sticky preserves. Lunch was usually served buffet style, where we would choose from a mix of salads, pastas and fish dishes, sardines seemingly appearing in every dish. The set evening meal was usually more substantial consisting of three courses.
A real pain for us children on every holiday was the expectation that we would have to attend church on Sundays in whatever country and in whatever the local language was. The nearest church was in the town of Calas de Majorca in the next bay along, reached by following a path over the rocks that divided the two bays. It was hot and boring standing just outside the door of a packed church unable to see much of what was going on, and not understanding the Spanish service. Thankfully afterwards, Mum and Dad ‘rewarded’ all of us for our fortitude with some very large and cold, multicoloured ice creams that dribbled enticingly down the cone.
Most afternoons also, having sat on the beach for a few hours, Dad would treat us to either an ice cream or a milkshake. I recall thinking that the complex’s chocolate milkshakes were exceptionally good, but then again, I had probably at that age, not yet had that many milkshake experiences.
It wasn’t always easy to secure one of the large wicker-like beach sunshades beneath which we would spread out on the sand. Nick didn’t usually sit in the sun, preferring to wear a baseball cap and shades in the shade. The rest of us might lay on our towels catching the rays, always being encouraged by Mum and Dad to be sensible and expose our skin to the sun only for short periods initially, use the sun tan cream/milk and develop a tan slowly. Being kids of course, we largely ignored this sensible advice, preferring to go out into the bay on pedaloes, splash around in the sea or build sandcastles. Needless to say, we usually paid the price and ended up with bright red shoulders, back and legs and would spend the evening and night time in some measure of pain dependent on how burnt we had become. Unfortunately, the soothing After Sun wasn’t the cure-all we children believed it should be and only minimally remoisturised the skin, taking away only a small fraction of the pain. The best soother I found (four or five years later, I might add), was a cold shower, which as with any burn, took away much of the pain. And while it was slightly more fun when the skin started peeling away, few people at the time realised that there was a link between the sun and the development of skin cancer.
One funny event that occurred on the beach that year involved an argument with a Belgian couple over who had secured the deckchairs. They claimed on returning from lunch, and in incomprehensible Flemish, that we had taken their chairs. Nick, eyes shaded and sitting reading his book suddenly loudly exclaimed “Rimsky-Korsakov!!” – the name of a Russian composer that he obviously had a thing about, and which would occasionally escape from his lips. Well, the Belgians clearly thought that Nick was swearing on them and continued to rant with raised Flemish voices at some length until the matter was eventually resolved and they got their deckchairs back.
We also went on a number of excursions to various parts of Majorca. Day trips to Palma, Manacor, Porto Cristo, Pollensa and the rock at Formentora ensued as well as my highlight of the holiday, the Caves of Drach near to Porto Cristo, which were beautiful and spectacular. Every excursion was accompanied by a packed lunch put together by the resort, usually consisting of a sandwich, some fruit, maybe a boiled egg or two, and a drink.
1977 – Poseidon Club, Loutraki, Greece
(Mon 15th - Tue 30th August 1977)
1977 saw us travel even further afield, this time to Greece. We went to the Poseidon Club resort, about two or three kilometres along the coast from the town of Loutraki, itself only four kilometres from Corinth, and about eighty kilometres west of Athens. Loutraki is very much a tourist town, but has renown in Greece as having vast reserves of natural springs and thermal spas, the town’s name itself deriving from the Greek word for “Spring”. Loutraki spring water is bottled and sold widely, which is just as well as much of the tap water on all of our 1970s holidays was undrinkable.
To reach the resort itself from Loutraki required a long trudge uphill along the pavementless road followed by a sharper descent downhill into the complex. Over the course of the two week holiday, we must have walked into the town and back at least half a dozen times, Gill and I only being allowed to go if accompanied by Liz, Steve or Nick. We were discouraged by Mum and Dad from taking the bus as it was an unnecessary expense given the fairly short, if rather hilly distance.
Being a country where 98% of religious inhabitants are Greek Orthodox, I do not recall having to attend church on this holiday, though I believe we did all perambulate into Loutraki on the first Sunday of our fortnight there to investigate, only to find everything closed.
Looking at the resort from the sea, our apartment was situated on the left of the swimming pool area. We spent a lot of time near the swimming pool, whether kicking a ball around (being careful not to kick it too near any sunbathers) or sunbathing ourselves. It was here by the pool that two pieces of important news filtered through to us. Firstly but probably less universally earth-shattering, Crystal Palace had soundly thrashed Brentford 1-5 in the League Cup 1st Round Second Leg. Secondly, but probably with more effect on everyone’s consciousness, Elvis Presley had died on 16th August 1977, aged just forty two.
At that time, The Beatles and Elvis were still revered as head and shoulders above every musical group and individual performer respectively. When singing in the bath, the rhetorical answer to the question “Who Do You Think You Are?” was always “Elvis Presley”. Though his career was somewhat quieter than it had been in the fifties and sixties, he was still widely respected with the sobriquet of “The King”. Vocally, his voice had the depth and timbre that any male singer would covet, and as a consequence, his funeral broadcast on television was the equivalent of that of a great statesman or royalty.
His premature demise sitting on the toilet at “Graceland”, his Memphis home, had two upsides though. Firstly, his career was temporarily revived by two big hit singles, “Way Down” which got to number one in the UK chart, and “Moody Blue” which did only marginally less well. Secondly, over the following Christmas holiday period, many of his thirty one films were televised, which Nick, Gill and myself all greatly enjoyed, corny though some of them undoubtedly were.
With sharp rocks leading down the few metres into the sea from the swimming pool area, there were not many places aside from the pool where one could easily go for a swim. Indeed, paddling in the shallows, Gill had a most unfortunate encounter with a rampant jellyfish. OK, it was probably a baby and fortunately she was not badly hurt, but just remember the nasty sea creatures should you be tempted to book an idyllic holiday in Greece (particularly as a similar thing happens some years later in Rhodes…. – see volume two).
Once again, our breakfast times in the shade were spent fending off an endless stream of wasps. I remember little of lunch or dinner though I do recall really enjoying moussaka. Desserts often consisted of fruit and/or sticky cakes such as baklavas and rum babas.
The evening entertainment was more memorable than that of the previous year’s holiday. Different acts each night detailed on the entertainment notice board bookended by the hotel’s own entertainment staff, delighted us as we supped our evening refreshments – again usually milkshake for me. The entertainment sometimes had a Greek theme and was often introduced with a song which ran, “Poss-ee-don, Poss-ee-don, Poss-ee-don Club (Clap Clap), Poss-ee-don, Poss-ee-don, Poss-ee-don Club (Clap Clap)”. One character who imprinted his theme song on my brain was a Greek dancer/entertainer called Nikos Lekkas – the first and last lines of his song running:
C C B A G G F F E D C
Nikos Nikos Lekkas – El Magnifico
As the holiday progressed and particularly after seeing one slight display of lewdity (where a man with a drumstick in one hand, opened his trouser flies to allow the forefinger of his other hand to uncurl and grab the stick, his other visible arm being false), Mum became less inclined to watch the evening’s entertainment preferring to return to the apartment after having had one drink. Again Gill and I were only allowed to stay on as long as at least one of Liz, Steve and Nick stayed on too.
Once again, a feature of this holiday was the wide number of excursions that we were obliged to attend with Mum and Dad. No doubt, some of these trips appealed to Mum and Dad as being of historical interest and we children were obliged to go along too, whether the prospect delighted us or not. Of course, there were some trips that appealed more than others. More than once we travelled across the bridge over the narrow Corinth Canal. Only twenty one metres wide and 6.3 kilometres long, around 11,000 ships travel through the waterway each year, each saving themselves a 400 kilometre journey around the Peloponnesus.
Thrice we journeyed to Athens. Hot, dirty and busy in the daytime, I remember walking a very long way around the city on one occasion before locating a shady café where we thankfully glugged a cold coca cola apiece. On another similarly hot afternoon, Dad treated us to THE MOST MASSIVE ice creams. In comparison to the heat-hazed urban sprawl, the Parthenon and Acropolis area was very much a haven of peace. Some traditional Greek dancing in a large plaza further slaked our touristy thirst for authentic Greekness. Our second trip there saw us taking in the city at night time, again the ancient buildings being beautifully lit, surely a sight that sold a million postcards.
We also travelled to Epidaurus and saw the magnificent amphitheatre there, and more notoriously in our family, to Delphi, where in her sing song voice, our Greek guide would intone “Now we are arriving at Del-phi, where we will see the temple of A-pol-lo”. Delphi was a three hour coach ride in each direction, and travelling directly over the coach wheels for such a distance took its toll on the smooth workings of our stomachs. Partly because of the intense heat and not drinking enough liquids, I certainly felt quite light headed for much of that excursion to a place that had so little left to it, it simply did not set our young imaginations alight. Thankful for stopping on the way back to Loutraki for a toilet break, we were perturbed when standing alongside the coach before re-boarding for the last leg of the lengthy journey. Nick took a swig from the bottle of Loutraki water that was our only remaining water supply, and filled it with half-eaten breadcrumbs from the sandwich he had just polished off. Not relishing the prospect of swallowing the remnants of a half-chewed sandwich, we ribbed him to such an extent that I think he was quite upset at the time and it took him a long time to live that one down. The seemingly interminable drive home was only extremely temporarily relieved by the tour guide telling us the only joke she knew, “What is the longest word in the English language?” Having heard it before, I piped up with the answer, “SMILES – because there is a ‘mile’ between the first and last letters”. Ho ho – how we laughed.
Our final memorable excursion from that holiday was a day’s cruise around some of the nearby Greek Islands, Aegina, Poros and Hydra, embarking at Athens. Our ship, the M/V Hermes transported us from island to island stopping at what amounted to a small village port at each giving us the opportunity to browse a few touristy shops, eat some wonderfully sticky cakes, quaff the local soft drink reserve or taste the retsina (which at some point during the holiday I certainly did). Whilst a fun day was had by all, I somehow fell asleep on a sofa in the passenger lounge and had to be woken and led to the quayside by a kindly stewardess before the coach back to Loutraki left without me. My family of course had no idea where I was and may have been concerned that I’d gone over the side in the middle of the Aegean Sea. But then again maybe they weren’t.
Amusingly, thirty years later, the Hotel Poseidon Resort still exists. It is now described as a deluxe resort combining opulence with tradition and Greek culture with a cosmopolitan flair. Apparently, the hotel boasts a unique philosophy designed to satisfy the most demanding of travellers. A wide range of conference and banqueting facilities ices the cake that is Hotel Poss-ee-don. However, resort reviewers in recent times have not been kind to Poseidon, commenting that it certainly does not deserve 5-star status – tired, unkempt and with plenty of large bugs!
One thing I will definitely say for my parents is that our holidays with them took us to many interesting places abroad.
1978 – Club Ten Bel, Los Cristianos, Tenerife
(Tue 15th - Tue 29th August 1978)
Tuesday 15th August 1978 took us still further, this time south to the Spanish-owned volcanic Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, off western Africa. At this time, Tenerife was still very much a fledgling holiday destination for the British, with much of the tourist growth in the south-west of the island yet to take place. This was no doubt accelerated by the building at that time of the island’s second airport, in the south close to Los Cristianos.
Our holiday destination this time was Club Ten Bel, about forty minutes from the island’s northern airport, Los Cristianos being the closest large town to our resort. Two storeys of apartments enclosed a bar and swimming pool, within sight of the peak of El Teide, the highest point of all Spanish territory. This holiday was certainly a step up in temperature being that much closer to Earth’s equator.
Gill and I joined the children’s Buccaneer’s Club which allowed us, when not lounging around the pool, attending church or going on excursions, to join in the “fun and games”. Crazy golf (a regular feature of foreign holidays), film shows (We saw “Bugsy Malone” – a gangster film for children - twice in a cool downstairs room, on an old reel-to-reel tape unit and projector) and poolside games to amuse the children of all ages were organised. We quickly became good friends with Andrew and Julie Cass, a brother and sister from Hartlepool; and Helen Cook, an older girl with long dark hair, and her brother Ian, who hailed from Warwickshire. From then on, we spent most of our free time with them.
For me, this holiday was punctuated by two self-inflicted injuries. Our apartment was on the higher storey, and during one of our chasing games, I decided to drop to the ground from the easily-climbed balcony, a distance of perhaps fifteen feet. With one foot landing awkwardly on a stone sticking out of the hard soil, our game quickly came to an end as my bruised foot throbbed and swelled in pain. Receiving little sympathy from Mum and Dad, I attended the holiday club nurse who I recall, commented on the length of my toenails which must have needed cutting. A large part of my foot turned a deep black, then purple and yellow over the next few days, easily the most interesting bruise I’ve ever had, but not one that I would particularly hurry to repeat.
My second misfortune was caused by my running along the edge of the swimming pool. This act of stupidly caused me to slip, crack my chin on the edge of the pool (leaving a small scar which I still have to this day) and knock myself out for a few seconds. Much of the rest of the day was spent recuperating in the apartment with a blinding headache. I learnt two valuable lessons on that holiday. No running near swimming pools, and no jumping out of 1st floor windows.
Once again, there was the usual variety of excursions, though without the depth of ancient history seen in Greece. Firstly, the “round-the island” trip trugged around the winding roads of the eastern and northern parts of the island stopping at La Oratava and later Icod for lunch. Many of the roads in these less-travelled regions have since been supplemented by something approaching a round-island highway. Descending on La Oratava from above, we could see a spectacular vista encompassing the relatively quiet town and valley. The city of Icod is famous for its dragon tree (Dracaena draco) which although it is said by the locals to be thousands of years old is more likely to have an age in the hundreds of years.
Further along the northern coast, we stopped at Puerto De La Cruz to visit the Loro Parque (Parrot Park) which as well as displaying all sorts of different species of parrot, put on shows where parrots would perform simple tricks such as riding bicycles and skateboards. These days, the park has expanded considerably to include many other species of animal including an impressive penguinarium.
I believe we also stopped in Santa Cruz before returning to base, however being more financial centre and shipping port, it offered little for the sightseeing tourist.
Another excursion took us to the smaller island of La Gomera, a boat ride of around ninety minutes each way. Apart from the capital of San Sebastian where we had lunch, there didn’t really seem to be much to do on this island, though I believe it might have been here that we were treated to a donkey ride up and back down a long hill. I called my black donkey ‘Bula’ after the 1971/72 Champion Hurdle winner. The most memorable part of this trip was the drinking game on the boat journey home where tilted back in one’s seat, sangria is poured from a carafe into one’s mouth. Still only thirteen, I doubt that I was allowed more than a mouthful or two and probably had to settle for the ‘coke’ carafe.
The best trip of the holiday took us to the peak of El Teide, crossing firstly the enormous crater that forms the national park, passing the “Finger Of God”. The 12198ft peak of the mountain is reached initially by cable car, followed by a walk of a couple of hundred vertical metres to the summit. Standing by the cross at the summit where oxygen is about 50% that of sea-level, in my famous (amongst school friends for the putridity of its colour) light green jacket, I was able to see little of the cloudy, humid north of the island, but the southern, more arid coastline was clearly visible amidst the strong sulphur smell of the top of one of the world’s still active (last eruption 1909) volcanoes.
Access to the summit cone these days is strictly controlled due to potential erosion, so I feel privileged that I was able to climb to the summit of this mountain. Indeed it is rumoured that the cable car service may be closed when its licence expires.
1979 – Poreč, Yugoslavia
(Sat 4th - Sat 18th August 1979)
1979. Hmmm. This holiday in Poreč on the Istrian peninsula in the north-west of what was Yugoslavia and is now Croatia is harder to remember, so I am aided a little by my diary here and gracious me! There was plenty of testosterone coursing through me aged fourteen. We flew in to the city of Ljubliana and were situated fairly close to the border with Slovenia which we seemed to cross virtually every time we went anywhere.
The several-storeyed hotel itself was situated in a bay on the Adriatic Sea, just across the road from the water. I don’t believe that we actually went in the sea much if at all, however we did frequent the swimming pool area. Although I had been significantly sunburnt before and was more careful this time about how long I spent in the sun, I underestimated the magnifying qualities of swimming pool water and soon found my shoulders cooking.
The eighth floor of the hotel’s Block A (as opposed to Block B/C) had great views of the hotel garbage bins, the nearby hills and a sliver of sea, but little else. The nearest shop to the hotel (for buying milk, newspapers etc) was a short walk along the promenade to the end of the bay where it was also possible to hire windsurfing boards and canoes. Still not being able to swim myself for another year or so, this was not an option for me.
More exciting was the evening disco. There wasn’t so much on the entertainment front in the evenings as there had been in say, Greece. For example, one evening they rolled out the projector and showed ‘The Italian Job’ prior to that evening’s dancing. But there was always disco music where people would take to the dance floor and strut their funky stuff. One tall blonde chap danced fascinatingly angularly, reminding Gill and me of a Germanic David Bowie. I, however, simply oozed unrequited admiration for a fifteen year old, short-dark-haired lass called Tracy Knight, who it turned out lived in Crystal Palace, and swam like a fish. Unfortunately, gorgeous though I found her, my fondness for said Tracy remained unrequited. As with Morag Byier from the church youth club, though I searched through the telephone directory, whereas Byier was a non-existent surname, there were far too many Knights in Crystal Palace to narrow down my search. Sadly, I never saw her again, though she lives on un-aged, always young, pretty and fifteen in my memory.
Excursion-wise, we had day trips to Pula and Ljubljana, the latter being the capital of Slovenia. I remember nothing much from there except a department store-style shop full of kitsch Russian dolls and carved glass and crystal, where upstairs I purchased a Yugoslavian Beatles single labelled “Ainz She Sweet” (rather than “Ain’t She Sweet”). I hoped this might be worth something to a Beatles-mad record collector back in Blighty (it wasn’t). Later on the same day, we sojourned to the renowned Lake Bled.
We also spent a day at the beautiful Postojna caves and at the Lipizzaner stables in nearby Lipica, home of the world-famous white horses, where the horses put on a show reflecting their history in battle. Extremely spookily, during that afternoon, I met Colin Hudson, a buck-toothed lad who lived not far from Sean on Colebrook Road, who was there with his family. This wouldn’t be the first time that I bumped into someone far out of context.
We also endured a long traffic jam on a coach trip along the curving main road into the Italian city of Trieste where after the long delay, I believe we had coffee and chocolate cake seated in the main square, and ten pencils cost around 30p – very cheap. Another day, a hydrofoil took us across the Adriatic Sea into Venice where we spent a hot day viewing the Bridge Of Sighs, taking a pleasure boat around the canals, and visiting St Mark’s Square, passing a soft drink seller on the waterfront blaring out Eruption’s “One Way Ticket (To The Blues)” on a transistor radio.
Towards the end of the holiday, I noted down trips to Motovun for an evening banquet with traditional music and dancing, and a cruise along the coast to Limmfjord, Red Island and Rovinj. On Thurs 16th August I wrote that Tracy had “brushed past me closely e.g. she touched me”. Sad. More was to come, including a touching moment at the baggage reclaim when I caught her staring at me. “As I looked she turned away”.
Andrew and Julie Cass, who we had met in Tenerife the previous summer, arrived after a week. Initially, Andrew drove me a little up the wall as all I wanted to do in the evenings was ogle the object of my desires. However, during the day I changed from a slavering, rabid beast back into a normal boy, happy to swim and play table tennis with Andrew, Julie and Gill.
And er…. that’s about it for that holiday.