Dad, what’s a tumulus?

Are we nearly there yet?  The plaintive cry I’m sure we’ve all heard (and probably said). 

With modern-day sat-navs the answer to this can be given to the precise nano-second; when you had a series of Esso road maps, a compass which was originally in the heel of your shoe and an old London A-Z, those ETA predictions became harder to determine.

We struggled whenever we drove anywhere outside of Balham High Street – our A-Z was so old it only had Watling Street and Offa’s Dyke marked on the pages – if friends or relatives lived in Roman villas we’d get there, otherwise it was very hit and miss.

Travelling abroad was trickier – the countries were physically bigger; so, it seemed, were the road maps.  

It’s tricky enough going round the Paris Périphérique, let alone trying to navigate it with a map larger than the windscreen in front of you flanked by irate Parisians.  It’s no fun playing pub cricket driving through the Loire Valley either.

I thought, having begun to study map-reading preparing for Geography O-level, that I’d could be more useful.  However, driving from Balham to Dawlish (not quite Paris to Dakar), my dad needed to know how to get to the A303; me pointing out, using my school Ordnance Survey map, slag heaps, narrow gauge railways and coppices, added several days to our journey.

Are we nearly there yet?  No, but I think we’re near an area with non-coniferous trees.  Handy for logs, but not if you want a cream tea. 

A tea towel is not just for washing up

Whenever I’m doing the washing up, I’m immediately transported back to Shanklin.

My family were obsessed, regardless of the quality of the holiday, to buy a tea towel denoting the resort they had visited.  

Not for them bringing me back a bottle of wine; a straw donkey or a stick of rock – I got a tea towel. 

For me, who didn’t do a lot of washing up as a kid in our Balham flat, it was only useful if I wanted to look like a member of the PLO.  Although, I’m quite sure Yasser Arafat didn’t wear a head-dress with tourist attractions of Ventnor plastered all over it.

People would come round for dinner with my parents and would help with the washing up.  They’d spot my mum’s tea towel she’d brought back from a holiday in the Balearic Islands in 1968. 

“How was Majorca?”

“Didn’t see much of it, I had gastro-enteritis the entire fortnight”. 

Still, good to feel nauseous every time you picked up a tea towel with a map of Alcudia on it.

Visiting National Trust places were the same:  it would have been great to have received a bar of Kendal Mint Cake or some fudge, with the stately home emblazoned on the wrapper. No, I’d get a tea towel of Polesden Lacey.  

I didn’t really want a tea towel from Cliveden, either, I’d have preferred Mandy Rice-Davies to come round and help me with my biology homework. 

Well, I would do, wouldn’t I?

The candy floss man can

Carrying on with my holiday theme, and before we all go back to our chimney sweeping jobs in September, I’ve been reminded of the singularly unhealthy foods we’d have all eaten on holiday.

I think, looking back, that the stall holders must have been in league with (in my experience) all south London dentists.  

I’m talking initially about ‘rock’.   

Only a struggling dentist could have thought this confection up.   A mint-flavoured sweet and 99% guaranteed to break a tooth or at least loosen a filling.  The type I would buy, if you cut it two, would have ‘root canal treatment’ running through the middle.

Also, candy floss – more addictive than crack cocaine, but slightly more sticky and certainly enough ingredients to make you even more susceptible to gingivitis.  The best bit for me was watching being made – a bit like seeing how a spider spins its web using a time-lapse camera.  Actually, I lied, the best bit was eating it and still having most of it round your face several hours later.

But the one thing we eat in the open, only during our holidays, is fish and chips.  But if you’d have known the seagulls were going to have such an absence of fear, you’d have bought two portions!

So, tooth decay, diabetes and high cholesterol – highlights from summer holidays gone by – and that’s before you’ve bought the mandatory postcards.  

Are we nearly at the pub which sells Double Diamond yet? 

Pier group pressure

I’ve been lucky and for many years I’ve holidayed abroad, the past few years, however, have been spent in this country.

It was 1968, as an eleven-year-old, when I travelled abroad for the first time, taking that famous 18th European travellers’journey from Balham to the Balearics.  

But since the last time I was in the UK for a holiday, I noticed many of the things were no longer there.

Try as I might, I could not find a single knobbly knee, glamourous grandad or best pub singer competition to enter (I was never going try out in a beauty contest – I haven’t got the legs).

Many of the piers, in existence in the early ‘60s, had either caught fire, hit by the storm in 1987 or had sunk.

There were restrictions should have wanted to see an “end of the pier” show – many of the venues required you to bring either your own snorkel, wind-cheater or extinguisher.  And if you have a full deep-sea diver’s kit on, then it really would be a slow stroll down the promenade.

This year, the only show on offer was “The Little Mermaid”, but you had to produce a swimming certificate to gain entrance. It was worth it, as Jacques Cousteau was playing Ariel. Red Adair was the prompt.

I was quite skint but fruitlessly scoured the beaches with my Daily Mirror looking for Chalky White to claim my £5.

The weather was good, especially if you were either a duck or trying to improve your Gene Kelly impression.