Seaside Memories by Janey Preger
Writer Janey Preger remembers her childhood family holidays by the seaside...
Long before we went on our annual holiday to Wales, my father would start packing The Holiday Holdall.
When this was taken down from the top of the big mahogany wardrobe in my parent’s bedroom we knew things were hotting up. My brother and I were not allowed to look inside, it contained treats and surprises for our trip that he bought weeks in advance. “In case it rains and the kids get bored..”
I don’t ever remember getting bored. Anglesey was as good as Disneyland to me. Looking back...I find that level of forethought so touching. (Unbearably so, now) Sometimes we caught a glimpse if we lurked on the landing...a whole glass jar of sweets I remember, a big jigsaw of Tower bridge, Rainbow Colouring Books that sprang to life magically when you washed them with a brush dipped in water, some new Ladybird books and my absolute joy...The Enid Blyton Holiday Book.
My mother would be more concerned with the essentials, shorts, swimming costumes, sun hats and plastic beach shoes. I don’t remember any sun cream being used but I recall the sight of lobster- pink peeling babies! Last year’s togs unless we had grown out of them...but never mind..they were reminders of joys to come.
"Going to the beach shop was like entering a psychodelic wonderland of brightly coloured plastic..."
We always had a new packet of sandcastle flags and a bucket and spade each when we got there. Going to the beach shop was like entering a psychodelic wonderland of brightly coloured plastic, garish lollies, kites, fishing nets, mugs saying WALES, tea towels with pointy hatted ladies on with their spinning wheels and of course things containing Welsh Lavender.
One year my Mum bought me a tiny bottle of Violet eau de toilette (sounds better than toilet water!) with a purple ribbon round its neck. My guilty pleasure is still the smell of Yardley’s April Violets...sickly sweet but it is Proust’s Madeleine to me. My brother was bought an AirFix model kit of a Spitfire for his present and I remember that year our cottage was filled with the smell of glue....mixed with the heady sweetness of Violets of course.
As soon as we arrived my Mum HAD to find “a decent butcher” and she would walk up and down “The Parade” or The High Street...of whatever Welsh resort we were staying in until the meat in the window looked good enough for her family.
We did eat out; fish and chips, ice cream parlours, candy floss and fry-ups made of coloured rock. Good for our pleasure if not our teeth. But it may have been genetic. My Mum told me that when she was little her Aunt Sarah had taken her on holiday to Rhos-on-Sea. The first day they were there it poured with rain but they had to find a cafe that had real china tea cups. Pot did not taste right. Up and down they went, the promenade, the main street, shops and arcades until eventually Aunt Sarah saw proper china through a cafe window.
Evening entertainment for my parents on holiday was listening to the radio (an essential for them...it was packed up and brought along every year)) as my Dad drank his glass of Tetley’s Pale Ale and my Mum opened her treat of Mackintosh’s WEEK-END chocolates and leafed through her copy of Plays and Players. She loved the theatre. I don’t remember us ever being taken to any Talent Shows though, or End of the Pier Variety Extravaganzas or Comic Turns. The Holiday Holdall and the crackly radio were enough.
"I shouted “Giddy-up Goldie” digging her sides with my Clark’s daisy sandals..."
Only Three things went “wrong”, that I recall. One year we had a cottage with coal fires and the coal bunker was in the garden. It was quite warm weather and one day my father remarked that we were using an awful lot of coal considering he had hardly made up any fires.
It turned out that the neighbours and locals were popping over the wall of an evening and nicking the coal. My Dad chased one lad who shouted over his shoulder as he ran; “It’s our bloody coal, man. You didn’t mine it..” which was considered a fair point by my parents who were always on the side of the underdog.
Then a donkey called GOLDIE ran away with me. At first we idled along the beach, my Dad holding the reins but then GOLDIE decided to break off from the main group of straggling slow coaches...probably helped by the fact that apparently I shouted “Giddy-up Goldie” digging her sides with my Clark’s daisy sandals ...and Goldie did.
I remember the startled faces and my Dad heroically clinging to the reins and yelling “Stop you damn fool creature” and being dragged along. Goldie skittered to a halt, I shot over her head, my dad picked me up and was then berated by the donkey owner for “letting it hapen.” My request to “have another donkey ride” wasn’t popular. My brother was very envious of my adventure and nicknamed me The Lone Ranger. Calls of “Hi-Ho Silver” followed me about for the rest of the holiday.
Once my Mum went to look at the shops and my dad said he would take us out. He was thirsty so he sat us on the wall of a pub, gave us a packet of Smith’s Crisps (with the dark blue twist of salt) each and went to get his pint.
At that moment my Mum was walking back and in the distance saw two children sitting outside the pub. “How awful” she said to herself “Fancy leaving them there and going drinking, it’s dreadful,” only to realise when she got closer that the children were hers. I don’t remember any raised voices but she was very good at the frosty look!
I don’t feel that I am re-writing history. It would be easy to do now that my parents and my brother are no longer here but those holidays really were that happy. The Aladdin’s Cave of the Holdall, the bottle of Violet perfume, the Spitfire kit and the only argument with my brother was which of us would be first to bury our dad in the sand.
I still love Wales. I go every year. Perhaps fabulous Portmeirion is a more elevated destination and we go with our family and friends but views are not everything. Memories are.
"Dad drank his glass of Tetley’s Pale Ale and my Mum opened her treat of Mackintosh’s WEEK-END chocolates and leafed through her copy of Plays and Players..."
Top Left: Janey with her mother, Vera.
Top Centre: Vintage postcard of Conwy.
Centre Left (top pair): Vintage postcard of Betws-Y-Coed. Centre right: Vintage postcard of Rhyl.
Centre Left (bottom pair): Janey as a little girl. Centre right: Michael, her brother.
Bottom: Janey's dad, Les.