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In Good Company: Holidays And Dreams

...Deciding where to go is usually the best part of my year. I collect as many fantasy brochures as my bag will hold, stoke up the kitchen fire, pop on the coffee, then turn the pages and spin my dreams. Where would I go if . . .? Every year I plan: a tour of the Greek islands, a safari trip, self-discovery in the Tibetan mountains or, say, a mingle with the natives in a colourful Moroccan market. Then our bank statement arrives and we head for the nearest coast...

Enid Blackburn thinks of holidays, future and past.

Our butcher is wearing his ‘I know where I’m going’ expression early this year and informs me his summer holiday is signed and sealed. The original tour a relative planned was fully booked and they had to take a second choice. So it’s ‘make your mind up time’ on the holiday front and he who hesitates may be left holding his deposit.

Naturally, with a summer wedding on the horizon, we are playing down the holiday enthusiasm this year. It’s not a question of ‘Where?’ – more a case of ‘Can we?’

Deciding where to go is usually the best part of my year. I collect as many fantasy brochures as my bag will hold, stoke up the kitchen fire, pop on the coffee, then turn the pages and spin my dreams. Where would I go if . . .? Every year I plan: a tour of the Greek islands, a safari trip, self-discovery in the Tibetan mountains or, say, a mingle with the natives in a colourful Moroccan market. Then our bank statement arrives and we head for the nearest coast.

But one place I long to visit is America. I know it’s pushy, the cab-drivers are rude, but I want to see for myself the world that spread its enchantment before me as I sat in a fourpenny cinema seat thirty years ago. I yearn to take an elongated Greyhound bus and sit chewing gum while a Brooklyn accent describes the extravagant movie stars and their monumental residences in Beverly Hills. If I could only wander around the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie sets – see the famous cement footsteps, cringe at the sordid sights on the Bowery and gasp at the wonder of Disneyland.

Yes, it’s far away from my deck chair and a little divorced from our holiday allowance.

Most of my holiday desires are connected with films gorged on twice weekly in my mis-spent youth.

‘South Pacific’ had a powerful influence on my brochure staring. I can just picture my beloved and me sitting cross-legged – well almost cross-legged – draped in blossom beside a pool, indulging in a spot of finger-lickin’ ‘Happy talk’ being egged on to gnashing passion by a grinning Bloody Mary.

My earlier yearnings were all connected with Elizabeth Taylor, a dog and the Scottish hills. This was before her Queen of the Nile excursions, which took her to shores beyond my reach.

It was Virginia McKenna’s bush adventures with Elsa the lioness which initiated my under canvas tendencies. A few years have passed since our first camping holiday, but it will ever remain a blotch on my memory as a sort of Noah’s Ark adventure for six. I remember our front room up to its pelmets in improvised camping equipment, as we waited excitedly for our chief camper to arrive home from work with a borrowed tent strapped to an old Morris van.

Cramming the furniture into a corner, to make room for our ‘kit inspection’ I felt quite proud of myself. One half of the sitting-room contained our sleeping bags filled with giggling children. No matter how I shrieked they stayed firmly lodged in their feathery lairs. I had sewn everyone’s eiderdown along the sides and bottom to form a bag. They certainly looked inviting, if a little bulky. The rest of the room was piled up with ‘necessities’ – pans, cups, food, chairs, tools, we had no room for clothes.

When my husband arrived, instead of joining in the excitement, he started behaving like a Customs officer. When he’d finished censoring, our display was reduced to six eiderdowns, one pan, six cups and the food box. I felt totally bereft of property, at least I would have if most of this equipment hadn’t to be packed around my body as we travelled. The back of the van was stuffed to choking point with eiderdowns. Between these and the roof we managed to squeeze four children, who said they were going to sleep most of the way, luckily. Whether it was due to lack of oxygen or simply exhaustion, they fell into a deep coma immediately and we sped silently towards the Lakes.

We had a heavenly peaceful drive with blue skies painting an aesthetic backcloth for the flying ducks I wanted to point to, if only I could have disentangled myself from camping tackle. I had a vision of myself ruddy-cheeked in shorts and T-shirt frying bacon in the outback; other holidaymakers mistaking me for a seasoned tenter, begging for advice.

It didn’t start raining until we were about a mile from our campsite. When we reached our garden gate four days later it stopped. We waded about the crowded site in a gushing cloudburst looking for a patch of space. I tried not to look covetously at a row of stable-looking caravans. At last we found a plot of empty grass at the bottom of a slope. It was handy for the toilets and shop we couldn’t think why others had missed it. When we awakened surrounded by everyone else’s drained-off water next morning, we understood why.

But blissfully unaware we struggled to erect our tent. Here was a mystery that would surely have baffled the adaptable Virginia McKenna. It appeared we had three tents in one. Looking at the other tents securely keeping out the rain did not help, ours was unique. The kids and I grouped underneath the canvas, obediently pointing poles to the sky, according to instructions, while our chief scout got wetter and more baffled outside. Eventually we had it stood up, in a crooked sort of way, and tied down.

With circular turrets at each end and a large square in the centre, it looked like an ‘Ivanhoe’ reject. The sort of pavilion one usually associates with lances and suits of armour. Any minute I expected a plumed rider to come charging forth. Although the turrets rose imperiously above the rest and could be seen for miles, when other campers enquired which was ours, I just pointed vaguely in the distance. I notice the children always called at the toilets before slipping in through the back flap.

Our chief didn’t move much, just sat watching the water rise. The following day it seemed as if all the fiercest monsters of the Lake District had come down from the hills to see our tent. Horned chunky-legged beasts laughingly called cows by my husband surrounded us. We spent most of the day waiting for water to boil, but soon got used to eating luke-warm meals. At intervals a dejected Scout and disillusioned Girl Guide begged for mercy and four walls, but the children’s unanimous wail was ‘No.’

One night we had a welcome interlude from the moo-ing serenaders, our son became on hooting terms with a friendly owl. Every time he hooted it answered. ‘I wonder what it’s saying, mum,’ asked one eager camper. Sounded like ‘Goooo-hooome’ to my damp ears. Suddenly the hills were alive to the sound of thunder and lightening. The following morning father popped the question that had been on my mind since we arrived: ‘Who’s for home?’ The children’s pleas were pitiful. ‘Please - oh - no – don’t.’ But I had already unearthed most of the tent pegs.

‘What ivver are you doing, lad,’ asked a man who looked as if he had just stepped off a North Sea trawler. ‘Packing it in,’ grunted my husband as our borrowed tent collapsed helplessly in slime.

‘Nay, nivver,’ the stranger shook his head slowly from side to side. As the water from his sou’wester gushed down the inside of my mates wellies, he explained we were making a ghastly mistake. Apparently one must never dismantle in the rain. We realised the wisdom of this when we spread our tent over the back lawn at home, where the sun shone brilliantly as soon as we arrived. It was beyond recognition and looked as if a troop of cavalry had galloped all over it. I don’t know where my holiday sandals will lead me this year, but I hope I shall be sampling someone else’s cuisine, wherever it is.

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