Welcome to our Shores!

It can’t have escaped the greater part of the world that here in little old Britain we are experiencing a time of flux. Amongst the dire predictions of disaster that are flying from every media orifice are those of unaffordable foreign holidays, difficulties over flights, problems with customs queues, visas, reciprocal health cover and more besides. Horrors!

The gloom that has settled over our British summer is further compounded by an unseasonal bout of wet, windy and miserable weather. So not only are we facing the prospect of holidaying in the domestic bliss of our home shores but will be doing it in thick sweaters, raincoats and wellington boots.

To be fair, wet, windy and miserable summer weather is so far embedded in the ethos of a British holiday it has become an essential component-part of the essence of a traditional British seaside vacation. For the uninitiated, what else should a new visitor to British shores expect from their holiday?

To begin with, there is the matchless experience of staying in a British hotel, guest house or B&B. Where else are you provided with sticky carpets and overpowering aromas of disinfectant? You may get to sample the famous, ‘full English’ breakfast-a carb and fat-fest consisting of a lack lustre sausage, some pinkish, slimy bacon, a greasy egg and blotting paper toast. This feast is designed to arm you for the rigours of the day to come, when you are to set off out into the gales and torrential rain for some sightseeing.

What should you see? You should not miss the delights of the pier, where you may stagger along against the wind to the end, where although the view may have been obliterated you will be able to while away an hour or two feeding coins into slot machines-this will also provide some shelter. Exiting the slot machine arcade gives you an opportunity to enjoy the pier for a second time as you stumble back to the promenade. You may wish to hire a deck chair for an hour or two, weather permitting. Be sure to open your umbrella. You will be rewarded by the sights of British beach-goers as they walk their dogs or scour the beach with metal detectors. There may even be a lone swimmer-dressed of course in wet suit, goggles and cap.

If you have made it to lunch time you should not pass up an opportunity to try that great bastion of traditional English cuisine, fish and chips. Years ago this mainstay of the national diet was served rolled up inside sheets of newspaper, providing the added bonus of reading material once the contents had been consumed. These days, with the onset of health and safety, together with dwindling newspapers the packaging consists of a polystyrene box and may or may not be furnished with a plastic fork. Examples of the packaging are readily available to view around the streets and pavements of our towns.

The afternoon can be spent browsing the shopping centres, where a range of pound stores and super-buy  emporia interspersed with charity shops will clamour for your attention. Your evening will consist of a return to your accommodation for a tepid shower in your rustic ensuite, followed by an evening meal in one of the many and culturally varied restaurants at your disposal. Will you choose the kebab house, the Indian, the Chinese or MacDonald’s?

Well-what are you waiting for, international tourists? The pound has rarely been lower! Welcome to the UK!

 

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Going to the Dogs

                I don’t know what prompted us to accept our neighbours’ invitation to go to the dog track, but perhaps it was the aftermath of incarceration at Cahersiveen, where squalls had kept us banged up for an entire day and even a soaking walk to the nearest bar was scant relief. Admittedly, the proprietor of Mannix Point, award-winning site, one Mortimer Moriarti, mindful of the weather has done what he can to mitigate it for hapless tent campers. He has provided classical music ‘piped’ in the showers [!], a well equipped kitchen, washers and dryers and a comfortable sitting room with a peat log fire, squashy sofas, a piano, piles of magazines, card and board games and two, enormous, sleepy marmalade cats. Many had availed themselves of this facility, sprawling across the sofas, wet trekking boots abandoned on the wooden floor. Sadly, the site cannot win awards for weather. After a second damp and windy night we set off to see the Ring of Kerry.

                The morning was at last dry with some promise of blue sky. We followed the convoy of cars, motorhomes and coaches around the ‘Ring’, taking in Skellig Rocks, Ladies’ View and Moll’s Gap, then on to Tralee. Here in the West of Ireland tourism has drenched the countryside in a glow of affluence; the homes bearing the mark of architect’s pen, the hotels upmarket. We were persuaded to spend a second night in Tralee and take in the sights of the Dingle peninsula, allegedly more rugged and less tourist trodden. In the event, the road was just as clogged with sightseers as the Ring of Kerry, the lay-bys and viewpoints as crowded, the fellow travellers as irritating-as I’m sure we are to them. Here on Dingle we climbed to see the most westerly point of Europe, and yes, the scenery was spectacular.

                Foregoing the ‘dining package’ at the dog track we opted instead for fish and chips at Quinlan’s in the town, a happy choice,  then to the stadium, where we mingled with the hardcore regulars in the bar and attempted to make sense of the informative brochure. Groups of men clustered around the screens clutching race newspapers. I pushed what I knew of greyhound racing and its sharp practices firmly into a cupboard in my brain, having recently read a Roald Dahl story on the subject. I studied the names of the dogs, the ‘form’-all written in a mysterious code that may just as well have been the Gaelic that is widely spoken in the area as anything else. For Race 1 I selected ‘Christie’s Ashes’. I went to the desk with my 2 euros clutched in my hot hand, returning with a slip of paper. Outside the dogs were having a pre race stroll, some padding sedately, others prancing skittishly. My selected runner differed from the other five only in his wearing of a blue jacket, but had, by now become the favourite. The dogs seemed happy enough-enthusiastic, even. They were put into the starting boxes, there was a mechanical hum as the ‘hare’ started around then as it came level the dogs burst out in a tumbling blur, flashing past us and on around the track. A portly, florid gent brandished his programme and yelled encouragement, “Gaan, gaan!”

It was over in seconds. Christie’s Ashes had won. I went to the desk with my slip to claim my winnings and returned to our table flushed with success.  A whole 7 euros!

                The result of race one, however was beginners luck. I was to win nothing more-worse I was significantly lighter in the pocket by the end of the evening. This, of course is how the addicted become so in gambling. For us it was an experience and a fun evening though I doubt it will embed into my social life as a regular feature.

A Heady Romp in the Fields of Yesteryear

                When I was a young child my family undertook intrepid camping excursions into the extremities of the UK. I don’t recall there being any such luxury as a camp site or a holiday park, or if there were we didn’t venture into any. We camped at farms. We’d meander along the lanes in my father’s old ‘Commer’ or whatever vehicle he had, until he spotted a likely farm, then he’d knock on the door and request a corner of a field for us. Whether we were ever refused entry I don’t know, but we always found somewhere to pitch up. We all had to help out with the tents, old ex-army structures, notably a bell tent in which we all slept, two adults and three children, around the central pole. This bell tent was reversible-snowy white on the inside and camouflage green and brown splodges on the outside. It was accessed via low tunnels-easy for small children but presumably less so for my parents.

                My father was a little like Allie Fox in Paul Theroux’s ‘Mosquito Coast’, in that he hatched the ideas and liked to ‘go native’, pulling us all along with him. Once the tent was erected he’d take the spade he’d brought along and dig a pit for the toilet tent he’d specially constructed from four poles and some sacking. We slept on ex-army, canvas camp beds, the assembly of which was an acquired skill, and in ex-army, camouflage, kapok sleeping bags that my mother had cut down to size for us on her treadle sewing machine.

                Cooking was executed on two primus stoves housed in biscuit tins-always outside, even in a howling gale. We ate and drank from enamel plates and mugs. Whenever it was deemed necessary for us to bathe we made excursions to local towns where we would find a public bathing house. You would be shown to a steamy cubicle and handed a towel and a small wafer of soap.

                There were, of course, times when the weather was inclement [even in the summers of childhood]. Most farmers would take pity on us, allowing us to sleep in a hayloft or a barn or once, as I recall on the floor of a milking shed, where the concave channels for drainage made for an uncomfortable night. During periods of sustained rain we’d sometimes go to the cinema, a treat that would be followed up by fish and chips in a newspaper wrapper, consumed whilst sitting, all five of us squashed into a car with steamy windows. Occasionally the parents felt the need to visit the local pub and we’d be brought out bottles of lemonade and packets of crisps, since in those days children did not enter such establishments.

                We travelled to Scotland, Wales, the Lake District, the Peak District, camped within sight of Ben Nevis, on the moors, next to pubs, next to rocky streams.

                What a contrast the modern equivalent of camping is! These days I feel grumpy if there is no internet access, the water in the showers is less than piping hot or the electric hook-up fails. Even UK camp sites have managed to acquire the sophisticated facilities offered by continental sites. Some would say it isn’t ‘real’ camping if you don’t build an open fire or catch your own food but I’ll stick with the comforts the van provides, miniature though they may be!