My Mother organised one overseas holiday every year when I was aged between six and ten. These were so stressful I am not sure why she felt they were such an important part of our lives.
The suitcases were laid out in the spare room many weeks before departure date. Clothes were washed, ironed and neatly placed in the appropriate case. My Mother was an excellent dressmaker and she made at least five frocks for a ten day stay. Most of these had bright patterns with peter pan collars and cap sleeves. Some were smocked or hand embroidered and they all had cardigans or boleros whose colour teamed with each dress.
The outfitting was the beginning of the stress! Repeated calls for ‘stand still’, pull your stomach in, don’t keep fidgeting and an occasional (accidental) prick with a pin filled many of my hours with woe.
Added to the dresses were the knitted garments. Bathing suits, shorts, socks and sun tops. There was also the odd pair of knitted knickers!
Finally the departure day arrived, the suitcases were snapped closed and a taxi arrived to take us to the docks. This was very exciting as we very rarely got a taxi and I hung out in the garden watching for it to pull up in front of our house.
My Father climbed in the front next to the driver and my Mother and I sat in the back. On the way it was time to have our sea sickness tablets. Although a great swimmer, my Mother suffered dreadfully from sea sickness. We took our tablets and sat back ready to board the boat to The Isle of Man. I couldn’t wait to see a three legged man, the island emblem, or a Manx cat, a breed born without a tail.
Finally we arrived at the boat and struggled through the noise and activity in the docks and onto the boat. I wasn’t feeling well. My Mother and Father were getting drowsy and we all set our cases down and found seats in the salon. Soon we were all fast asleep. Although stewards tried to waken us up it was to no avail and we slept soundly all the way to the Isle of Man.
With help from passengers and crew we drowsily disembarked and were piled into a taxi bound for our guest house. I think the first day and night we spent asleep. It was later discovered that my Mother had given us all my Nana’s sleeping tablets and not those for sea sickness. Since she hadn’t been sick on the boat she now made up for this by being very land sick.
I remember the Manx cats were not really that exciting. I thought pussycats with tails looked much nicer. I marvelled at the three legged man which was depicted by coloured flowers in the town square gardens. I had hoped to see a man walking around on three legs. I remember eating rock, a local sweet and buying a beautiful shell but the main memory is of us being sleepy or sick .
One year on we went to Blackpool. This time no tablets and my Father and I were fine but my Mother was green.
The Blackpool Illuminations were in full swing and I marvelled at the lights, the decorated seafront and the pier. The highlight for me was going to the Blackpool Fun Park where I twirled around on the hurdy-gurdy, climbed to the top of a ladder, slipped down a giant slide and through a large pool of water. At the fairgrounds I ate candy floss for the first time. I loved watching it being made, twirled on a stick and finally the way it melted into my mouth.
However, the main memory was The Black Pool Tower. I had never been so high and we travelled by lift to the ballroom where there was a cabaret with dancers, comedians, a big band and singers. The women wore magnificent gowns and the men twirled in tail coats. The piano, multi coloured with lights came up from under the floor and the pianist stood as he played and bowed to his audience.
After super we went with a small group to the lookout at the very top of the tower, where we could see all of Blackpool and the wonderful illuminations. At this point we had no idea my Mother suffered from vertigo and she immediately fell to the ground paralysed with fear.
My Father was never good with emergencies and he stood rooted to the spot while I cried thinking my Mother had died. She was fanned back to life, half dragged into the lift and quickly sped down to the ground floor. We returned to the guest house and I can’t remember my parents saying a word to one another. One thing for sure was that we didn’t go up to any more high places.
Our next holiday was to Whitby and the excitement there was the old and new towns on opposite sides of the river. The climb up the 199 steps to the ancient abbey was thrilling and we could look down upon both towns. Brad Stoker wrote Dracula in Whitby and there were many creepy stories of ghoulish sightings. I thought it just might be a true story and I got ready for some scary nights.
At our guest house there was an elderly woman who just loved kids. She would invite me to sit on her lap and she told me stories. Her knees were very hard and I tried to sit beside her instead. My Mother explained she had a wooden leg, that I was not to stare and I would be a very good girl if I just put up with a little discomfort.
I had nightmares, whether from the wooden leg, the ruined abbey or the thoughts of Dracula I don’t know. But one night I went sleep walking in the guest house, fell down into the cellar and broke my arm. I lay in the cellar until breakfast time when the early morning staff found me. I think this holiday was probably the nail in the coffin for my Father and he decided to stay put and let my Mother gallivant on her own.
My Mother and I went to Brighton alone. Once again she was sea sick but everything else went well. I can only remember one mishap. My Mother’s high heel shoe got caught in the boards on Brighton pier and the heel snapped off. She had to hobble home in her stocking feet.
I became enamoured with a beautiful girl who was engaged to be married. She had a big diamond ring and beautiful brightly coloured dresses. She took me to see a square dance and bought chips in a poke afterwards. As we walked home I felt I had never been so happy. Betty was to be married shortly and her fiancée arrived to take her back home.
Brighton wasn’t the same without Betty but I was pretty scared about getting back on a boat with my Mother and was glad when she said ‘that will be the last trip for us overseas’.
At that point it was, but many years later she and my Father travelled to Australia to live with me. She said the six week boat trip was made bearable by envisaging her two grandchildren and she had no plans to sail back. After that she ventured no further than the Manly Ferry.