Every year when I was young and when we happened to be posted in England we went on holiday to Wales – I hated it.
There was no one to play with, it inevitably rained and I would land up fighting with my sister and longing for the trip to end.
Now a lifetime later I love going to Wales I love the fact that we own more cliff face than cliff top, that we have a mobile home rather than a five bedroom 1920s chalet, that it is so quiet, that I can see the sky at night and most of all I can hear the sea relentlessly pounding at the beach below.
As I sat on the veranda having breakfast tea with Mum looking out over the bay towards Newquay she suddenly piped up asking why I liked Wales now when I used to be so vehemently against it. And it got me thinking – had I really hated it that much as a child?
On reflection as I sipped my tea it came to me, I didn’t like the fact that my parents never seemed to have time for us when we were here. We never enjoyed ourselves. There was always tension.
And where did these tensions come from? Most emanated from my Nan, my mother’s mother. Nanna was a baggage, a spoilt baggage. But for all that she could be utterly charming, and in a good mood there was no one nicer. As we got older all of us -Nanna, Mum, me and Lex - could get the most frightful giggles down the lines of “I laughed so much I though my knickers would never dry!”. Dreadful phrase but oh so TRUE! But when she was being a baggage – she was awful.
Nanna being born beautiful, precious and an only one, was spoilt from the beginning by all around her. She was totally indulged and knew no real responsibility. She married but it did not work out and she returned with her daughter to live back in Lampeter. So Mum was brought up by her Grandparents – Tacca and Mangee.
Where they had gone wrong with Nanna they were determined not to go wrong with Mum – and by all accounts she had an idyllic childhood.
However for Nanna, living with her parents meant that she was never free and the frustrations she must have felt turned into a series of imagined or greatly exaggerated illnesses. When her parents died Nanna turned to Mum to provide her with comfort and through a series of illnesses real and imagined plus the manipulative use of financial largesse Mum was kept dancing to Nanna’s tune.
But Mum married an Englishman who swept her away to live in the further outreaches of the globe and it was only when in England that duty, guilt and all the complicated interwoven feelings and history brought Mum back and with her went both my sister and me.
The muttered incriminations, welsh whispered arguments and sheer weight of guilt meant that Wales could be, and most often was, dreaded. Dad, usually ‘persona non grata’ except when any manual labour was required, avoided it like the plague and whenever SHE was around would bugger off elsewhere where we could not follow.
The highlights of our stays were the rounds of visits to ragged relatives. Usually to dim dank houses shrouded in a miasma of dust where we were admonished not to touch anything, to sit quietly and make no noise. We were ghosts forever forced to peer from the darkened depths of rooms left over from an Edwardian era tantalised by the views through windows where the modern world was bright and full of sunshine and excitement.
Always in our best with patent sandals and matching clothes we would be petted and patted and then forgotten and what was worse they all spoke Welsh so we had no idea what was being said.
But there was always money to be handed out after these visits - then there would be new shoes, clothes and years later I learned that there were more substantial gifts were in the offing – for example a substantial down payment on the mortgage, a new car, school fees etc. Looking back Mum did try to make it right in the later years with riding holidays and a variety of treats and then we were big.
It wasn’t until I went down to Wales with friends to spend time in the Caravan that I began to enjoy it – God we were lucky and it was there that Dear Charlie woke up to the fact that he wanted to be more than just friends….
So there I am thoughtfully eating my breakfast remembering it all and I say nothing. She cupping the mug of tea in her hands stares across the bay and I feel awful But how can I tell her that the holidays would have been great if only they had been fun?
Later we all trip down the lane and onto the beach at Llanina and start wandering our way back up the beach to the hidden path.
The Boy strips off and is soon plunging into the sea screaming with delight and racing backwards and forwards and then so is Mum and Dad. The Boy begs Grandpa to look at what he’s got and: “Throw stones Grandpa! Throw stones!”
Grandpa expertly flicks a stone across the waves it skips across the top and plunges in to the depths with the dogs barking and racing after it.
“Me! Me! Show me!”
And Grandpa shows him and help him but soon it dissolves into throwing of stones and sopping wet sand and there are screams of laughter and giggles and gurgles.
Grandpa starts to make a sandcastle and The Boy joins in, Granny is on hand to be shown things that The Boy picks up off the shore and soon there is a little pile of treasure by her feet. Grandpa continues to make the sandcastle on his own - blissfully occupied and The Boy darts between them chattering and laughing and for the first time I see that my parents are having fun.
Later on the way up the hidden path to the Caravan The Boy asks: “Granny did your Granny take you to the beach when you were little?”
She stops and says no her Granny would look out for her from the garden then get tea ready for when she came back with her Grandfather and she looks at me and pauses before turning back to The Boy and carrying on the conversation and I think Mum is making it up to me in the best way she can: I love Wales….