My song today is “Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday”. This a 1979 single by Euro-disco band ‘Bony M.’ as an adaptation of nursery rhyme ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’. Despite breaking their row of seven consecutive German Number 1 singles, peaking at Number 4, the single was a big hit all over Europe, peaking at Number 3 in the UK.
I remember many a holiday time in the past when I would burst into song with the opening line of this popular holiday number. I never sang more than the chorus as that was the only part of the song I knew by heart.
There will be many a person longing to go on their next holiday following a pandemic year of restrictions and lockdown. There will also be many an individual who will not mind if they manage to get away or not, as long as the sun shines and they can benefit from the warmth and fresh air and local walks. And then, there will be people like myself who have had terminal illness/cancers for a number of tears who will rejoice to be alive beyond the eating of this season’s new spuds and the planting of next year’s crop
Holidays mean many different things to different people, and how one feels about them will vary and be largely dependent upon one’s childhood years and earlier life experiences when our attitude toward holiday periods was formed. Holidays essentially equate with a change of normal routine in one’s life. They can represent a break from daily routine, a break from working, a break from home, or ‘taking time out'.
For any person of my age (78 years), being brought up in a large working-class family and never having enough food to eat from one day to the next, holidays were hard but they still were fun times filled with happy memories. I recall every year the family would spend seasonal weekends, evenings, and mornings, picking potatoes, strawberries, and making hay. I might work baling hay for four hours and receive two shillings payments that went towards the weekly household income.
I remember the two months of summer school holidays annually during years when the seasons throughout the year were more regular and rarely varied in expected weather. We would spend our school holidays between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm down the fields, playing with our mates and getting up to all kinds of mischief.
Dad rarely had holidays, and like the father of many a large family, he spent the whole of his working life, working overtime, working Saturday mornings when he could get it, and nearly always working through his two weeks annual holidays (cleaning factory machinery and performing maintenance work, so that mum could take our growing family to see our grandparents in Ireland, or to Caton Bay in Scarborough in a caravan for the week. Mum would pay a few shillings weekly into Ottaway’s holiday club throughout the year, and this would act as a deposit tor then rent of a caravan from his site in Caton Bay. I say a caravan, but I mean a converted railway-train carriage that he rented out to larger families. The railway car was parked in a field on the cliff and beachside of the road in Caton Bay alongside a dozen old caravans which had been in use since the First World War years and had seen better days.
The caravan site of Ottaways was separated by a B-Road and another caravan site at the other side. If ever there was a road in any part of Great Britain that illustrated the vastly different lives of the working-class families and the better-off social classes, it was the road that separated the two-holiday camps. I use the term ‘holiday camps’ with cautious licence, as Ottaway's site amounted to a field of old caravans and a converted railway carriage, and Wallis Caravan Holiday Campsite was a holiday camp in every way imaginable. It was a kind of mini Butlins’ Holiday Camp which had grown up on the heaven side of the road over twenty years that offered every imaginable comfort any family on holiday could dream of. For an ‘all in price’ any family who could afford would have three cooked meals a day served at one’s table, amusements, games and all manner of sporting activities all day long for young children, and an entertainment hall, a dance hall, and several drinking bars for camp customers. Each morning, a loud tannoy (address system) would be heard from the Wallis Campsite Control Room, wishing their partons a ‘Good Morning’ and providing them with a weather forecast for the day, before telling them that a cooked breakfast would be served in the Site Canteen and Restaurant area between 8:00 am and 9:00 am. Wallis Campers would have their caravan beds made up and tidied during their breakfast absence.
On the hell side of the B-Road, it was like shoving a sponge of vinegar into the mouth of a thirsty Ottaway camper to hear loud and clear what the other side of the road was getting up to compared to them. The only time a working-class family member ever got a cooked breakfast was on a Saturday morning (and only then if they were an earning worker tipping their weekly wage up to the mother of the house). We may have been on a week’s camping holiday, but that never prevented us from going to bed hungry and waking up hungrier.
Indeed, had heaven and hell ever been separated by a road, we use to holiday on the underprivileged side of the divide. And yet, I loved the Caton Bay weeks at the seaside, the walks across the beach, the bus rides into Scarborough, the sharing of fish and chips between half a dozen of us, and any pretty girls I saw on holiday. I will not deny that I would to have spent a week holidaying in Wallis’ Camping site across the road, given the chance, but that was never to be for me.
I will never forget one young man from Windybank Estate where we lived. Like many a camper at Ottaways, when the nighttime came, and the camp security was less observant, he would slip across the road for some entertainment and in search of a young woman whose parents were well off. Now everyone on Windybank knew that no good ever came of trying to forge a lasting relationship out of any couple from different sides of the road, and yet it did not stop some romantics on holiday trying to prove that love could conquer all if required.
The bottom line was that following one romantic night of passion between a young man and woman from opposite sides of the road, the middle-class girl got pregnant and the working-class young man did the expected thing, and to the everlasting shame of both families, the couple married.
The story did not end well, and after several years, and discovering that their widely different backgrounds could never be bridged despite their genuine attempt to make their union work, the young woman separated from her husband and with the financial assistance of her own parents, she put in for a divorce while mum and dad rehoused her and the two children. The man from Windybank Estate could not reconcile himself to the thought of being divorced and was later found dead. He had hanged himself. After that tragic event, I guess it would have been a long time before a young couple on different sides of the road at Caton Bay ever crossed the road without thinking twice about the possible outcome.
I loved the years as a teenager when I first started to holiday at the seaside without my parents. Two holidays, in particular, stand out in my memory; one at Butlins at Skegness with my friend Geoffrey Griffiths when I was 17 years old, and one that was in Leeds (ten miles from the parental abode) which was more secretive.
My holiday at Butlins naturally led to me falling in and out of love all week long with two or three lovely young women. I was a decent singer then and would enter any singing competition I could. More often than not, I would win, but whether I came first or second with the singing judges, I usually took first prize with the young lady whom I was trying to impress.
My secret week’s holiday was one of pure seduction and personal subterfuge. I was aged twenty at the time and over the preceding few years, I had developed my inclination to allow myself to become romantically involved with the ‘older woman’. Put bluntly, I enjoyed being in the company of a woman five or six years older than me, who was single in status and independent in nature, I had met this woman at The Mecca in Wakefield, and we hit it off straight away. I had planned to travel abroad one year later and had no intention of getting myself emotionally involved with any female before my travels.
The lady had no commitments and worked as a nurse. She lived in a nice flat in Leeds, and while enjoying male company, she also had no intention of settling down before she was thirty, if at all. Finding any woman who was not searching for a marriageable mate in early 1960 was a rarity. About two months into our relationship (which her shift work at the hospital made our meetings sporadic), she told me that she was due a week’s holiday. I was a shop steward at the textile firm I worked at in Liversedge at the time and not to put too fine a point on it, I managed to wangle a five-day absence (without wage of course). I made up some excuse to my parents for my week’s absence and spent a magical six days in Leeds at her flat. We had a smashing week together; in fact, it was so good, we were both pleased to have shared it without the usual emotional commitment that follows. For the life in me, I cannot recall her name, but I can recall the early to bed nights and the long sleep in days in Leeds. When I returned home, my mother tried to get it out of me where I had been, and as for dad, he probably thought “Good luck to you, son, if you can get away with it”
It is ironic that things often appear to come to us the wrong way around. The closer to death I have come over the past decade with my numerous cancers, the more alive I have felt. This does not mean that I have felt up to dancing on the table-top or dancing around the May Pole in a hula grass skirt. But, believe me, when I tell you, had I been able to, I would have happily engaged in such fun activity.
Just as we never miss the water more than when the well runs dry, life can be one big holiday extension you know, The secret is to be able to appreciate what lies at both sides of the Scarborough Road between the camps of life. It will also help enormously if you are employed in an occupation that is more a vocation than a job that you enjoyed doing. You will find it impossible to be sad when your days have meaning and purpose between daybreak and nightfall and are spent in the convivial company of good people.
Since my early retirement on medical grounds at the age of 53 years (25 years ago) the majority of years since have been filled with personal happiness and busy occupation of the mind that every one of my days has grown into one long holiday.
Love and peace