As it’s rapidly approaching that time of year, and with the excited hordes clogging up the roads on their pilgrimage towards the coast, their fingers crossed for at least some sign of hot weather or for a break in the rain so that they can spend a little time on the beach, I thought that I would share this with you; what I hope will be just the first of little Horace Wimp’s childhood memories…
‘Departing from Bracknell at the crack of dawn… Poor Dawn.
Snuggling down in the back of an old Ford Anglia, or a battered Zephyr, every one of its crafted body panels a different shade of blue. Setting off in a bid to beat the mad summer exodus to sunny Devon; me stretched across the vinyl rear seat, my brother wrapped tightly in a makeshift bed somewhere in a footwell, sucking a thumb and twiddling his teddy’s felt ears, beside the individually wrapped sandwiches and the leaking bottles of orange squash. Provisions for the hellish journey before them.
“When I was young I’d listen to the radio, waiting for my favourite song. When they’d play I’d sing a long…” My mum leading the sing-a-long, conducting her favourite song whirring away from the up-to-date eight-track machine screwed beneath a smoking dashboard, watching the countryside sweep past outside, morning gradually breaking over the Home Counties.
“Did you remember…?” Mum asked without looking up from the upside down map book, not that Dad needed it of course.
“Yes,” Dad’s automatic reply.
“What about…? Did you remember to pack…?” No need to finish the sentences, Dad simply nodding.
“Did you turn off the…?”
“Are we going the right way?”
Another exasperated sigh.
As usual the car, Anglia or Zephyr, would soon backfire, soon begin its struggle, Dad pleading with it, encouraging it onwards, upwards, just that little bit further, steam escaping as we bounced towards Amesbury, the engine finally conking out opposite Stonehenge. My mother leaning back, between verses and curses, smiling reassuringly at her two little boys, dazed and confused by the explosion, the choking smoke and the overwhelming smell of leaking petrol.
“Cover your ears.” Said in a knowing whisper, and whilst tucking Rupert and his teddy back under their blanket.
Dad clambering out, cursing loudly and using exuberant sign language. Slamming the driver’s door, the window falling, or, if it was the Zephyr, a crafted body panel peeling away. Throwing up the bonnet and trying to beat back the roaring flames with his bare hands. The showdown back on. The battle of wills renewed.
“You fu… Not again, you… Give me a break, you little shi…”
“Tell the bloody car, not me… But I should have known… I should have known that it would be my fault. It’s always bloody my fault… Why you little bas…” The fight then ensuing; a homicidal father and a stretched fan belt, spilling across the road to Devon; the fan belt, on this occasion, winning on the referee’s split decision. An embarrassed mother shaking her head with embarrassment.
Until I reached the age of twelve, I thought that this was how every holiday started. Everyone leaving home en masse, at least two days before they were due to arrive at far-off destinations. The roadside littered with those waiting impatiently for the A.A. patrolman to arrive with his crisp salute and weary smile, and hopefully before ever-loving parents throttled each other in every lay-by towards the seaside.
“Why you bloody car!”
Every one of my father’s words was delivered with a vicious kick, stinging slap or a frustrated thumb against rusting bodywork. He was bearing up well against the pain from a hot radiator cap, singing rhythmically and stepping briskly from foot to foot, trying to persuade it, nicely, to “loosen for me, just this bloody once?”
“Argh! My eyes! My eyes!” My father’s beautiful eyes. “I’m blind!”
“It says here, dear,” my mother pouring over the manual that my father didn’t need, “that you shouldn’t remove the radiator cap while it’s still hot?”
“Yes, thank you for that, my beloved.” He knew that now. And he would try to remember it in the future. But, being a man, he merely hissed, for he would never take advice.
The eight-track would warble into life again, the car rising automatically, the breakdown truck struggling to take the strain. Hands held across the handbrake that Dad promised to fix, one day.
“Why do birds suddenly appear?” the tape suddenly speeding up, the music distorted, briefly. “Every time, you are near? Just like me, they long to be, close to you.”
The driver’s shiver barely hidden, his gulp loud. It was going to be a long journey west.
Sheltering from the winds that drove in force across the Ho! That whipped up the sea into a frenzy. That sculptured the sand dunes with time. That slapped the warning flags noisily.
But space in which to run and play, to hide and bury among the long grass, to escape brothers who would insist on emerging from craggy rock pools with huge man-eating crabs, huge claws snapping.
“Rupert! Leave your brother alone.” But would he listen? The brat!
Around us, weather-hardened sheep munched strips across the local golf course. An ice cream van sat ready for business, despite the horizontal rain, and while the tide retreated to a far off horizon. And we were investigating those little pools left behind, our nets, buckets and spades at hand to capture the creatures left trapped, but soon running again from the vicious hermit crabs that emerged from new shells with a blood lust for little boys.
“Rupert! Leave your brother alone.” But would he listen? The brat!
The waves rising, crashing down, rolling back along the beach and spitting out flotsam. Surfers, waiting tentatively on flimsy boards, with arms flapping for balance, as they were continuously buffeted, riding the crest of the wave that carried them on the ride of their lives. Zigzagging, before being sent tumbling, spinning like a child’s doll and disappearing in the frothing surf… to be spat out somewhere further along the stretching coast. Oohs. Aahs. A splattering of applause.
I munched away on my sandwich, blowing sand from both bread and cheese, another body dragged out, given mouth-to mouth resuscitation, the helicopter hovering low.
“That flag means stay out of the sea. Dimwit.” So unforgiving.
Questions innocently asked of my worried mother, as people pushed and rushed. The answers she would give, those looks at my father as she tried to shield us. Perhaps it was time for a 99? A “shocking Hockin?”
“And stop picking at your verruca!”
“The silly man shouldn’t have gone surfing today,” Dad explaining between licks of his 99, the lifeless body tossed behind the nearest sand dune so as not to upset the remaining tourist. There was nothing to be seen here. Not anymore, the carnivorous gulls soon disposing of any evidence, with stolen chips.
“Look at me, Dad. Dad! Look at me!” Round and around the figure of eight track, until the money ran out. Every morning crouched low behind the steering wheel of cart number twelve. Clipping the barriers and crashing into the tyre wall. Pushing aside the other carts that just happened to skid or stray into my path, into my lane, sending them spinning away and leaving them ablaze. Me, laughing as my tyres screeched, struggling for grip around the penultimate right-hand corner; my father putting down his paper, holding his breath and closing his eyes, sighing with relief as I emerged safely the other side.
“What the hell would your mother have said?” had I been dead.
But my time was eventually up, little cart twelve rolling to a halt and brushing up against the battle scarred barrier with little tyres smoking.
“Did you see, Dad? Did you see?” And back up the winding hill towards our chalet, a steep but happy climb, taken hand in hand, the day’s provisions in a swinging bag. Back to the chalet in time for breakfast and medals, a deserved kiss on the cheek for the returning heroes, a little brother spruced clean for now.
The championship of the whole world, my father insisted, laughing heartily and confidently as he gathered us about him whenever the rain arrived, as it always did come Wednesday afternoons: and this year was to be his year, he could feel it in his bones.
But you have to count every shot attempted, Mum would remind him, and not, as he insisted at the top of his voice, every third or fourth shot depending on the wind’s direction.
“It doesn’t open properly,” Dad pointed out, peering into the gaping gorilla’s mouth on hole one. “How can we play Crazy Golf properly if the gorilla’s mouth doesn’t open far enough?” The game was blatantly cheating him! Again. And yet more obscene words turned the air blue as a golf ball rebounded over seven holes and smashed through a chalet window.
“It’s this bloody stick,” my father shouted from around the windmill on hole four, successfully dodging each revolving sail. “It’s bent I tell you,” he shouted, bending the club over his knee. “Look at the state of that.”
“It’s called a club.”
“Stick. Club. Whatever.” What difference did it make? It was still bent.
Two hours passed and we were already half-way through the infamous seventh hole, a tricky drawbridge to be negotiated over a crocodile infested swamp; the crocs this year particularly mean and hungry, having been starved throughout the long winter months; all now circling, snapping and gnashing, practicing their death rolls in front of the nervous wildebeest. Dad preparing his frontal assault mentally, eventually lining up to take his ninth shot.
“Twelfth,” Mum pointed out. “It’s your twelfth shot.”
Dad growling under his breath, perfecting his swing, tightening his grip and limbering up his hips… “Drat and damnation!” his yellow ball bouncing away towards hole ten, decapitating an innocent garden gnome in the process. But he was adamant, now more certain than ever. “It’s this pole, I tell you. It’s bent.”
“Club,” we all reminded him helpfully: I didn’t understand the quickly flashed response.
Hole eleven was troublesome. Rabid rottweilers yanking at their chains and being throttled by tight collars, guarding the old western fort from us and any lurking Indians.
“How on earth?” Dad scratching his head and examining the hole closely from every perceivable angle. How were we to get the ball around the wagon train, past those rabid rottweilers and through the small wooden gate? All the while under rifle fire and dodging arrows, Custer leading out his troops on another brave but futile charge.
“Don’t do it,” my father strongly advised. “There are thousands of the buggers,” all hiding in the crazy maze on hole eight. But it was no good.
After three and a half days, the family’s golf classic was over for another year, the Wimp’s chased off the course by angry locals fed up with queuing and having their windows smashed by low flying wayward balls and angrily tossed aside sticks.
“Clubs!” we were reminded, patience finally snapping.
“The most beautiful place in the world,” Dad sighed, ice cream on the tip of his nose. “My club was bent, though.”’
Taken from Reluctant Country Boy, the story of Horace Wimp’s life