Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The compass points

For many years, significantly beyond the point when I had flown the nest, my parents would book their annual holiday only after consulting Venetia, Charlie and myself. Did we want to holiday with them that summer? Our answer (my answer) was always in the negative. Thanks but no thanks. In my  twenties, I had other fish to fry.  Much as I loved my parents, the idea of being a child again for a fortnight invariably jarred with said frying. It seems ungrateful to me now, as I write about it thirty years on but it didn't at the the time. They simply offered us a holiday that we, the fruit of their loins, could take or leave as we pleased.

And if my parents were disappointed that we did not join them, they never for a moment articulated that sentiment. There was never any pressure.

Then one year, they stopped asking. There was no ceremony or formal announcement of the "Your mother and I have decided....." format. They just stopped asking. That's all. Nothing was made of this. It was not a line in the sand, just a tacit recognition of the fact that we had not joined them for a decade and were unlikely to do so again.

I suspect, if the truth were known, that my parents found it liberating. No longer did they have to pander to their children's whims. They could indulge themselves. And there was the cost of course. Five holidaymakers or two? Mmm, tough one.

I was born in 1957 and my sister in 1959. Apart from the potty training summers, during which my father refused to needlessly imperil the tan leather of his Magnette and we went no further than day trips to Scarborough, the first two weeks would find the Stamfords somewhere in Britain. Well, somewhere other than Doncaster that is. The annual family holiday was the centerpiece of the calendar year.

My father finished evening surgery at half past six and, if there were no home visits, or 'domiciliaries' as my father called them, we would hit the road, often driving hundreds of miles through the night rather than wasting precious daytime. My sister and I, in those pre-seatbelt days, would curl up in the footwells with a travel blanket each. Many was the time we would roll up at our destination before dawn and we children would wake, blinking in the bright dawn sunlight. And even after a two hundred mile night drive, my father dog-tired but still aware of his social standing as a GP, would insist on shaving before we presented ourselves at Mrs Millington's Bognor Bed and Breakfast.

Sometimes, if the journey was too long to be completed in a single span, we would stop. And perhaps a nod to his own childhood (his parents ran a haulage business), his preferred refuelling point would always be a transport cafe in those pre-Little Chef days. My sister and I would tuck into boiled eggs and soldiers, surrounded by stubbly, tattooed truck drivers from Widnes and Macclesfield.  Goodness knows what they made of my father, clean shaven, hair brushed, in his work suit. To say nothing of my mother in her pearls.

From the cottage charm of Minehead in the south to the craggy beauty of Arran in the north. From the bracing air of the Brecon Beacons to crab and chips on the beach at Cromer, we explored all possible compass points in Britain until one day in 1969 when my father was spotted on the beach in Cornwall by Mrs McArdle, a patient from Armthorpe who, delighted to have chosen the same holiday destination as 'the young doctor' proceeded to fill him in, at some length, with the latest on her husband's lumbago.

"Bugger this" said my father over a clotted cream scone "next year, we're going abroad".

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