When my sister and I were small, we were very lucky with our holiday destinations as we would always go to the seaside at least once a year: Typically we would return to our mother’s homeland of Donegal, in Ireland, at Easter. We would tend to fly to Belfast with our mother only, Dad would tend to stay at home and continue to work. It was always thrilling to fly British Airways to Belfast, it was not as commonplace in the 1970s. We would stop off at my Grandpa’s house in Northern Ireland en route, and for many years he lived amongst ‘the troubles’ so we had to pass through armed checkpoints and the garage opposite his home, would tend to be bombed, which only meant, to me, that some visits we could not buy our Mojo sweets! But our final destination was always our Aunt and Uncle’s beautiful hotel in Donegal, where we would stay. We would play with our three cousins on the stunning sandy beach – it was here that I learned to swim. The ultimate treat was to have ‘children’s tea’ in the hotel which entailed my favourite dish of all time – sausage , beans and chips. These were very happy days and we last went back in 2019 to scatter Mum’s ashes in my Aunt’s garden, with that same stunning view for her eternity.
Every summer we would stay with Dad’s side of the family, either Granny & Grandpa or my Aunts, Uncles & cousins, at our family’s holiday home on the Isle of Wight. I came here all of my life and again, the memories of long , hot days on the sandy beach, are very strong for me. It is a short walk down the hill from the house to the beach and we used to position our rug at the foot of this hill with Granny, and she would buy us paper flags to put on the top of our sandcastles. This was a much more commercial beach than in Donegal; my sister and I would spend hours playing the penny falls and one-armed bandits in the amusement arcade. My Dad did not approve of us wasting our pocket money in this way, he used to say that only the arcade owner ever won. But nonetheless, we would enjoy playing on these machines and we had an arrangement that whoever won , had to share their winnings with the other. The problem was that my sister never won and so I was forever giving half of my winnings away! We would buy multi coloured chocolate with our ill-gotten gains and eat it, secretly, under the dining room table. I was so thrilled to be living so close to the beach, that I used to hover around the gate, having walked up the steep hill from the shore, until another family was passing by, so that I could show off to them, opening the gate and flaunting my good fortune.
This house is still in our family and thankfully my husband loves coming here as much as I do, so that Joshua has been coming here every year of his life too – we tend to come in February to open it up after the winter, August for the reminiscent summer holiday experience and finally in the Autumn, when we close it down for the winter. It has not changed much in all that time, although now we have the luxury of electric heaters for stays during the winter and we have wifi and a television – when we were young there was no TV . Most of the rooms have a sea view and it is possible to hear the waves when you lie in bed. I no longer show off to passers-by that is where we live but we are still drawn to the beach – typically to walk the dogs now, rather than building sandcastles now. Joshua enjoys the dog walks, throwing a ball into the sea for the dogs to fetch and loves the beach-front cafes, but he has never had the tolerance for a full day playing on the rug, on the beach. Even though we have been coming to the same town for so long, we always find new things to do or new places to eat. We tend to eat lunch out but cook for ourselves in the evening.
I realise just how fortunate we are and I never take for granted that I have had access to such a beautiful, resource for all of my life.