On Wales

We used to go to the phone kiosks on the way down to the chalet. The phone lines didn’t reach down there. They’d dial the number with the end of a biro, and pass the phone across. We’d get excited and tell all about what we had been doing.

As the blue Cortina approached the chalet, he’d get out from the car, and lift away a section of the fence to allow the car to pass. The chalet was a double. From inside, the patterned glass made it seem as though the washing line was rotating, even on the stillest of days.

Each night we would wind the cable around the base of the standard lamp.

The radio one road show would come to town, but it was years before the two of us would visit. Town was a car journey away; there was generally no need to go there unless we needed something not supplied by the camp’s shop.

Being by the seaside, we could play on the sand or in the sea. The tide would go far out from there; at least it seemed so then. There was a stream that fed into the sea, and we would play in it wearing our Wellington boots. One time I tried to hold my kite by burying the handle in the sand. It had to be rescued after it crashed into a neighbour’s house.

There was a walk through the woods, up by a stream and past a museum with old cars. It was lush green in those woods, and there was sometimes the chance of a treat from the museum shop.

Driving around the harbour on the way up to the new house was a luxury, as it took a circular diversion from the main road, when we were already excited about having seen the restaurant called the Angry Cheese. If we arrived when the tide was out then all of the boats would be stuck in the mud, and there would be gulls picking at scraps from the bed.

Just past the harbour proper, where fishermen used to haul in their catches the air smelt heavy of uncooked supper, there was a jetty, and then the long straight promenade with the fairground at either end. The one near the railway crossing was the best, it had an old galloping horse ride and a long plastic slide, bigger than a helter skelter, where twice I got friction burns when my hand slid down on the plastic.

You could walk the length of the beach from here, up to the steep steps that took you back to the new house, or just go part way and then back along the side of the railway track with the trains hooting and the passengers waving, and the watercress growing on the side, ready to be transplanted into the lunchtime salad.

We normally tried to get the end breaker, by the car park and with the view down the stretch of beach leading up to the steps by the railway. The space between the breakers was insulated from the wind, and the wooden structures, encrusted as they were with seaweed, barnacles and tar, gave a great frame for the foolhardy to play upon.

Along the promenade there were vans selling ice cream and steps over the concrete wall. Even – at one or two points – slip roads so that you could take a boat down to be launched. Or a 4×4, to get stuck in the sand.

The sand on this stretch wasn’t soft and golden, but a solid and always moist clump. Ideal for sand castles, whose moats could be filled from the sea before giving up their defences altogether to the impending tide.

Families would camp there for days, dissuaded only by the rain showers, when they were forced to relocate to the amusement arcades or the pub. The lights bathed the town with a neon glow, behind which, and back up into the hills, the more traditional Victorian stone buildings could be seen, weathered and pastel.

One time it had been raining. Was raining. Fairly hard, but it was Wales so it was what we expected. Each time we saw a storm cloud we blamed the cubs, or the scouts. They were bound to be camping, somewhere, and that was normally the problem.

We’d seen the scouts earlier in the day. They were looking miserable, in a field, for their field misery badge.

But this was our holiday. The red rover, when it worked, was big enough for us all to sit comfortably and have our packed lunch, all salad and sandwiches, probably some hard boiled eggs and roast beef, and maybe some marmite and jam.

We’d had that, on a road high in the hills, trapped between a million sets of gates that we were careful to open and close to stop the sheep or the farmers from escaping, which meant that one of us had to get out of the car act as gatekeeper. That day I had escaped, pretty much. We’d laughed as the car had gone over the cattle grids, and had ended up, in the early afternoon, by Harlich castle.

This was the nearest castle to where we were staying. Coincidentally, or maybe because of its location, it was also our favourite. We wanted to look round. The rain was coming down, but this didn’t seem to matter. So we parked, paid up, and tramped up the wooden stairs from the front, where once there had been a moat. If the weather continued much as it was, it would soon be full again.

It must have been the early 1980s. Folding macs, which could then be attached to a belt, were all the rage. At least in our house. Always be prepared. Never know when Arkala will try to drown you. We all had green and blue macs, but Dad’s was red, and bright red at that.

The castle was fairly quiet that day, because most people didn’t want to battle the rain. “Follow the little red man” called out the leader, and we followed him around the grounds as he repeated his cry, pied piper style but without the necessity to kill us all at the end of the story.

It was maybe the quickest that we had ever looked around the place, but we did it, and we were pleased.

Later, when we were home, we sat in the big lounge and watched TV before bed, and wondered whether the scout tents could float.

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