When I was little, my family and I always took our holidays either in Wales or Devon. I never left the UK until a school trip to France when I was 15, and after that not until I was 21 and went to the Netherlands to meet Seeg's non-immediate family (who are just lovely, by the way). My friends always went to Majorca or Italy or places like that when I was still in school and I was always jealous, but to be honest, I never resented the holidays I had.
When my mum's disability started to get too severe we stopped going away because it was too difficult - we never knew if she would be able to walk or not, so we never knew if it would be a 'wasted' trip. But those aren't the memories I hold the clearest - in fact I'm a little surprised at the ones I do.
Sure, we went to Crealy Park when I was 12, and I remember seeing a water park in there spraying what looked like really, really soft and not very wet water, so I led my sister and I, fully clothed, through it, only to step out utterly drenched on the other side. That's all I remember from that grand day out.
We went to a number of zoos, but I only recall two - one was Sheldon Zoo, a teeny tiny thing on the edge of a cliff, if I remember rightly, and they had an ocelot that my mum accidentally fed a leaflet to, and a European hamster which was ridiculously huge, and I remember being amazed that the tiny place was bigger than expected (it was taller than it was anything else) and that they had so many animals I'd never seen before. The only other zoo I remember was a dinosaur park in or near Combe Martin (obviously I'd remember this the clearest) when I was about 10, and there were big dinosaur statues that roared when you got close, frightening the pants off of you, and one I remember of a great big salamander thing whose head bobbed down beneath the water, and since then I've seen it I think in only two of my massive collection of dinosaur documentaries and has a strong holiday connection even now. In this place, I also held a raptor of some kind, a falcon or something, in front of a big crowd and fed it a chick. I only did it because no one else volunteered and my mum promised me a new Barbie if I did it - I never got the doll, but to be honest I'm glad I had the experience.
These are the only attractions from about ten or twelve holidays that I can remember. The rest are much more vivid and are actually what I wanted to talk about today.
My dad always used to call me a goat. I've always loved goats, I was born in the Year of the Goat, I am a Capricorn, and goats have a tendancy to follow me around. Well, they do to a lot of people, I suppose, but I like to think I'm special.
Whenever we went to Wales, one of the highlights of our trip was rock climbing. I've only recently discovered that what we did couldn't really be called rock climbing because it was just mounds of big rocky outcroppings rising from fields of heather. Yeah, it was pretty amazing. Sheep poo everywhere, and a fog.
I. Loved. It.
And whenever we went there, I would race off and get to the top of what seemed like mountains back then within seconds. My sister would try to keep up. I'd have a bum bag (or fanny pack for my American readers) filled with sweets which I'd get through in about ten minutes, while my dad would keep a close eye on us and my mum would listen to the cricket, similarly munching on sweets though she would deny it.
And my dad would call me a mountain goat.
Candy, our Cavalier King Charles spaniel, would be with us, eating the sheep poo, and we would have a picnic in the back of the car because it was Wales and almost always drizzling. And before we left, my mum would always pick a sprig of heather and tie it to the front bumper.
I have no idea how many times we did this, but it rings in my mind so clearly even now, and has to be one of the best things I think we ever did on holiday. I desperately want to do it again, but times have changed and I think it would make me more sad than anything else. If ever I have a family of my own, it will be at the top of the list.
The other thing I recall are our dog walks along the beach every morning, and our occasional afternoon trips to bigger, rockier beaches. Actually, having said that, I think I was probably 11 before I realised that sandy beaches exist in the UK. I always thought it was just pebbles until we went to Teignmouth.
While Candy was still with us, I was quite small, but I still remember my second favourite holiday event: rock pooling. Hermit crabs, anemonenemies (I always just thought they were evil incarnate), tiny fish and, above all else, seaweed. We would fish things out, and while my sister and I would rarely catch anything, my dad always would. I also recall my mum slipping at the edge of a rock pool, falling in, getting out, then slipping into another.
We would bring sandwiches which would truly live up to their name, that lovely seaside crunch you were never quite sure if it should have but never mentioned in case it was a special holiday sandwich filler bought to mark the occasion. And, of course, looking along the tiny coastal shops which, in hindsight, must seriously struggle to bring in consistent money, buying sticks of rock and postcards for my collection and pretty much anything I saw if there was money in my pocket. Because it was holiday.
I would always peer into rock pools and stare at the cliffs. Sure, I'd stare out into the sea to try to spot a whale or a dolphin, and when we were picnicking at the top of cliffs we would see the occasional dolphin and a few seals, but even when I was small I was more interested in the rock, wondering how cliffs grew like that. I know better now, of course, because I'm a self-appointed geologist with half an A-Level and lots of books.
It makes me kind of sad that my dad is in hardly any family picture - he's always behind the camera, tucking us all into the picture.
'Summer holiday' doesn't conjure white beaches, heat, swimming pools and exotic fruits. It's heather, seaweed, mist and crunchy sandwiches. It's trying to stop my dog from eating jellyfish that washed up on the beach, keeping on to go into tiny little shops and wasting my money on shells with googly eyes, it was the pressure of having to buy a bag of sweets to pass around the class when I went back to school. It was the surprisingly nature-focused days out, whether because we had little money or my parents just thought it would be the best and most wholesome thing to do which we could bring the dogs along with. And I'll be honest, they're in almost all my holiday memories, too.
I yearn to go rock pooling again, to stare up at cliff faces, to take that little tiny ferry from Teignmouth to Sheldon, to scramble to the top of rocks and pretend to conquer the world with my sister dutifully in tow.
Even as a kid I felt fresh when I returned from these kinds of holidays. Theme parks and the like were fun, but they tended to exhaust me and I ended up going back to school just as drained as when I left. But wilder holidays, places where we saw few other people and going into a corner shop for whatever we needed for dinner was a big public event, those holidays really had the biggest impact on me, and always freed my imagination. I fought so many bad guys in Devon and Wales, conquered so many castles, went Super Saiyan so many times, and they're some of my strongest childhood memories.
These are holidays every kid should have. But I think that's quite difficult with technology as it is. We didn't get a computer until I was 11 - mobile phones were only just capable of more than calls, cameras were still mostly film, WiFi simply did not exist. In fact, internet had a dial tone, and the TV was limited to 4 or 5 channels if it didn't have cable. The best my sister and I could hope for were the Teletubbies at 6am. And we got up to watch it every day, regardless of age, because it wasn't Eastenders. Back then it was a lot easier for kids to get bored and so a lot easier for them to resort to imagination.
But just because it's harder doesn't mean it's impossible. Ignoring the fact that kids of 10 shouldn't have smartphones at all, as a parent you can demand they leave it behind and force a week of nature onto them. They'll kick and scream, sure, but parents are supposed to invoke that kind of reaction sometimes. It means that whatever they're doing is necessary because, for a child to react so badly to something ultimately trivial being taken away from them, they are too reliant on it. And, odds are, a breath of fresh air and the opportunity to rest their minds could help to calm such tempers as well as encourage creativity and imagination.