The last week of August

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I consider myself very fortunate to have lovely childhood memories, not least the summer holidays when my mum and sister and I spent time with my mum’s cousin, her husband and their two daughters. They lived in Somerset, we lived in Sussex and the last week of August usually involved them visiting us or vice versa. My mum is very close to her cousin and the four of us children adored the time that we all spent together.

We recently all met up again after almost ten years. It was wonderful, like we’d never been apart. We spent an evening together talking and reminiscing (if you’ve learnt nothing else about me from this blog, the fact that we’re a family of talkers should be apparent), laughing so hard that our cheeks hurt.

Us girls are pretty close in age, born between 1976 1986 and 1980 1990 and a lot of my most favourite childhood memories are of the four of us: roly polys, laughing policemen, waltzers, sunshine, dummies made of rock, beaches, paddling in the sea, fish and chips and gherkins called wallys, that incident at that wedding (you know who you are), dog walking, trampolining, sesame snaps and lots and lots of giggling.

However, our reminiscing did make me realise quite how different growing up in the world is nowadays.

It started when one of us remembered that we would spend hours creating our future dream home. This involved skills that I suspect children have become rather lacking in these days; cutting out and sticking down. We would trawl through the Argos catalogue picking out the furniture and accessories that we’d like to have in our houses when we grew up, then, after a bit of negotiation; “I like that settee”, “Yes, it’s okay but it won’t go with those cushions, we need something blue”, we’d cut pictures of our preferred household items and stick them down on pieces of paper ready for when we were home-owners.

I’m not sure what happened to the bits of paper, although knowing how sentimental our mothers are (for my mother: read ‘hoarder’) they’ve probably kept them somewhere in their lofts. Long after our parents are gone we’ll find them, yellowing with age, in a box along with a set of milk teeth, a tatty golliwog, a valentines card from 1967 and a Christmas ornament made of dried pasta, glitter and cotton wool.

We were much more economical in those days too. Firstly there was the car. We would fit four children and three adults into a mid sized family car: One adult driving and one adult navigating in the front. Eldest child in the back with youngest child on lap, third adult with one of the middle children sitting on their lap and remaining middle child on the hard, ‘not really a proper seat’, bit in the middle. No seatbelts, no booster seats or harnesses, no child locks on the doors. Mind you, if we had ever been in an accident I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we would have been alright. We were slotted together like a successful game of Tetris. We weren’t going anywhere.

If for any reason we were one adult down, the four girls would kneel next to each other on the back seat, leaning on the parcel shelf waving at other drivers out of the back window. As we got a bit older, we’d look for any handsome drivers to wave hello to or dare each other to blow a kiss to someone old or unattractive.

The cost saving theme continued at bath time too; Four girls, one bath. Gosh, I do hope that last statement doesn’t get picked up as a search term on Google or people are going to be very disappointed when they find it’s just me wittering on about summer holiday memories from the 1980’s.

Parents didn’t bother with babysitters in those days either, they just found a pub with a beer garden, bought four bottles of coke with straws and four assorted bags of Golden Wonder crisps and left the children outside. Every half an hour or so, one of the adults would pop outside to make sure none of us was bleeding and bob’s your uncle, cheap night out.

Our favourite place to eat was always a Little Chef, because they usually had a children’s play area and they gave you a lolly at the end of your meal. To pass the time on long car journeys, we’d all sing songs, “On Top Of Old Smokey” being quite prominent in our repertoire. Not the actual real lyrics but the version when Old Smokey turns out to be a pile of spaghetti and the song charts the journey of an unfortunate meatball who falls off the plate when someone sneezes or, my favourite, when the bald headed eagle is on top of Old Smokey not scratching his arse as you are first lead to believe but actually scratching his head. When our holidays ended, we would write letters to each other to stay in touch. Yes, actual physical letters with stamps and everything. It seems almost twee, another world compared to the high-tech, fast moving, instant access world that we live in nowadays.

We’re all grown up now with responsibilities, families, homes, jobs but put us together and 25 years vanish. It’s the school holidays, the sun is shining and I am laughing.

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