Is this the end of the traditional british holiday…?

It is August and prime holiday time down here in Devon so we tend to keep away from the coast until the end of the school holidays when it quietens down again. But yesterday, I had some business near Torquay and I walked past a family about to go onto the beach and a distinctive scent transported me instantly back to my own childhood summer holidays – the smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream! I absolutely love that smell but now, as a confirmed non-sunbather, I hadn’t smelt it for years. Goodness, how it brought the memories flooding back…

Seaside holidays were such wonderful things when I was a child. What I call ‘traditional’ holidays – well to my generation that’s what they seemed. We had sticks of rock, donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows – although I was personally terrified of Mr Punch! It all seemed so innocent then, your parents organised one or two weeks in a guesthouse somewhere in the UK. You had the meal that was served every evening (no choices from the a la carte!) and we’d never heard of ‘ensuite’, so bathroom sharing was the norm. I can remember my Mother packing our preferred brand of tea and biscuits – goodness knows why we couldn’t have bought some locally, but it was all part of the tradition, the excitement of being somewhere different and slightly exotic even if it was still in the UK. Does anyone still do that now that we have a Tesco and Sainsbury’s in every town in every county?

Deckchair photo copyright Dave HeatherAnd what about ice creams and saucy postcards? This was in the days before Magnums so if I was lucky I might get a choc ice that always melted and dribbled up my arm before I was even half way through it. Or I might have had a 99 with that soft whipped ice cream piped into cornets that tasted exactly like cardboard. As for the naughty postcards, I can remember gazing saucer-eyed at the revolving racks of cards outside the beach shops and, while not understanding what was going on in those gaudy images, feeling deliciously guilty and daring! 

Sadly, well sadly for my era, it is all changing. When did you last receive a postcard? I can’t remember when I did. But I’ve seen lots of people’s holiday snaps on Facebook. Today’s holidaymakers no longer have to weigh themselves down with a suitcase stuffed with paperbacks, technology has saved the day again with the invention of the Kindle. But it’s not the same. One of the joys of holiday paperbacks was reading them and leaving them behind for someone else to enjoy. I discovered all sorts of interesting reads by ‘inheriting’ other holidaymakers’ castoffs, but there, times change…

Of course, many changes are for the better. Largely gone are the in–car arguments over wayward map reading by one parent or the other, for now we have the sat nav. If we don’t like our holiday, we can tell everyone on Trip Advisor and hope it brings some improvement and perhaps provides a little salve for our disappointment.

But oh, do the modern generation know what they are missing? Will they ever know the thrill of brewing tea on a primus stove in a tiny beach hut while shivering with cold? Wrestling with deckchairs that want to nip your fingers and swallow you whole or – joy of joys – walking to the end of the pier in a gale force 8 and getting soaked? I think not and somehow, perhaps, we are all a little the poorer for those losses.

What are your most enduring summer holiday memories…? Do tell!


11 replies
  1. Janet Johnson says:

    My memories involved Southsea sea front. We had 3 choices as children.
    1. We could walk to and from the beach, a distance of some several miles each way, and have an ice cream AND a drink.
    2. We could walk to the beach and have either an ice cream or a drink and get the bus home. or finally
    3. We could do the second option in reverse.
    Needless to say we invariably chose option 2.
    I am not too sure I could manage the walk today but still love visiting the beach when I see my sister.

  2. Tracy W says:

    When I was little I absolutely loathed writing postcards but now I love it and always send postcards from holiday, although I rarely receive them from others. Unfortunately I think it is seen as old-fashioned and a dying art but there is an internet based group I have joined so now get to send and received postcards all around the world.

    We rarely go abroad for holidays, our favourite holiday destination is Scotland and not being a sun worshiper we don't mind what weather we get on holiday.

    We love the adventure of a holiday so NEVER use a sat nav, after all it's not the destination it's the journey!

    Creative Blessings, Tracy x

  3. Anne Cross says:

    Hello Jonnna. What wonderful memories you have conjured up in your blog this time. Circumstances do not allow me to go away on holiday now but I remember some wonderful times as a child in Scotland. Some of those years were spent during wartime so, as a family, we did not venture far but the Isle of Arran was favourite and, of course, the boat train and then the steamer ferry to get us there was so very exciting. Even the railwayman coming, with his horse and cart to collect our big trunk, was a thrill to us kids.

  4. Julie C says:

    My holiday memories as a young child, late 50's early 60's, are of Brixham. We used to stay in a holiday camp but just round the corner I had a great aunt so used to spend time with her as well. I remember that I used to go "missing" but they knew where to find me. Down at the harbour, either watching the trawlers unloading their catch or sitting with an artist watching him paint and trying to do the same with my drawing pad and pencil. We went back a few years ago for a day trip but unfortunately the atmosphere of the place had changed so much I wish we hadn't. I still love fishing harbours but find them in Cornwall now. Happy days.

  5. rosalind locke says:

    I remember camping on tregantle beach ,cornwall in a tent with dad ,that was allowed then. Sadly not now. Fetching water, why was it always my turn. Primus stoves…magic. Running into the sea first thing in the morning to wash, great. Pasties, winkles, sand inside those awful bubbly swimsuits, it got everywhere . Dad is gone now, but the memories are his gift that lasts for ever. Thanks for making me remember😃😃

  6. Barbara says:

    Joanna, I'm about the same age as you (21 hahaha) and your holidays sound similar to mine and you've conjured up some happy memories. We didn't have a car in those days so I remember my Dad carrying our suitcases (for a family of 5 as I have 2 sisters) to the bus stop so we could catch the bus to the train station; going on a coach holiday to Torquay, which was a long journey in those days as there weren't the motorways, and feeling travel sick; staying in 'boarding houses' and having cornflakes for breakfast and the evening meal starter was always soup which was like diluted vegetable stock with a few chopped vegetables floating in it!
    Happy memories and, like you say, today's generation don't know what they're missing but at least they see more of the world. My first trip abroad was when I was 16 but my daughter was 8 months old!
    Barbara x

  7. Gaz says:

    sadly donkey rides are now illegal and punch & judy banned as being too violent (guess children are more stupid now-a-days – well we do seem to live in an age with smart phones and dump people as they cannot tell that it's entertainment not real life)

    we always had a caravan in Hastings – couple of times we went to Cornwall or Devon (there is a Hawkins village and yes, we have traced some ancestors back to that and Sir Francis Drake, well Sir John Hawkins, his cousin) love the sound of rain on a tin roof.

    sadly people will no longer go on holiday in the UK as it's often cheaper to go abroad.
    'stay at homes' holidays need to come down in price to make them for attractive to people – why stay in the UK for £400 when you can get a flight and hotel for £250-300?

  8. Carolyn says:

    We live beside the sea so our holidays were usually to the Lake District when I was young in the early fifties. We stayed on a farm living in an old gypsy caravan with three wooden steps up to the door. It was pretty cramped inside and of course there was no running water or electricity. A single gas burner was our cooker and we washed outside at an old washstand which had an enamel basin. Tilly lamps were used at night and water had to be brought up from the farm yard. Breakfasts were big brown eggs and wonderfully creamy milk with a layer of thick cream on top which mum spooned off for the strawberries we'd buy for tea. The local bakers in Bowness was a joy with fresh crusty bread and the local speciality rum butter. We walked the hills, paddled in the burns to cool off our hot feet. Read our new books. Such simple things which gave so much pleasure. Bored? We didn't know the meaning of the word. I think we were the lucky ones Joanna.

  9. Ann Woods says:

    My holidays were on the train, we did not have a car. My father worked for the 'railway' so we got free transport. From about 1948 we went to Butlins, many times for 2 weeks each year, we even went to the camp in Ireland, Mosney it was called, we always had a great time and I enjoyed myself very much. I wonder if they are the fine time now they were then.

  10. Grace Weir says:

    What a lovely blog Joanna… I too have many happy memories of caravan holidays at the seaside. My first was at the age of 8 and I will never forget the wonder of walking along the sands at Brean with my father one evening, as he explained to me all the sights and sounds and made it all so wonderful as I had not seen the sea previously…. and then in later years many happy times spent behind a windbreaker on a crowded beach trying to brave it to get into the sea …. in those days just "being there" was enough to satisfy me and I think today that many children miss out by not learning to enjoy our own beautiful seaside resorts.

  11. August 10th 2015 Jill Digwood says:

    Hi Joanna,
    What lovely memories you have brought back to me. Mine were nearly the same as yours apart from the tea, don't remember mum bringing tea& biscuits. We usually went on a coach trip to Rhyl and stayed in a boarding house. Dad was a farmer and wasn't able to join us much as we had a herd of cattle to be milked morning and night but when he was able to get away we went in the car to Blackpool for a few days, what happy memories I have and the exitement I felt on those lovely holidays. We usually had new pumps to wear, bought buckets & spades and of couse flags to adorn the castles. I aso remember mum buying us a wooden boat each on a piece of string which we played with in the areas which had fountains on the sea front, I always choose red, my sister green &my brother blue. It's funny just a short time ago I scanned an old black & white photo of Mum, me at 4years old sitting on Dolly the donkey for my craft room. I love that photo and everytime I look at it, it brings back such lovely memories.
    Jill, Spain.


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