I am a very nostalgic person. I often reminisce about the past, and in particular my childhood holidays because they seem infinitely better than the present and what the future may or may not bring.
From the age of 2 to 8 I spent my summer holidays at a Devon Caravan Site called Clifford Bridge, which is not far from Exeter. The caravan park was a green haven, surrounded by trees. I loved to try and make friends there, by approaching the other kids at the swings. Making friends was a great thing, and I was drawn to other children and was essentially very interested in them. However I lacked the social skills needed to forge meaningful relationships, and the friendships I made in Devon only lasted the duration of the holiday.
I remember 9 year old Emily, who had long brown hair in plaits, because she taught me how to plait my hair. She also gave me a leaving present of some notebooks and a pen. A little Dutch girl invited me into her caravan and gave me a juicy nectarine and a pair of pink, heart shaped sun glasses. Daisy was an elderly woman who enjoyed chatting to my brother and I, and invited us into her caravan. She gave us a tennis ball. Then there was the little ginger haired girl at the swings who remained silent as I kept on saying, ‘what’s your name’, until she eventually answered (strangely I can’t remember what she was called!). This girl was 4 years younger than me, but I tended to relate better to younger or older children. I initiated the friendship through my repeated and insistent questioning, and she eventually let me play with her in the swimming pool. Finally I remember a girl with really long brown hair. It was so long that, when she sat on the swing, it touched the ground beneath her. I played an energetic game of tag with this girl, and invited her to my caravan to show her my ‘bus bed’. I had transformed my bunk bed into a bus by sticking paper signs to the bed, and really wanted to show everyone my creation (who said that autistic kids lack imagination!!). I also rolled little balls of paper in my hands, and then soaked them in water. I am not sure what the purpose of this activity was, but it was very enjoyable. I also created a card game that I tried to play with my dad on our walks, and I also enjoyed telling stories (”once upon a time…”) to my parents.
The swimming pool was the other main highlight of this holiday. I remember my dad blowing up my arm bands, and then I would tiptoe out to the pool, walking carefully over the gravel track that crossed the park. Once in the pool I enjoyed swimming to the deep end, getting out, and then running back to the shallow end, and repeating this exercise over and over again. However one holiday I suddenly became fearful of the pool, and my mum had to hold my hands and pull me around the pool until I eventually let go and swam on my own.
My parents loved walking, so we walked for miles over moorland , past bracken , grazing cows and cattle grids. My favourite walk was a woodland walk past the babbling river (”I’m going to wash my hands in the cool, gold-brown river”, my dad would sing). I soaked in the smell of pine wood (stacks of cut down tree trunks lined the walk), and listened to my dad sing poetry to me (”tiger tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night, what immortal hand or eye hast cast thy fearful symmetry”….; ”a sweet a special rural scene, rural scene rural scene…” – such lovely music to my 4 year old ear; I memorised these poems off by heart!). Finally, at the end of our walk, we settled down to a bowl of chips at Fingle Bridge pub.
I remember paddling in the river and feeling so energetic and carefree. Of course memories can obscure reality, but the Devon holidays do feel like a lost Eden, where I had no worries and was in touch with nature, in a very tactile and curious way. I was the Wordsworthian child whose ”heart leaps up, when I behold a rainbow in the sky”. But ”where is it now, the glory and the dream”?
I also remember the scones with clotted cream and jam that were served in little metal bowls. We took it in turns to scrape the bowls clean.
My mum bought garlic sausages from a butcher in Mortem Hampstead, and I breathed in the smell that wafted from her back pack on the long walk back to the caravan site. I recall that my mum’s sandals were caked in mud! As we walked down the hill, I could see fragments of blue (the pool) through the trees, which signaled that we had almost arrived. I could then run and play while meal was prepared, which we would eat all fresco at the picnic bench outside our caravan. Then, before bed, we would play football or tennis. I remember energetically kicking the ball, and deliberately skidding across the grass, because I was copying what I saw other kids doing at school, and was pretending to be a boy. I was always copying, pretending to be someone else, even at this young age, but that’s a subject for another post.
Before leaving the caravan site I sang a ”leaving song” that was put to the tune of a hymn that was sung at school. Sadly I can’t remember the words, but I remember singing the song in a really loud voice as we did a final walk along the tree lined country road.