Monday, 11 July 2011

Live - Laugh - Love (6) Family Holidays

SMALL BROWN TEDDY BEAR WITH A RED RIBBON – MY SISTER CATHERINE, PARCEVALL HALL, SUMMER 1975



I wasn’t sure which story Catherine would tell. She’s my only sibling and we have so many shared memories. But when I saw the bear, I knew straight away what she’d chosen.

The bear in question is actually yellow and white – visually impaired with one good eye. He’s extremely tatty and at the moment he lives in a trunk in my storage cupboard under the roof (called Narnia as I discovered the door behind a wardrobe left by the previous owners). I could never conceive of getting rid of him, because he was my first teddy.

Teddy has never had a name that’s stuck. I tried to name him many times, but nothing ever seemed right for my bear. So he’s spent his life in the shadows, anonymous, mystery bear without portfolio.

The story in question relates to a holiday we took in 1975. In fact Catherine’s reason for choosing this story is as a nod to all our family holidays past, which she said held happy memories for her. A time when we could escape to new places and have adventures and fun together. 

My memories of family holidays include:
  • Dad meticulously packing the car boot only to have mum come downstairs once it was at full, with her big grey suitcase. Dad (a vicar) swearing, unpacking everything and having to start all over again. 
  • Dad doing hospital corners on the tarpaulin covering Mum’s big grey suitcase now on the roof of our chocolate brown Morris Marina (the local car dealership did a special offer for vicars, so in the early 80’s all clergy in South Yorkshire were spreading the word in Morris Marina’s).
  • Trying to bring all my toys, and sometimes our guinea pig, Polly.
  • Being car sick (a lot).
  • Seeing how long I could suck a polo mint for (1hr 20mins was my record).
  • Spending a week in a tent in Scotland in the rain with one pair of wellies (Dad’s size 9) and having to go to the campsite toilets in relay.
  • Dad spending weeks beforehand reading the map, planning his route.
  • All of us having to ‘shut up’ when he was joining a motorway, because it was a ‘tricky bit of manoeuvring’.
  • Doing 70 mph on the A1 and feeling like you were the king of the road!
  • Having to go down to third gear on the motorway to get up a hill.
Dad got three weeks holiday every year in August. Being a vicar, he never had any time off at Christmas or Easter and his weekly day off was Monday when we were at school. On a Saturday he was busy doing weddings (sometimes up to 4 in one afternoon) and then services and baptisms on a Sunday. So we didn’t get our weekends together either. It used to really piss me off when people at school would tease me because my dad only worked on a Sunday! In reality, he pretty much worked 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Meetings would always be in the evenings, the phone would go during meal times, he was the chaplain for the local hospital so was on call constantly. If a baby needed Christening in the middle of the night or someone was dying, he would go. People would turn up at our house all the time, including tramps and con-men. Mum and dad would give them a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich, which they ate on the wall outside our front door and then send them on their way – probably to the next vicarage.

I know some of my earliest friends from Mexborough, a former mining community in South Yorkshire are reading this, so I don’t want to go on too much. But I just wanted to make the point about how hard Mum and Dad worked for the community we grew up in and that being the vicar’s daughter ...... came with a few challenges! It wasn’t all about living in a big house. Mexborough people are bloody brilliant and I have lots of good memories. But in the 70’s and early 80’s (we left in 1983) it was quite a tough place live.

With that background, by the time we got to the beginning of August, dad was knackered and the pressure to have a really good holiday, so that he could relax and re-charge to get him through the next 12 months was enormous. Failure was not an option – as a result I can remember a few fairly colourful parental arguments in static caravans. Notwithstanding, they both tried really hard to make our annual holiday as good as it could be and I would be lying if didn’t say that for most of the time, come rain or shine we had fun.

Back to the story of ‘Teddy’. 

In 1974 and 1975 we went on holiday for the week to the Yorkshire Dales, to a place called Parcevall Hall, a 16th Century Hall near Appletreewick (I love that name). It had been renovated and was being used then as it still is now, as a Church of England retreat. At certain times of the year, it took guests and so that is how we ended up there on holiday. I’ve been back a few times recently and it has to be one of my favourite places on the planet. But don’t take my word for it - http://www.parcevallhallgardens.co.uk 

To a six year old, this was the most fabulous place in the world. It had amazing gardens with secret bits, steps down to different levels, ponds, fountains, strange hedges and with the most amazing view of a hill with rocks on the top called Simon’s Seat. Apparently they were left by an angry giant! Take the path that went by the tree with the peely bark and you got to ‘Trollers Gill’. The air is incredibly clear up there making the colours super bright and the shadows 3D. Magical!

The hall itself was dark with low ceilings, stone window ledges with leaded windows. There was a massive brass gong which was rung to summon us for meals which we ate sitting at a heavy dark wooden table on massive chairs. Catherine and I shared ‘The Highway Man’s Room’. It had an old fashioned painting of man on the wall. I’d clearly been watching too much Scooby Doo, because I was convinced that his eyes were following me.

And so, it was on a warm summers evening in the year of:

Spiralling inflation, a 70% annual increase in the price of petrol, the murder of Ross McWhirter (the co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records) by the IRA, Dutch Elm disease, and world domination by the Bay City Rollers ......

when I decided that it was time that Teddy should no longer be anonymous. I took him down to the lily pond and decided to baptise him ‘Stuart’ after my favourite uncle – who I liked very much, especially when he gave us 50p pocket money and a Badminton racket for Christmas. It seemed like a fair way to recognise his superior achievements as an uncle. 

I was just in the process of renouncing evil, making the sign of the cross on Teddy’s head in pond water and proclaiming ‘I name thee Stuart’ when I heard ‘awww, cute’ style laughter cutting across my private moment. I looked up immediately and saw two old women sat on a nearby bench chuckling at this six year old Christening her teddy. At which point I dropped Teddy in the pond in fright and embarrassment and ran howling back into the Hall. 

Dad needed a long stick to fish Teddy out of the pond, who spent the rest of the holiday drying out on a radiator. Needless to say, I haven’t tried baptising anything else since.

So to my sister, of all the memories that you could have chosen, our family holidays was a top choice. And for the rest of the ups and downs that we have shared, I say thank you! I couldn’t have asked for a better or more beautiful big sister. I love you very much xx


DOES SHE WALK, DOES SHE TALK, DOES SHE COME COMPLETE. MY HOME-BREW, HOME-ROOM ANGEL, JUST PULLED ME TO MY FEET. SHE WAS PURE LIKE SNOWFLAKES, NO ONE COULD EVER STAIN. THE MEMORY OF MY ANGEL COULD NEVER CAUSE ME PAIN. THE YEARS GO BY I’M LOOKING THROUGH A GIRLY MAGAZINE, AND THERE’S MY HOMEGROWN ANGEL ON THE PAGES IN BETWEEN
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, MY ANGEL IS THE CENTREFOLD (ANGEL IS THE CENTREFOLD) ..........

Three in one go this time – it’s a THORNTONS CHOCOLATE CARRIE CLUTCH BAG, SEX AND THE CITY 2 DVD AND A BOOK – THE CARRIE DIARIES. Yes, there are a lot of SATC memories, but who? Why? Where? ........

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