In Dad's Footsteps
We've just got back to our holiday cottage for the evening. The rain is hitting the skylight and I'm watching the drops roll down the bifold doors that lead from the kitchen into the garden. Rain might not be what you want on your holiday, but tucked inside this cosy cottage, I'm finding it quite relaxing. We are based in Dorset in the tiny village of East Chaldon a place accessed via a single track road. If an escape is needed, then this definitely fits the bill. So rain or shine, the calm of the location is washing over me.
We are on day three of our week away and so far, we have managed to mostly dodge the rain when we have been outside, in traditional UK holiday fashion. A smile crept across my face this afternoon as I thought of this. We drove out to Portland Bill and just as we parked the car, the rain began to spot down and the wind blew more than a kiss to my cheeks. I zipped up my coat and we set off to the viewpoint. The smile came because the circumstances made me think of my Dad - quite apt on Father's Day.
This is the sort of place that my Dad would have made us walk to during our childhood holidays. The difference now, is that we drove most of the way. Back in the seventies, we would have spent the whole day walking to the chosen viewpoint, for that was all part of the experience. Mostly we had our sandwiches with us - sandwich spread comes to mind, but perhaps nostalgia is playing tricks with me there. Long walks were definitely woven into the fabric of our family holidays though, with destinations that were often less impressive than the promises made to us on the journey. I'm guessing I would be more impressed now.
I was impressed by the view today. Dad would have been impressed too. One place to stand and two bays simultaneously sweeping off into the distance on either side of this peninsular. The wind grabbing my voice as I tried to express wonder to my husband and daughter, added to the sensation of vertigo that I tried to ignore. That's something I never used to have during my childhood expeditions either. Just another joy of midlife that has come my way.
We took in the view and then set off to walk the dog through a nature reserve that has been established in the old quarry pits there. It was quite an eerie landscape and easy to imagine how it could have been a film set. Maybe not the usual scenery for a holiday, but it added to my thoughts of Dad and the strange adventures we had over the years. You know those things that happen, that become the family anecdotes that are shared and re-shared over the years. There are several of those that come to mind when discussing the subject of Dad leading us on holiday walks, mostly whilst we were on the Isle of Wight.
There was the walk near Sandown airport where we may have strayed off the public footpath and were watched intently by a couple of blokes with air rifles in their hands. Another walk across the fields led to the time that Dad had taken us into conflict with a herd of cows and we had to make our escape through the barbed wire fence that he held back for us. Of course, the most notorious of such anecdotes is probably the time that Dad misjudged the incoming tide times and the coastguard helicopter hovered close by, checking that Mum managed to get around the rocks safely, wading in the sea after she had passed my brother and I up to my Dad. Yes, it's safe to say that Dad's walks probably wouldn't have passed a risk assessment!
Back then, we walked for miles. We collected sticks in the woods, marched with purpose through the long grass and took in views of bays, steep cliffs and rolling hills. I've tried to replicate much of this with my own children. There have been castles to conquer, beach forts made in Cornwall, and fairy hunts in the woods, to name but a few. I hope my children will look back on such adventures in a similar way to those that I recall from my childhood. I hope so.
Perhaps they will play back in their minds in little nostalgic movie-memories. My cousin came to visit in May and brought such memories to show us. Her father (my uncle and my Dad's brother) had been an avid cine-camera fanatic, regularly recording family events, days out and holidays on his cine-camera. She has had these films put onto video now. So we sat and watched some of the memories. I try to capture the experience in the poem below. It's a good place to round up my thoughts this evening and to say 'Happy Father's Day' and may happy memories stay with us for a long, long time.
The cine-film clicked through,
frame by frame,
a grainy image to conjure up a past.
A past full of jelly and ice-cream parties in the garden,
fancy dress made of tinfoil and crepe paper.
Donkey rides on the beach,
after buckets and spades
filled a day of sandy endeavours,
then off for a trampoline bounce,
swing boats and helter-skelter twirls.
Boys in short trousers and girls in long plaits,
cheering ‘Punch and Judy’ at the village fete,
Then, three, two, one…
jumping off in the sack race,
the mums jostling for position in the ‘egg and spoon.’
A Christmas living room next,
crowded with three generations,
cards strung across the wall, smiles and glasses raised
and then, that’s me -
bouncing on my Dad’s knee,
Mum’s beehive hair looking glamorous,
an uncle getting amorous,
then a fade to grey.
Swings at the park,
playing in the street until dark,
row boats on the lake,
simple, silent movies of the times we had.
Echoes of the past,
reaching out to us now
places I have been,
some of which, I haven’t seen,
others I’d forgotten had a youth,
captured in a moment,
a flickering moment
for a cine-Sunday afternoon.
(Cine-Film - Karen Honnor May 2022. This poem is from my book 'Just Take Five' due for release later this year.)