Cereal, squabbles and soggy picnics

Me at Brotherswater in the Lake District in 1973
My sister Tricia with me, Mum and my other sister Janet following, Lake District 1973
Mum, Janet, me, Tricia & Andrew on Ashness Bridge in the Lakes
Dad proudly driving our Ford Cortina estate on the way to France in 1979

(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 1st September 2017, & the Malton Gazette & Herald on 30th August 2017)

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been looking back at Dad’s Countryman’s Diary from the same week 40 years ago for these columns. But I’ve had a bit of a hiccup – there is a gap in the archive from the end of August until late 1977 and after a bit of digging, it turns out there was a strike at the Darlington and Stockton Times, and the paper was not published for several months.

So instead, as this is my first year, I’m going back to Dad’s first year, which was 1976. In his column from 28th August, he recounts returning from our family holiday in the Lake District.

It made me chuckle when I read: “With a family of four growing children, it is just as pleasant to explore Great Britain than to go roaming in foreign parts.” It was a bit of a standing joke that Dad would much rather stay home than go abroad, and in fact, we only ever went on one foreign family holiday to France for a week in 1979.

His resistance to going abroad wasn’t just because he didn’t want to, but we didn’t have that kind of money anyway. So a week in the Lake District was our highly-anticipated annual treat.

The car journey there was a source of great excitement for at least ten minutes until squabbles and boredom set in. It was before compulsory seatbelts, and so the six of us and all our luggage would cram into a five-seater Ford Cortina estate. With four kids squashed together, back-seat fisticuffs were common, as was the sound of Dad shouting at whoever was behind him digging their wriggling knees into his back. I do recall volunteering to ride in the boot which at the time was preferable to sitting next to my sisters (as a parent now, there’ve been many times during fraught car journeys that I wished I could shove my three into the boot, but sadly it is no longer allowed!).

One of my absolute favourite things about the holiday was that we had a picnic every single day. I remember boasting about it to my friends and celebrating the fact that we did it EVEN when it was raining (& being the Lake District, it did that quite a lot!). Many a lunchtime was spent drawing faces in steamed-up car windows and watching the rain come down as we ate our sandwiches. It was only as an adult that Mum confessed that the reason we always had picnics was that we couldn’t afford to eat out. They managed to shield us from what must have been a real struggle, and all credit to them that we never felt hard done-by for not eating in restaurants. Instead, though, we were often allowed ice creams, and if we were very lucky, went to the pub for a lemonade and a packet of crisps. And it was an added bonus that we got to eat things we didn’t get very often at home, such as Heinz tinned tomato soup, Vesta meals with crispy noodles, and best of all, a Kellogg’s variety pack. We never had sugary cereals normally, so this was unparalleled luxury. Of course, sharing out the mini packs was another squabble-filled drama. We fought to get the Frosties, Ricicles and Co-co Pops (other brands of sugary cereal are available), and fought not to get the boring old cornflakes, Bran Flakes and, heaven forbid, the All Bran.

Thankfully, as Dad became more successful, our family finances improved and as I mentioned, we were able to afford a modest holiday in France in 1979. Towards the end of the week, we went out for a meal to a rather nice restaurant. As it was such a rare occasion, Dad decided to treat himself and Mum to a bottle of wine. He selected one that he calculated would cost £3, which he thought was a fair price.

He nearly fell off his chair when the bill came – the wine was actually £30 (over £150 in today’s money!). Poor old Dad!



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