Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

This is not really a blog but something I wrote a couple of years ago. It is pure fiction but in there are some childhood memories of seaside holidays or even dreams of seaside adventures.

I thought they were the most beautiful shorts I had ever seen. Covered in multi coloured flames, they came just below uncle Henry’s knees and they exposed hairy legs, odd multi coloured socks and a pair of scruffy, yellow and purple trainers.

He was up before everyone that morning and we were wakened by the sound of a kitchen spoon being banged on a saucepan, shouts of “Wakey, wakey!” and the smell of bacon cooking. Uncle Henry had joined us for just two or three days of our three week Summer holiday by the sea. He was Mum’s brother and had the same colour hair. Mum always looked as though her chestnut coloured hair had been polished whereas Henry’s was more like a ginger floor mop. He had a bit which stuck up at the back which we kids thought looked like the crest on one of the parrots we had seen at the zoo.

I’m the eldest, brother Mark is just a year behind me and Emma was born four years later. Often little sisters can be a pain but Emma was everyone’s favourite, always smiling. Gentle, yet full of fun. We loved uncle Henry with that unconditional love that only children and dogs can give. There was never a dull moment. Always totally unpredictable, boisterous and as noisy as all three of us children put together.

He said today was kids day - grown ups not permitted. He was taking us to a desert Island to live like Robinson Crusoe for the day. He had packed an enormous rucksack
Desert Island
and as soon as breakfast was over he herded us into his battered old car. I saw Mum look at the shambles Henry had made of the kitchen and as we drove off Dad was standing with his arm round Mum’s shoulder with a big smile on his face.

We drove down the lanes towards the coast. Uncle Henry gave a loud blast on the car horn and waved at everyone we passed. All the windows were open and we sang ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ until we had totally run out of animals. Naturally, it got very silly towards the end with everyone trying to decide what sort of a noise a Duck Billed Platypus made and shrieking at the top of our voices “With a blue tailed baboon here and a blue tailed baboon there”

The normal route to the beach was ignored and we shouted that he was going the wrong way but uncle Henry just started another chorus and then leaned out of the window to shout “Mint sauce!” at sheep and lambs in a nearby field.

We eventually turned in at a gate marked “Private. Farm traffic only”. I felt a bit worried as it looked to me as though we were trespassing but uncle Henry merely ordered us all out of the car to open the gate. Before he drove through he bellowed for us to stand in line and salute, he then drove slowly through and placed tenpence in each of our hands.

The next bit was as predictable as the corny jokes at the pantomime. As we fastened the gate and ran towards the waiting car, he put the car in gear and drove away from three laughing, hollering kids. He stopped after a few yards and we all tumbled in as though our lives depended on it.

My worries about trespassing started up again as I saw we were approaching a farm. We stopped in the farm yard and uncle Henry jumped out, knocked on the farmhouse door and had a few words with a man. He must have arranged things earlier because the farmer obviously recognised him and waved to us all as we drove down the bumpy track.

Ordinary adults would have driven down to the beach at a steady pace to protect the springs but Uncle Henry seemed to pick out the bumps so that we all bounced about on the back seat and tumbled over one another like pups in a basket.

When we arrived at the secret cove it was like paradise. A sandy beach, rock pools, blue sea and sky, seagulls and no other human beings but us. “Right !” said Uncle Henry “We’ll build our camp here, by these rocks and leave the beach clear. James and Mark go and collect all the driftwood you can find for the fire and Emma and me will set up camp”. Setting up camp was simply a case of lifting the enormous rucksack out of the car and spreading a blanket. Soon all four of us were building a fire which Henry lit and we soon had a blaze going.

The rucksack proved to a virtual treasure chest. After we had spent half an hour or so just running wild on our own private beach, uncle Henry produced a thermos flask and shouted at the top of his voice “All troops - back to base!”. We stood in a row and saluted again. The thought of thermos flask tea wasn’t very exciting but I wasn’t going to let that spoil the day. I needn’t have worried. The wide necked thermos didn’t contain tea but was stuffed full of choc ices straight out of the freezer.

Next out of the bag was a ball of string and some bits of bacon from breakfast. Each of us was given a piece of string with bacon attached and uncle Henry showed us how to
Rock Pool
dangle the bacon in edge of a rock pool until a crab grabbed hold of the bacon and wouldn’t let go. His shouts and hoots when a crab was caught were even louder than ours. He also insisted that the crabs were carefully shaken off the bacon and allowed to scurry back under the rocks.

The day was one endless round of fun. A beach ball was produced and the performance that uncle Henry put on in blowing up the ball had us all in fits of laughter. His face went bright red as he puffed away and to cap it all, as he strained and blew, he made the sort of rude noise that would have brought a swift reprimand from our parents. All Henry did was look round and say “Was that the thunder I heard?” whilst we rolled on the floor stuffing our hands in our mouth, trying not to laugh.

We built dams to stop the tide coming in; we collected sea shells and star fish; we tried to skim flat stones across the water; we were allowed to splash about in the water and get soaked to the skin. Like magic, towels were produced together with dry clothes. There were sweets and bottles of pop - not a salad or chopped egg sandwich in sight and when Mark got a bit grumpy because the beach ball burst, he was grabbed and tickled until his frown turned into shrieks for mercy and the sun shone again.

When the fire had burned down to a pile of red embers, uncle Henry again assembled the troops and proceeded to roast potatoes in the fire and present each of us with a sharpened stick with which to cook sausage on the open fire. They were charred in places, near raw in others. We hopped round the fire waving burnt fingers, eating barely digestible food but it still remains one of the most memorable meals of my life.

As a child, time seems to stretch and a day can seem like a grown up’s month, but that day was neither long nor short. It was just a day packed with memories but where there seemed to be no gap between arriving at the farm gate and sitting by the fire in the fading daylight with uncle Henry telling us outrageous stories of his adventures in the jungle when Tarzan was just a young boy.

The journey back to our holiday cottage was much quieter. Emma was very drowsy and even uncle Henry sang quieter songs and he didn’t honk the horn once. When we arrived, the greeting was “Where have you been ‘til this time?”; “We were getting quite worried”; “Look at the state of your trousers” and all the other Mum and Dad things.

Henry transformed the kitchen from a place of tidiness and order into an absolute shambles as he unpacked the rucksack and tipped out bits of food, empty packets, bits of string, wet clothes and sandy towels. The next day the whirlwind which was uncle Henry departed. Emma cried, Mum fussed round him and Dad smiled again.

Thinking back, and it’s thirty years ago now, uncle Henry was absolute magic to us children but was I to be in his company now, I think I might feel as my Dad did then. “Uncle Henry is OK but he really is a pain in the backside”.

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