Monthly Archives: June 2011

Of childhood holidays…

I wrote this about 2 years ago, when we were not long out of Ginger’s prolonged hospital adventures. I must have intended to put it here, saved it and forgot about it. (You are entitled to laugh a lot at the reference to ‘months and months’, this being the case!) Reading it back, I quite like it, so you can have a look as well. There is more to tell, which will come in a later post. Given my current incapability in terms of posting, you might have to wait a bit for that!

I’ve been meaning to write about this for months and months. Events have prompted me to get off my backside and do it now.

When I was a kid, we spent our holidays every year on a farm in the middle of Dartmoor. I was always vaguely jealous of my friends, who would go off to a new place every year, usually on a plane to somewhere warm and foreign, while we kept going back to the same place. I remember when I was about 6, asking my dad why we couldn’t somewhere different, but in reality I was always very happy to go back. My parents had been going to Dartmoor for years and years. Before they were married, my dad went on a pony trekking holiday with Uncle B (not really an uncle – Dad’s best man), who apparently cheated by secretly going away before their holiday and learning to ride, so unlike Dad, he wasn’t a complete novice when they got there.

Pony trekking used to be really big business on the moor. Over the summer the place used to be absolutely swarming with strings of people on ponies. So Dad and Uncle B stayed on a farm run by Mrs C, and joined loads of other people trundling around the moor on horseback. Dad obviously loved the place, as he went back again with mum after they were married and it became the destination for our family holidays ever since. Mum and dad have been married 50 years, so that’s a lot of holidays. I never met Mrs C; she died the year I was born, and after that we stayed at a different farm, with R. R was a girl who had worked at the stables at Mrs C’s farm, had got married and was farming with her husband, and took guests at the farmhouse.

I was discussing all this with big sister a while ago; how you can feel a little bit homesick for a place which was never actually home, that you never spent more than a week or a fortnight there at once, but which is nonetheless a big part of you. Like all places, R’s farmhouse has its own distinctive smell, and I just have to catch a whiff of something like it occasionally and it stops me in my tracks. I learned to swim in the River Dart just down the road from the farm. (This bridge is a few minutes’ walk away – close enough to get down there for a swim before breakfast, should you be so inclined.) I learned there that although I don’t like dogs, farm dogs are okay as they work for their keep and generally do as they are told. I learned there that although my dad can bang on for hours about how much he dislikes cats, given the right circumstances he can be observed sneaking bacon rind to the cat at breakfast. I learned that water tastes different in different places.

I have also realised that all those holidays have taught me just how much I love a routine. Although I may have moaned about always going back to the same place, I would have been devastated if we hadn’t gone. I loved the fact that you always knew what you’d be eating in the evening by what day it was. Saturday, when we arrived, would be salad with loads of cold meat. Sunday would be a roast dinner of such magnitude you could barely move afterwards, and at the other end of the week, Friday was – joy! – fish fingers and chips. I’ve learned that having that sort of routine is how I relax best. Going off somewhere completely new might all be very exciting, but I also find it very stressful. With life being as it is at the moment, people keep asking me if we’re planning a holiday – ‘get away, somewhere completely different, have a break’ – I look at them as though they were mad. I have enough stress in my life; why would I make it worse by going somewhere new?! I need to know where I’m going, and how it’s all going to work when I get there. I am, in fact, just like my dad.

When I was a kid I used to get asked by my friends (about to jet off to some warm place with beach, pool, and kids activities laid on) what you actually DO with a week on Dartmoor. Most people seem to think it’s just a wilderness with the Hound of the Baskervilles hurtling about, and the occasional escaped convict. The answer to that question includes:
Swimming in the Dart
Eating cream teas (usually here)
Agricultural shows
Falling fully clothed into the Dart (Big Sister’s speciality, this)
Peering into gaps between damp rocks in search of phosphorescent algae
Climbing tors
Eating ploughmans lunches. (ask the ploughman first, bada-boom-tish)
Being dragged off to remote trees to look at unusual lichen (I’ll admit that’s less of a hit when you’re about 13)
A bit of light pony trekking if you fancy it
Just sitting on a rock by the river thinking or reading a book

R stopped running the farmhouse as a B&B years ago, yet somehow my family just kept turning up. I was last there in 2003, with mr b, just for a few days, and we had a lovely time. I was in the final stages of my MSc, and we spent the evenings at the pub up the road, with a pint, the final draft of my dissertation, and a red pen. Every few years now I get a bit twitchy and want to go back. All my nephews and neices have been down there, and I’ve been thinking that next summer might be the time to take Groover and Ginger for the first time.