20. Summer holidays

As you will have gathered by now, I grew up on Tyneside. Back then it was heavily industrial: coal-mining and shipbuilding/repairing being the main sources of employment, but lots of factories too

At one time the only holidays granted to workers were Sundays and religious festivals, like Christmas and Easter Day, often without pay. However things had moved forward and certainly by my parents’ time, paid holidays were the norm.

In industry it is expensive to start heavy machinery ‘from cold’ so it paid to have 24 hour shift work,­­ although they managed somehow to close on Saturday and certainly on Sunday. However this also led, in the summer,  to factories, yards and mines closing for long periods rather than having staggered holidays as now. The first holiday, or last if you like, started on Christmas Eve and went on until one or two days after the New Year and since New Year was celebrated in the Scottish manner, not much would have been achieved in any case. Easter would not have been much more than a long weekend, but the big holiday was taken for two weeks at the beginning of August. In this area it was known as Wakes Week, even though by this time it lasted a fortnight! Every section of industry closed at the same time. Of course it goes without saying that the employers used the time to carry out a maintenance programme that was not possible while the machines were running.

The result of the long break was the growth of the seaside resort and groups like ‘youth hostlers’ and ‘ramblers’. On our part of the coast, the main resorts were Whitley Bay and Tynemouth, although South of the river were South Shields, Roker and Seaburn with others as far south as Whitby and Scarborough. (See ‘Working on the sands’ below for details of ‘Scotch Week’)

Since we already lived within a bus-ride of the coast, our holidays tended to be ‘in the country’. My father, for many summers of my childhood, rented a cottage in the Pennines, from a friend. It was half a day’s bus-ride from Newcastle and I was inevitably travel-sick, but oh the adventure of it!

The cottage had: no electricity, so lighting was by oil lamps; no water, meaning a trudge with buckets to a ‘fountain’ in the village, but for the life of me I cannot remember how my mother cooked meals. The ‘toilet’ was a hut in the garden with a hole in a wooden seat, and the terrifying sound of running water deep below. We did have radio powered by accumulators charged by the only shop/post office in the village. Milk came fresh from the cows in the local farm and was cooled, I remember, by being poured through a kind of giant metal ‘washboard’ and carried home in a mini-churn with a wire handle. It always seemed to be harvest so we joined the local children in putting corn into ‘stooks’ and riding on a cart piled high with hay or straw. No square bales or combined harvesters then.

Later, for several summers, we shared a ‘bungalow’ with a friend and his family. Near Ovington was/is a field with wooden bungalows around the edges that have been there since ‘Lord knows when’ and they are still there now. They were equally primitive with no electricity except one which had its own wind generator, even back then, but it wasn’t ours. Four adults and four children squeezed in a ‘hut’ designed for half that number, and great fun despite/because of it.

I also recall a camping trip to Scotland, with the same family, in a Bedford van. It must have been a sight for the others on the camp-sites when we pulled up and 8 bodies tumbled out of the van which also contained all the camping gear and provisions for a week.

‘Camping’ reminds me of a cub-scout week in Northumberland of which I remember almost nothing beyond being terribly homesick. However, what I do remember is that we travelled there on a lorry in the back with all the tents and paraphernalia. Health and Safety eat your heart out!

Soon enough adolescence came along and the family holidays petered out, although I do remember a holiday camp near Filey where I went to 13 ballroom dances in a week and a trip to Blackpool Illuminations with my parents when, I must have been 18, as I sat in the hotel lounge drinking coffee and brandy and thinking I was the ‘dog’s whatsits’.

After that the holidays were with friends or just endless hours on the beach, when we were not working for cash to buy the clothes to impress.

Now, of course the local industry has gone and with it the Wakes Week, to be replaced by package holidays, that you buy on credit and spend the next year paying for, where you get tanned before you go so that you don’t stand-out when you arrive and head for the nearest English bar/chip-shop.


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