A wandering bird's-eye overview of most things even vaguely related to travel, and an opportunity for writers, artists and photographers to contribute the historical, the hysterical, the quirky and quixotic... anything with heart.

4 years ago
In continent weather
In continent weather

Now that “summer” is over, all we have to keep us warm are fading recollections of two weeks of packaged sunshine in some Costa-del-Chav, or the (possibly false) memories of a highly successful bbq.

Maybe because of this, I've been casting my mind back to the days when life was more innocent, summer went on forever, it hardly ever rained on holiday, (this rose-coloured memory will soon prove to be untrue) and going back to school or work seemed like the remotest possibility you could imagine.

Back when we were kids, my sister and I were lucky enough to be taken on foreign holidays almost every summer. We went to France, Denmark, Luxemburg and Holland amongst others, and most of the time we were camping.

Like a lot of people we met on these continental adventures over the years, we would revisit campsites that we liked, often  bumping into the same families each time, adding a feeling of community to the whole experience.

One of our favourites was Fecamp, on the Normandy coast of northern France - a steeply terraced site that was a useful stop-over for dad, after his long drive from our childhood home in Sussex; and the always exciting ferry journey across the English Channel with two (admittedly annoying) kids in the car.

In 1979, we turned up there just in time for the weather to deteriorate into driving rain and strong winds.

This didn’t overly trouble us as, even then, we’d perfected the art of sprung frame tent erection in most conditions. But this did seem to be getting somewhat extreme.

We had barely started to put up the large, multi-room, family tent, when a huge gust of wind nearly picked the whole thing up off the ground, as it tried it's best to do an impression of a hot air balloon.

Soon a dozen or so considerate neighbours were hanging on the guy-ropes and we all managed to haul the flapping, billowing canvas back to earth and secure it to the increasingly soggy ground.

Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in this case, what it tells us is this: that this was the day of the famously disastrous Fastnet sailing race.

Anyone who remembers that tragic event, will recall how utterly appalling the weather was, and by late that night we were fighting a serious battle with the elements.

I awoke at sometime around midnight, the noise of the storm outside now risen to staggering proportions, the tent rocking and creaking in the roaring gale.

My sister and I could also hear a lot of shouting and swearing coming from the main body of the tent.

Peering out of the sleeping compartment, we saw my Dad, on his hands and knees on the muddy, saturated ground, using a saucepan and a varying assortment of kitchen implements to dig what became known as the “Suez Canal” through the centre of the tent.

By this time the rain was coming down the terraces like a waterfall and our tent was in the way. The water was coming under one side and surging straight across the living area and out the other side.

Dad’s canal was directing it into a more manageable, narrower channel to prevent it from flooding the whole tent. 

The excavation went on for some time, until the storm finally abated early the following morning, with Dad managing a few hours of soggy sleep.

The scene outside when we emerged into the muddy dawn was quite unbelievable. Some tents hadn’t been so lucky, and were just completely gone.

It was one of those things we laughed about later, and as kids, we obviously thought it terribly exciting, but at the time I just remember Dad furiously digging his canal while indulging in Olympic standard swearing.

I'll never forget those balmy days on the continent, each time we stepped off the ferry onto French soil it was a little like coming back to a second home. 

More importantly, it always reminds me of the last carefree holiday we spent with my mum, before the cancer in her head stealthily robbed the world of a wonderful woman.

But Dad would be around for a good few years longer, saving us from an invading French army and becoming the hero of the campsite. But that's another story.


For Ann, gone but never forgotten.

  1. lostboys 

    Different times Dale.
    A wonderfully nostalgic tribute to your mother (& an intrepid father)


    1. mads2cents 

      To be taken on foreign holidays in the summer as kids, what an adventure for you and your sister. That was quite a storm you encountered! Dale, this is a wonderful piece of nostalgia and a lovely tribute to both your parents. I am sorry you lost your mum after that summer. Nice to have those memories, thank you for sharing.