Holland-On-Sea near Clacton was always sunny.
I know this because this was my first-holiday destination as a child. We rented a bungalow on the coast and my memories of great family times are still fresh in my mind.
Mum and dad worked extremely hard to make ends meet. I can remember our home being open to anyone in need and it was quite normal to come across strangers in our house being looked after by the culinary inventiveness of my mother who could make a joint of meat last at least five days. My dad was a self-employed builder and decorator and mum used to work as a home hairdresser, travelling around the community on her bicycle with a bag full of hairdressing paraphernalia. The smell of peroxide still reminds me of my childhood!
So we never ventured far from home until one day, we set off for Holland On Sea.
It was a great adventure sitting in the back of dad’s decorator van, and setting off on what seemed like an endless journey to the other side of the world!
I remember the exhaust fumes, the throb of the old Ford engine and the many times on the journey we would have to pull over to fill the radiator up with water. The van was prone to overheating, especially in the stop start routine of the frequent traffic jams. Of course, the journey from London to Essex was epic. No M25 and motorway networks – we drove up through the outskirts of London on the North Circular and then through Romford, up towards Chelmsford and beyond. All passengers in the old Ford van would need to exercise a high degree of patience and large amounts of faith to believe that we would actually get to our destination before the Second Coming!
It was a major triumph when we all piled out of the van on arrival at our holiday bungalow.
Every evening we’d play games. Lots of laughter, leg-pulling, penny sweets and Cream Soda. No TV, videos, computer games or iPods! Family times were memorable and precious. But breakfast was one of the highlights of my holiday. Why? Because we went hunting for mushrooms!
My brother in law, Al, would take me mushrooming on several mornings of the week. He looked after me as we ventured into the fields where cows would be grazing. I learned that mushrooms growing near cowpats were safe to eat. Of course, as a young boy, I had no idea about safe mushrooms and wild foods. Al, a few years older than me, was the expert and I trusted him implicitly. Many years later he told me that he saved me one day from being bitten by a grass snake!
We would collect a bag full of delicious mushrooms early in the morning and then go back to the bungalow and cook breakfast for everyone.
Since the days of my childhood, I have travelled around the world several times on various missions and adventures, but those early childhood memories of the mushrooms and cow pats still linger on.