A Pythonesque view of a family holiday

TTL is pretty unhappy.

All the years I’ve been complaining that rubbish weather follows me to Scotland and Snowdonia (where, of course the mountains generate their fair share of rubbish weather anyway). And now it follows me to Norfolk. Not only did it lash with rain and blow autumnal gales off the North Sea, it didn’t even get light! I’m convinced the sun didn’t even rise.

Black Sabbath’s song seems darkly appropriate for this awful summer: “Look out … the sky is falling down … Look out … the world is spinning round and round and round … Look out … the sun is going black, black … Look out … it’s never ever ever coming back … Look out

And during OUR week away, yes you’ve guessed, Snowdonia, Scotland and any other place we could have chosen to go to were basking in pleasant sunshine, whilst to the east of a line from the Wash to Bournemouth was draped a large wodge of dark, wet rubbishness. This was the week we chose to have a camping break! “Serves you right”, I hear.

OK there are some legitimate reasons why I’ve chosen to spend more time in Europe lately, and the weather is just one of them. To appreciate some of the others I need to ask you to remember Eric Idle’s immortal rant in Monty Python’s travel agent’s office (and, yes, I CAN say the letter ‘C’) :

I mean … what IS the point of holidaying in the UK when it never gets light and rain hammers endlessly at your tent, letting up just for long enough for you to get halfway to the bog before giving you yet another soaking. And your campsite is full of 4x4s with armour plating and blacked-out windows, and hypersonic children who scream all night and throw missiles at your tent, which is incidentally the only one left standing because the wind has blown most of the others most of the way to Little Snoring because nobody knows how to pitch their cavernous, five-bedroom monster-domes with their fragile bendy poles and tiny skewers for pegs, which pull at the slighted gust – they don’t do it properly here do they, not like in the mountains ..!

And then you go find something to do in this half-lit flatland, only to find that you need another bloody mortgage to try the ropeway-through-the-trees attraction AND they want to raid you of the last penny you own for the privilege of parking your car whilst you do so. So you try the local, traditional English seaside resort with its amusements and cockle shops and bargain shops and Hotels de Paris, and you tramp through the puddles to the seafront to pose for a family picture knowing that there will be no faces visible in your picture because they’re all wrapped in the hoods of their rain jackets and bent over double into the howling gale. And on the bandstand some middle-aged Robbie Williams clone is karaoke-ing to an audience of ten and pretending he’s playing to fifty thousand at Reading festival, bless him. If you don’t like him you could even pay for the privilege to stand in the drizzle up to your ankles in mud on a nearby farm and listen to an Abba tribute from Aylesbury with their too-tight-trousers and false hair and their own son-et-lumiere bleedin’ lightshow.

And the beaches are flanked by caravan sites and empty car parks, and when you do try to park you have to give yet another £3 to a licensed bandit in a gun-turret waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting driver encroaching on his territory – he’s got quotas, you know – and you can’t negotiate with him, oh no, even though you’re unlikely to be there more than five minutes before you’re soaked to the skin and freezing to death. The wildfowl are hiding so you can’t even indulge your ornithological fetish, and the only people besides you stupid enough to be out here instead of beside a fire are ubiquitous teenagers with short skirts and high heels, and a bunch of golfers (they’ve paid their membership, oh yes!) in pseudo-cags and earnest shoes for whom you have to wait in case they hit you on the head as they they bat their little balls over the path you’re walking on, which is far more likely than them getting anywhere near the green somewhere in the dim and distant fog, because the wind just blows the things straight back whence they just came.

And then there are the endless gift shops full of useless tat (aka high-class crafts) that you could buy to remind you that you were here lest the inexorable damp that has crept into the very core of your soul should ever let you forget. People pack into art galleries showing you photographs of this place when it is beautiful and gorgeous and lovely, which will not be whilst you’re there, perish the thought, because you know that the unwritten rule of any holiday says the weather will only be beautiful and gorgeous and lovely on the day you leave.

Fish and ChipsAnd because you’re at the seaside you can’t resist some fish and chips can you? Across the road in the near darkness at 6pm you stagger into the chippy next to the amusement arcade and the junk gift shop with its giant inflatable banana still flapping uncontrollably in the maelstrom only to find they’ve got no Cod (cos Cod is a delusion, according to a book I read, or is extinct you know, or something, so I heard) and the Haddock costs you your remaining arm and leg (cos it will be extinct soon enough) and, bugger me, they can’t even do hot drinks today, presumably because it is freezing cold and they’re overstocked on ice cream they over-ordered in the forlorn hope that the sun might show its little face sometime and which they can’t sell because there are bugger-all people in this town besides you. And then you slip on some greasy mashed chips left by the family who was there before you were, and you amuse yourself for a while by a tank of bored-looking orange fish who think they will be next on the menu (when all the other fish are extinct) and plead with you (anthropomorphically) as soon as you put your nose on the glass to release them from this dull existence into the even greyer harbour. Best fun you’ve had all week!

So two days before you’re due to leave you’ve had enough of being beaten to a pulp by your sons at chess, of reading by torchlight at midday whilst mopping up drips and huddling round your camping-gaz lamp because it is the only thing in this god-forsaken universe at the moment that looks capable of shining and giving out any heat. What’s left but to beat a battered, soggy, depressed retreat? You’ve got no photographs, no money, no sanity. And the campsite says “we’re sorry you’re quitting”, as if they could arrange the weather any other way, and you sense they’re smiling slightly smugly because you’ve paid for a whole week and they knew all along it would be like this. “And the pubs were selling Watneys Red Barrel and cheese and onion crisps and calamari and two veg, and we sat next to a party of people from Rhyl who kept singing ‘Torremolinos’ …” And so it was. Refreshed? Maybe …

PS: I’m sure Norfolk is beautiful, really. When you can see it … PPS: See the pics on Flickr