The garden is quiet, the roads are clear, the neighbours are away and peace is here. Aaah bliss. I’m looking out at a rose that I planted in my mum’s memory and wondering where this last year has gone. And now – popping into my head are memories of going on holiday with my eccentric mum. I had no idea that you could actually pre-book a hotel or simply buy a ticket for the train. In Mum world, we chose where we were going, tried to blag lifts from coaches, cars at traffic lights or anyone who looked like they were going in the same direction. Then, once there the first day was spent spotting “vacancy” signs in bed & breakfast windows, Mum flirting with the owners and sometimes we even got a sandwich and glass of orange because they felt sorry for us. One particular holiday always makes me laugh – and to be fair, Mum also found it funny looking back. “Oh, dear, Sonia darling, to think I put you through all that, but we had a nice time didn’t we? What a mother I am!” Yes, Mum, you were a fantastic mother, despite the mental illness and … no, wait. Hang on. I’m getting all sentimental and not telling you the story.
This particular holiday was split in two. One half in Edinburgh and the other half on the Isle of Skye. It was in Edinburgh that I met my very first “love” and he must have thought a lot of me, because despite Mum’s efforts, he wrote to me for at least a year afterwards. I was 13, so it was all very innocent and sweet. He wrote me a poem and Mum decided that it wasn’t grown-up enough so edited it. I thought that she’d only edited my copy from “we will never part, so strong is our heart” to “whenever love comes it crushes your heart.” But bless him, he re-wrote it and sent it back to me saying that he was sure my mother would prefer this version. Bearing in mind I was 13 and he was 15, he tapped on our door at the guest house where he was staying with his mum and asked me what to do with the box that mum had left for him. Inside were two condoms and an orange. Well, I loved oranges, so thought that it was her idea of the perfect gift for him to give me and as for the condoms, I knew what they were, but he didn’t, so I took them and threw them away saying they’d probably dropped into the box by mistake. He seemed to believe me, but I’ve often wondered if he conjures up that scene. I didn’t speak to mum for the rest of the Edinburgh holiday out of sheer fury at her interference, although now I can see that she was very forward-thinking and open-minded about it all.
Next stop – Skye – stupid old Skye with its gorgeous views, little fishing boats and horrible, boring, beautiful coastline. I was in a real grump, having been dragged away from my new friend and away from city life. And to make matters even worse, we were in a crowded, silent-patron, don’t-disturb-anyone-with-the-clatter-of-cutlery b&bs that didn’t really approve of children, let alone a flame-haired mum who kept hijacking everyone else’s breakfasts for scraps to make a packed lunch. Day two was an early morning fishing trip. The trouble was, the fishing boat had no idea that two children would be joining them. Mum wasn’t taking no for an answer and when the reluctant fishermen left the harbour, Mum waved enthusiastically from the jetty yelling that she wanted mackerel, NOT cod. Day three – still missing my new friend, Mum decided we needed to know how kippers were made, so blagged her way into a kipper smoking factory and got a very grumpy foreman to show us the process whilst lecturing us that this was a working day and we weren’t to disturb the workers. One older lady sought me out with her kind eyes and winked at me, gesturing in a comedy head jerk to the foreman. This made me laugh and said foreman whizzed round so quickly to see what was happening that he slipped and fell on his backside. Cue hysterical laughter from everyone, including himself in the end. We were then all invited to join them for a lunch of, yes, you’ve guessed it, kippers. I had no idea that kippers were dyed orange, did you? I thought they just went that colour with the smoking process.
Mum’s holidays were always the most memorable and stale toast & marmalade lunches had a charm all of their own. It’s made me a very brave traveller and my catch-phrase has always been “It’ll all become obvious when we’re there.” I just think of Mum and what she would have done and then do the opposite.
So, next time you’re trailing through booking.com or searching flights on Easyjet, think how much more fun it would be to stick a pin in a map, turn up and hope for the best.