The Great British Staycation and A Brew Up – California Style

A news report stated that due to the Great British Summer we recently enjoyed (all three weeks of it, now, sadly, just a distant memory…), travel agents were reporting a 20 percent drop in holiday-makers booking last-minute getaways to the sun.

To me, this just shows that an awful lot of families, particularly those with young children, would prefer a British ‘staycation’ over all the hassle and stress that a holiday abroad brings, if only there could be a guarantee of plenty of sunshine.

The type of holiday that we of a certain generation took without so much as a backward glance, sunshine or not.

Who can forget those lazy, hazy days of summer spent at the seaside (in our case Brighton Beach) with our buckets and spades, old blankets spread out on a nice, sheltered (if we were lucky) not-too-rocky spot, wicker picnic basket crammed full of sandwiches and cakes and lemonade kept fresh in Mum’s well-used Tupperware drink’s holder?

Now, I realise that by using the word ‘hazy’, I am perhaps giving the impression of it being balmy and warm,  but in reality it was usually pretty damn cold with us kids shivering and turning blue, having come out of the sea after a swim paddle, but that was half the fun of it!

(c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

(c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

Me at the Seaside enjoying a true Great British Staycation – notice the bucket, spade and sandcastle.  1960 something….oh, and the swimming costume (sorry, swimsuit) is red.

After being wrapped up and cuddled in a towel by Mum or Dad until we were warm enough to feel our no-longer-numb limbs again, we would then be given money to rush off and buy an ice cream. Go figure! Sitting on the blanket, ice cream leaking out of the bottom of the wafer and dripping all the way down our arms in a right sticky mess, the sharp wind whipping up the sand as it smarted across our freckled faces, we would proudly admire our sandcastles before the tide closed in to wash them all away.

Then it would be home for tea, and that always meant Fish & Chips! Out of newspaper!

My own children were raised in California, and as much as I loved, and indeed embraced, what many long summers spent in America gave us, I was intent on sharing as much of my very British childhood with them as possible.  Of course, living in California, the beach was never far away and many a happy day was spent loading the kids up in the car with the cool box, beach umbrella, chairs and yes, the buckets and spades (pales and shovels!) to hand.

But there was something missing.

The wicker picnic basket!  I had to have one of my own.  No picnic, trip to the beach was complete without one.  I was on a mission and when I’m on a mission I am very, very determined.  Unfortunately, the only wicker picnic baskets I could find at the time (it being the 90s and before picnic baskets were ‘in vogue’) were very, very expensive and rather exclusive.  Way out of my league, in other words.

However, the merest mention of this to my mother during one of our regular transatlantic telephone calls, and she knew what she had to do.  If you want to know where I get my tenacity from, you only have to know my mother.

The next thing I know, Mum is calling me to tell me that she has not only found the perfect wicker picnic basket (in a charity shop!!), but she has kitted it out with a brand new blue and white check gingham lining, matching napkins,  a blue melamine plate and bowl set for six and matching cutlery.  She would bring the hamper with her when she next came to visit.

The Wicker Picner Hamper (c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

The Wicker Picnic Basket
(c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

This is the original picnic basket from all those years ago, notice the leather straps! The inside isn’t so pretty now unfortunately, a job for Mum to re-line it perhaps?

For her, this was no problem.  My Mum was, and still is, like Mary Poppins.  What she hasn’t packed in her suitcases in her time you don’t want to know about!

Remember those days when you were allowed two large suitcases on a long haul flight without the fear of excess charges?  What a mercy for that! Mum packed the basket inside one of her suitcases, alongside all the usual goodies that we craved: Tea, Marmite, Crunchies, tubes of Smarties, Bird’s Eye Custard, serval McVities Ginger Cakes, you know, all the good stuff.

After that, for year’s to come, no picnic was complete without the basket.  Of course, we also had the cool bag, it being too hot in California not to keep food in one, but the basket always came.  However, I had one more thing that I insisted upon to make our British style picnics in California complete.  I wanted to be able to have a  ‘brew up’.

Now I’m not talking about making homemade beer or wine here.  No, I’m talking about make what we British drink no  matter what the weather, no matter where we are and especially when in crisis…we have a cup of tea!  Except that I wanted to be able to actually make the tea, in a teapot.

Call me tea-mad, call me sentimental, call my anything you like (barking?) but, once again, I was on yet another mission. So, my dear Mum then acquired for me a delightful (and blue!) camping tea kettle.  It even had a whistle!   Not only that, she also produced a camping teapot! I found a single-burner calor gas stove at a camping shop and we were in business.  Packing the tea bags, a container (Tupperware, of course) of milk and some sugar, our picnic was complete and I was in tea heaven!

So there we would be, sitting on the beach overlooking the wild Pacific vista, eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, ice-cold watermelon and Jello, and all the while my heart would be filled with  joy at the sound of the calor gas gently hissing with my little camping tea kettle happily whistling away.

Oh, and just in case you are wondering, yes, we did get some very strange looks over the years.  You can just imagine it, I’m sure, and what they must have thought.  I can assure you that I never did see anybody else doing this in all the 17 years I lived in California!

Perhaps I might be surprised to learn that I have started a new trend, you never know.  My children thought I was crazy and were, of course, embarrassed but isn’t that a parent’s job, to embarrass their children?

But it was mission accomplished!

After all, what could be more evocative of the Great British Staycation than sipping a cup of lovely tea while sitting on a beach on a hot, summer’s day, watching the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean come crashing down on the golden sands of a beach in sunny California?

View of the Pacific Ocean, California Central Coast (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

View of the Pacific Ocean, California Central Coast
(c) Sherri Matthews 2013

The enduring image of the Californian Coastline where I spent so many happy years with my young family.  A Perfect spot for a lovely brew-up!

“How can you drink tea when it’s so hot?”  Question asked of me by my ex-husband even after 22 years of marriage.

About Sherri Matthews

While writing to publication of her memoir, 'Stranger in a White Dress', Sherri has been published in national magazines and a variety of anthologies in memoir, essays, articles, poetry and flash fiction. Sherri gardens, walks and takes endless photos, the better ones she shares on her blog, along with articles about travel, Asperger's Syndrome and her life as a Brit Mum raising her family in California for 17 years. Today, Sherri lives in England with her husband, Aspie youngest and their pet menagerie, fondly known as 'Animal Farm.'
This entry was posted in Childhood Memories, Current Affairs, Family Life, Family Traditions, My California and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Great British Staycation and A Brew Up – California Style

  1. Brings back wonderful memories – of sandcastles, metal buckets and spades, sand between my toes, warm lemonade (no sugar free in those bygone days!!), jam sandwiches (on white bread) on Weymouth beach, then falling asleep on the back seat of my dad’s Austin Westminster on the journey home!


  2. mumblypeg says:

    A wonderful blog, beautifully told, which evoked many happy memories of the picnics on both sides of the Atlantic. Are you hinting that I should make a new liner for the picnic basket? You never know maybe one day your kids will carry on the traditions of our picnics. They are still lots of fun although not many sandcastles being built these days! Blessings and love xxx


  3. Sherri says:

    Yes, many happy picnic memories! I don’t know why you thought I might have been hinting??!! Glad you enjoyed reading this, and who knows, it’s never too late to start making sandcastles again… 🙂 xxx


  4. Heyjude says:

    Great post Sherri – I had a ruched cossie like that too – red nylon – must have looked SO attractive as I have very fair skin and always burnt red, then peeled!

    My mother always had a tin kettle with a whistle in the car along with a small gas burner, thermos of milk and tea leaves. I remember us stopping at the side of the road whilst in those long tail-backs you got going into Devon / Cornwall and her making a pot of tea! (Personally I can’t stand tea, though have been known to enjoy a herbal brew from time to time).

    Also they drink a lot of tea in India!! And it’s pretty hot there 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Ha, love it! My cossie was nylon too we must have had the same one!!! I remember it always felt really tight too!
      Ah yes, stopping by the roadside for a brew-up, that’s where I got my idea! I wonder if I actually put my kids off tea as none of them drink it regularly, my daughter drinks green tea ony! Maybe that’s why you don’t like it either!
      Yes, they do drink it in India don’t they, although I’ve never been there, but it does actually help keep you cooler apparantley.
      Thanks for sharing Jude, I always love your interesting comments, and also for the follow 🙂


  5. jennypellett says:

    Ah Sherri – you can take the gal out of Britain but you can’t take the Britain outta the gal! I’d have been just the same I reckon – and embarrassing one’s kids is a mother’s mission.
    I also had a ruched costume just like yours (were they sold by Ladybird at Woolies, I wonder!), mine was green.


    • Sherri says:

      Oh Jenny, another laugh out loud and you are so right! Looks like it might have been a right of passage for us of a certain generation to have worn these swimming costumes…I would put money on it (if I were a gambling person!) that they came from Ladybird at Woolies! At least yours was a different colour! I thought that I looked particularly fetching in this photo, seeing as it really shows off my lovely knobbly knees and all!!!
      Thanks for sharing your cossie memories 🙂


  6. awwww….sweet yesterdays!


  7. gkm2011 says:

    Great strory, we always went to the shores of the lake by our house, so fresh water. The first time I swam in the ocean when I was 17 or 18 I was surprised how salty it was!


    • Sherri says:

      Yes, that must have been quite a shock if you were used to swimming in a fresh water lake…how lovely that sounds though! Thanks for sharing your holiday memories 🙂


  8. Njoy the holidays and very nicely written:)


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