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 twenty percent drop in booking for 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)? All we needed were buckets and spades, a blanket to sit on in a nice, sheltered spot, and the wicker picnic basket packed with sandwiches and cakes in Mum’s Tupperware. Not forgetting the great summer treat: a bottle of Cream Soda.
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 shivering after going in the sea for a
swim paddle. But that was half the fun of it (looking back…).
Me at the Seaside enjoying a true Great British Staycation 1960s style
After being dried off and our limbs no longer blue, we would be given money to rush off and buy an ice cream. This was the highlight of the day, sitting on our blanket with ice cream leaking from the bottom of the wafer as it dripped down our arms into a right sticky mess as the sharp wind whipped up sand across our faces. The best part was proudly admiring our sandcastles before the tide closed in to wash them away.
Then it would be home for tea, and that always meant fish and chips out of newspaper.
My 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 (now pales and shovels) to hand.
But there was something missing.
The wicker picnic basket. I had to have one of my own. No picnic or 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 in 90s California were outrageously 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 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 calls me to tell me that she has not only found the perfect picnic basket (in a charity shop), but she has kitted it out with a brand new blue and white gingham lining and matching napkins as well as a set of melamine plates and bowls for six. And matching cutlery. She would bring the hamper with her when she next came to visit.
This is the original picnic basket from all those years ago.
The inside isn’t so pretty now after years of use.
For her, this was no problem. My Mum, I think, is the real-life 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 including but not limited to: Tea, Marmite, Crunchies and McVities Ginger Cakes. You know…all the good stuff.
After that, for years to come, no picnic was complete without the basket, along with its new American companion, the cool bag. 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’.
I’m not talking about making homemade beer, but what we British drink no matter what the weather, no matter where we are and especially when in crisis: yes, of course, it’s tea. Call me tea-mad, call me sentimental or anything you like, but once again, I was on a mission.
Dear Mum acquired for me a camping tea kettle complete with whistle, and a camping teapot to match. 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 sugar our picnic was complete.
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 was filled with joy at the sound of the hissing gas stove and my little camping kettle whistling happily away.
In case you are wondering, yes, we did get some strange looks. I never did see anybody else with a British ‘brew up’ set-up on the beach in all the years I lived in California. Maybe we started a new trend, who knows? Drink tea and keep calm and all that.
After all, what could be more evocative of the Great British Staycation than drinking a cup of lovely tea by the Pacific Ocean on a summer’s day, lazing on the sands of a beach in sunny California?
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.
The best of both worlds.