Sunday, 17 January 2010

Travelling in the good old days

We never went on holidays when we were children, because of the war. Of course we had holidays from school but we didn't seem to do much except muck around up at the sandpit or play down in the copse, close to where Tommy Foster lived.

I don't ever remember Mum or Dad ever having holidays then from their work but I suppose they did. Mind you holidays were very much shorter then, and in any case Dad would have spent all his time in the allotment and only come home at tea time. Mum on the other hand worked in a grocery shop, so we should have noticed that she was at home with us but we didn't! We must have been pretty busy ourselves. We were like wild animals let loose from captivity in the morning, straining at the back door while our hair was combed and our faced examined lest the spinster sisters, Olive and Myrtle Green, who lived up the road should see us less than perfect and make some terrible pronouncement to the other neighbours.

Real holidays didn't start until after the war and unbeknown to Jill and myself arrangements had been made to stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Hastings early in September 1945. We were pretty excited when we realised that we were going on our first real holiday. Dad on the other hand was worried because we didn't have a suitcase to put our things in. So he went round to Granddad to see if he could borrow one. He came back later with a medium size shiny leather suitcase of some age. It's corners were reinforced and it had solid chunky brass clasps and locks. Mum was delighted. Dad merely delved into his pocket for a packet of Weights and lit one up with his home made lighter.

"I never knew he had that", she exclaimed, as she placed it on the floor, got down on her knees and reverently opened the clasps. Apart from a brown paper bag and some tissue paper it was empty, but it was lined with a blue and grey striped silky material which Jill immediately smoothed down with her fingers. She murmured "Ohhhh", and Dad beamed down at us through a haze of smoke. He alone remained standing. Meanwhile I was examining the outside. Faded labels told of other peoples excursions to distant parts. There was a remnant of a Cunard sticker showing part of a liner, a hotel label with the word Metropole on it, a long sticker saying 'CABIN LUGGAGE', and most intriguing of all to me, a tiny notice saying 'EXAMINED BY CUSTOMS'. My nine year old mind conjured up exotic ports, intrigues and daring deeds. Jill on the other hand had found the previous owners name, a Mr. A. Weston, written on the inside of the case. Dad explained that Granddad had bought the case in a jumble sale before the war but he had never used it.

How we managed to get all our clothes in the case I don't know. We wore less then, of course, and for longer. Jill and I only had one pair of shoes each, so they didn't have to be packed. Still, the case was stuffed full and Mum, Jill and me, each had to carry a brown paper carrier bag with extras in. Mum also carried her enormous handbag which stored every conceivable necessity for the journey, as well there was an umbrella, which she took with her regardless of the weather. Dad carried the case, today's newspaper and a box brownie camera slung around his neck.

We started early in the morning and walked to the station where we caught a train to Waterloo Station. I bagged a window seat, but had to promise Jill she could sit next to the window on the next train. We then had to cross over to Victoria Station by the Underground to get another train to Hastings. Naturally Jill and I had an argument over the seats because I counted the tube train as the next train which set her off, crying as usual, because she couldn't see anything in the dark tunnels of the tube. Dad lugged the case up and down the stairs, on the escalators, in through the sliding doors, and past the ticket collectors, while we followed on with our carrier bags. When we got to Victoria, the station was packed. I had never seen so many people in my life. They were hurrying in every direction and the sound was deafening as the shouting, the platform announcements and the noise of the trains filled the building. We found some seats in a crowded carriage and I smirked at Jill as no place by the window was available. She looked pretty glum but instead of crying this time, she cuddled up to Mum and was asleep soon after the train left the platform.

There was not a spare seat in the carriage, and between glancing at the suburbs and countryside speeding by, I examined the other occupants. There was a man in a trilby hat that smoked his pipe incessantly. His wife a shrivelled up woman returned my stare then finally with some distaste took the Daily Express from her husband and hid from me by reading it. Her husband meanwhile puffed on happily, admiring the scenery. Next to me in the corridor seats sat two ladies of about Mum's age who engaged in a conversation that necessitated their bending over toward each other that made it very difficult for me to go into the corridor. Out there were interesting people like soldiers sitting on kit bags and other boys my own age, train spotting. Eventually I escaped, and joined them. The journey then went quickly for me and when I returned to the compartment later, the man with the pipe and his wife were gone and Jill was seated at the window.

"We'll soon be there" said Mum as she dabbed her nose with powder. Dad started to get the case down and all the bags were counted and reallocated. As the train drew into the station, Mum and Dad started to discuss the options of walking to our lodging or getting a taxi. Only well off people had cars then and even a ride in a taxi for many years seemed to me like an extravagant luxury. When we did indulge we all sat awkwardly in the car and said not a word, lest the driver think that we were talking to him, or somehow he would realise how poor and ignorant we were.

So we walked. The address; 62 Hillingdon Road, should have been a clue that the accommodation was no where near the sea and up a steep climb. Better establishments had names like Sea View or Seagulls or other such coastal connotations, on streets called The Esplanade or Beach Road. Neither Jill or I complained because every step was a new adventure on our very first holiday.

Now it is very strange but I don't remember much else about that holiday. There was the beach of course and ice cream, but what stood out was that leather suitcase, and how proud of it we all were. We returned it Granddad after, and much later when he died, Dad got it back again. In later years we bought our own suitcases when we could afford them, and the leather case was used by Jill for all her dress up clothes.

When I was called up for National Service I needed a case of my own, so I went up to the attic to see if it was still there. It was, a little older and sadder looking. It was scuffed and dull and one of the locks was broken. I still used it though, tying up its middle with a bit of sash cord. It travelled with me for several years, and stood up to terrible punishment, including being thrown out onto a station platform from a moving train.

Today, as I was waited for my luggage to come through on the airport's carousel, I thought back to that old case. It had outlived it's first owner Mr. Weston, Granddad and my own Mother and Father. I felt a pang of shame as I collected my cases and put them on a trolley. At some time I had discarded that case in one of the many moves in my life and I had not given it a thought to those good old days until now.


  1. strange how some objeccts we tossed become valuable treasures in our minds. A flash of memory and you think, Damn I wish I kept that.

  2. Maybe the case was passed on to someone else and it's story continued? Jae

  3. I love reading this vivid portrait of life in the old times. You need to write a lot. Otherwise I think people will never understand the things you mentioned.

  4. I loved every bit of this. How clever of you to center it on that worn suitcase! I also enjoyed the bit about you and Jill jockeying for the window seat. How difficult it must have been for your parents to attempt to fit everything into that one suitcase!

  5. Thanks for taking us back. This suitcase and all of the life that has been experienced within it. How amazing! I wonder where Jill travelled to in her dress up days. Wonderful words.

    Thank you for reading mine, as well.

  6. Sounds a bit like us - 30 years later.

  7. The stories that suitcase could tell... We (your children) couldn't help notice how small your suitcase was on your recent holiday. It was the size of most people's hand luggage and you lived out of it for two weeks. It made me a little sad yet amused somehow to see your tiny bag, like a symbol of how little you need.

  8. That is because I forgot to pack my suit!

  9. Isn't it odd, how an object can invoke so many memories and emotions. Wonderful story and I loved your description of the case - I can picture it in my mind. I enjoyed reading this and thank you for stopping by and commenting on my story. I'm sure LeeAnn never put herself in such a horrible position again. Maybe she found an old suitcase that someone had thrown out and went traveling :)

  10. I could not help thinking of the wonderful children's story, The Velveteen Rabbit. Your case and its memory is very much like that.