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The B-Side Beside the Seaside

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In my very early years family holidays nearly always involved staying with relatives, in Cardiff to visit my father's family or to Somerset to visit my mother's. But in the mid-1960s, we spent a week in a holiday camp in Cornwall. Until I decided on writing this memoir the exact year was lost in the mists of time, but a quick search on google soon told me that the year was 1965.

As he always did when we were going on holiday, Dad got us all up very early in the morning to avoid any delays on the roads. We were soon breakfasted and packed into the family Morris Minor 1000. We set off from Kingston-Upon-Thames, Dad driving, Mum beside him, my sister Linda and I sharing the back seat. I would have been eleven and Linda twelve. Although we were both normally very happy reading quietly, neither of us could do that in a moving car without feeling sick, so we probably spent the whole tedious journey winding each other up. Our parents must have been completely fed up with the both of us for most of the journey.

Eventually we arrived at the holiday camp, which was at St. Agnes on the north coast of Cornwall, very close to Perranporth. The camp wasn't a Butlins or a Pontins but it was of a similar nature. We quickly moved into our self-catering chalet, had something to eat, and went exploring.

I can't remember what sort of entertainment there was, but whatever it was, Linda and I spent nearly every waking hour on the wonderful sandy beach at Perranporth. It was the first time we had ever experienced such a place. Did Mum and Dad accompany us there? I don't recall. In my memory we were forever wandering along the sea edge, inspecting the rock pools or, at the top of the beach, walking at the foot of the cliffs. There was a huge rock outcropping forming an arch that led halfway down the beach. We headed towards that every day and wandered under it. It was, to us city-dwellers, an awesome place containing much magic.

The days made this holiday the best I can remember. As young kids, we weren't allowed out of the chalet in the evenings so our freedom ended at tea time. The camp provided a baby-sitting service so Linda and I were safe there while our parents spent the evening in the bar, which to us was a secret place where we were not welcome. We resented that.

It was only in 2008, after my mother died and we were clearing out her flat, that Linda and I found out what had been happening in that bar. Dad was a very keen photographer and just about all the photographs he or Mum had ever taken were safely stored in cupboards and drawers. Linda and I spent an emotional evening going through them, the black and white prints and the colour transparencies taking us back fifty years and even further back to times we had no memory of.

There were only a few photos of that bar in 1965. There was dad sitting in a large chair, a full pint in front of him. There was Mum, not a real drinker like Dad, with the glass of Mann's brown ale that she would always make last all evening. That was as expected, but the other photograph was Dad siting on the edge of the stage, microphone in hand, and singing. Dad was Welsh and had a lovely singing voice, but he seldom sang in my experience. Mum told us that as a youngster he had sung in an amateur choir. It was good to learn that Dad seems to have enjoyed the holiday as much as we kids did.

That evening in 2008 though, revealed another photograph that really choked us up. Linda and I had never known our father as anything other than disabled, following wounds from the Korean War. His legs had been crushed in a plane crash and he couldn't bend either of them. When I was seven the doctors amputated one of them, and that made life much easier for him as he could walk with the aid of crutches. In later years he was mostly in a wheel chair and I spent much of my teenage years pushing him around in it.

The photograph we found was of Dad. It is undated. He is standing unsupported and upright in our garden in Kingston, apparently fit and well, holding a baby in his arms, smiling into the camera. That baby may have been Linda or possibly me but it probably wasn't. Linda was born in August 1953, I was born in September 1954 but the Korean War ceasefire started in July 1953 so Dad would already have been wounded by then. The baby must have been one of our numerous cousins. My father was one of a family of ten, so there are plenty of possibilities. That photograph is the only knowledge I have of my father before that war dealt him the blow that made him the man I knew. The man I knew, I am certain, is not the man he would otherwise have been.

In an evening at that camp there were three sets of people: the young kids like us who stayed in the chalets, the parents who went to the bar, and the teenagers, who had their own club, complete with juke box. Unfortunately, our chalet was not far from the teenagers' club and we could hear the loud thump of the juke box for some while after we were in bed. It soon became clear to us that the teenagers weren't enjoying their holiday. There was one track that they played over and over again and it was one that, in later years, became a favourite of US troops in Vietnam and for a similar reason. It was We've Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals and it kept us awake night after night.

Very shortly after I decided to write this piece, it was the memory of that raw protest song that gave me the title for this memoir. Sometime in the 1960s, somebody told me that that track was the B-side of the Animals' version of The House of the Rising Sun. However, as soon as I wrote the title at the top of the sheet of paper, I realised I didn't know the year of our holiday. To find it I googled that song's title and found that it was released in 1965. To my surprise, I didn't find the information that it was the B-side of anything. In fact, it got to number 2 in the charts. The House of the Rising Sun had been released the year before, so my informant all those years ago seems to have been mistaken.

So, this piece of homework has corrected one bit of my vast store of trivial information and I hope that most of you will excuse me for keeping the title, it really is too good to lose. Of course, the pedants will probably be beside themselves!