August 1982, a week in Aberystwyth beckoned, Dexys were at number one in the charts with Come on Eileen, the weather was wonderful, there was everything to look forward to. Except there wasn’t. Even as a nine year old there was some trepidation about this sojourn; my father had recently spent a couple of months in traction following a serious break of both the tibia and fibula. He had lost a sizeable amount of muscle mass and perhaps more importantly, given the week ahead, was no longer inured to the demands of three children.
Mum had struggled with the three of us whilst Dad was confined to his hospital bed and during his extended convalescence. The holiday in Aberystwyth was intended to be a welcome break for all concerned.
The holiday was always going to have something of a hotchpotch feel about it. In those days we didn’t have a car; dad had always either cycled or motor-cyled to and from work and mum managed to transport the weekly grocery shopping home on the bus. Carless, we faced an arduous, meandering bus journey through tiny Welsh towns and villages on roads ill-suited to what in 1982 constituted luxury coach travel. As young kids we had all suffered with travel sickness, maybe our carless-ness and lack of travel left us with no opportunity to become used to such exotic adventures, anyway following breakfast the usual dose of phenergan was administered to each of us prior to leaving the house. Phenergan, for those of you lucky enough to have avoided it, was an evil syrupy solution masquerading as a travel sickness remedy. It was readily spooned into us by my parents whenever we were about to embark on travel measurable in miles rather than feet. This foul substance had the same effect on me that it always did; I promptly vomited a sort of rice krispie and syrup smoothie on the kitchen worktop. Great preparation for the journey ahead.
We convened on the roadside near our house and awaited the tardy transportation. With our luggage and essentials piled up we resembled John Steinbeck’s Oakies and we would later face similar hostility, being regarded as interlopers. Anyway, the weather was lovely and we settled down aboard the bus to breeze through the wonderful Welsh countryside. Although Wales is pretty sparsely populated we stopped at every hamlet, town and conurbation we encountered. Droves of pensioners would board taking an age to find their seats as they insisted on greeting each and every other passenger. Whilst ordinarily this journey takes the most conservative of drivers about an hour and a half, this coach trip would occupy the entire day.
Aeration aboard the luxury coach only stretched as far as ineffective vents in the overhead luggage rack, this was the early eighties after all and the vents were weaker than a mouse’s dying breath. As our mobile greenhouse trundled coastwards the heat became ever more uncomfortable; solution, open the window. My father might as well have desecrated the resting place of Owain Glyndwr judging by the reaction this elicited. Our dwindling popularity meant that the sight of Aberystwyth was a vision of paradise, not something Aberystwyth is commonly likened to.
The joy was to be short lived.
The problem with rural bus timetables is infrequency, you have to travel when you’re able rather than when might be convenient. This bus service only operated on Fridays but the caravan we were to stay in was available from Saturday to Saturday. The frail, old lady who owned the caravan had offered to book us into a bed and breakfast for a night until the caravan had been vacated. This resulted in the double excitement for me of not only holidaying in a caravan but also having my maiden experience of a bed and breakfast.
Bed and Breakfast. The least one should rightly expect of a bed and breakfast would be a bed and a breakfast; it’s not bed or breakfast, you would imagine that the minimum criteria is pretty easy to establish even to the most backward proprietor. Not so.
In the room was one bed, a tired looking double struggling to contain its loosely coiled springs. A selection of threadbare armchairs would have to suffice for my older sister and I. Even the tenderness of my years couldn’t cloud the image of this fleapit. My mother, fastidiously clean to the point of mania started splashing Dettol around like an arsonist armed with a jerry can of petrol. The fumes stung my eyes, passers by must have thought than an impromptu field hospital had been set up. I sensed my parents displeasure.
Having arrived quite late in the day, finding somewhere else to stay wasn’t really feasible. Fish and chips in the room in front of a television boasting all three channels, we could make the best of it, I was finding it all hugely exciting.