Childhood Holidays on Canvey Island
A Personal and Poetic View
That time has come around again; the Summer Break from school,
Excitement! Get the luggage out! (Those heavy leather cases);
While washing, cleaning, ironing’s done, and packing’s undertaken
We children just get in the way, with happy carefree faces.
We are champing at the bit; we long to start the journey;
While mother fusses round the house to get it spick and span;
My father lugs the cases round, submitting to instructions,
And tries to help proceedings but he’s not a happy man.
At LAST, the moment comes for us to set off to the station;
We go ahead with father as he struggles with the cases.
We see the tracks, we hear the hiss of steam from smoking engine
It gives a saucy whistle just to say “I’m going places!”
Father’s looking at his watch, he’s getting very anxious,
He will not let us board the train although we long to go –
Until he sees our Mum come running down the street to join us
She’s late as usual, in her slippers, as the whistle blows!
NOW we’re in the small compartment, smells all dust and smokey;
Up upon the netting racks our cases have to heave
Faces at the window as we strain to see the engine,
PUFF!! Puff-puff-puff! WHEEEE! it says as it’s about to leave.
All the country speeding by, as parents take it easy
Relaxing now, they take the paper and the magazine;
We children gaze upon the fields and houses, towns and stations
We point at this, and that, and this, new vistas to be seen!
And eating our egg sandwiches, (Watch out! That dress is clean!)
Excitement as we pass through tunnels, when the light goes black
While touching at the wood, the glass, the seats, the little pictures,
And running down the corridor, and finding our way back.
We hardly notice London with its noise and pushy crowding
We children are bewildered but kept safely to the plan;
Until at Benfleet Station we arrive and disembark there
We’re waiting at the bus stop for the bus to take us on.
Now it’s early evening with the sun all gold and waning
Nearly, nearly there now, we are tired but fighting sleep,
Peeping out the window of the bus to see the Island
Cheers! We left the mainland because now we crossed the Creek!
Breathing deeply as we trudge the final weary footsteps
We think we can already smell the salt and briny spray
Grasses swish and sway along the track of Florence Road, and
Freshly pressed they smell like scented flowers on our way.
We reach the little bungalow and see its wooden gateway
Our delight, to jump the stream that passes by the gate!
There it is! The weathered wood in layer after layer,
And in the porch we see a light, although we are so late.
We hear the shouts of greeting and our parents drop the cases;
Hugs and sounds and smells and tea is waiting in the pot,
Sulking as we have to go and find our strange new bedrooms
Don’t want to go to sleep!! But then we find our beds and drop.
The sun is always shining bright, the day is always fine
Or so it seems, and breakfast is of bacon eggs and tea!
I can wear my sundress and the warmth is on my shoulders
The doors are open wide, the lawn is soft beneath my feet.
Why do adults dawdle when all that beach is waiting?
Mum is doing housework; I can hear her moan and gripe.
Gran is sitting reading in her dress and flowery pinny
Dad is playing Solitaire; his father smokes a pipe.
Just outside the door there is a dusty ragged chaiselongue
Sitting in the space between the front door and the yard
Escaping to this haven I can contemplate my chances
Of getting to the beach today, the waiting is so hard.
Ah, a car! My Aunt and Uncle, and my Cousin David
Now I have a playmate and can really have some fun!
But first our lunch of salad and we have to pack the beach things
The blanket and the flasks, but at LAST the time has come!
Down the grassy pathway to the sea we all go walking
Each one carries something, a bucket and a spade,
A bag of towels, swimsuits, sandals, books and papers,
Deckchairs if we can, and bottles of lemonade.
Like a little army now we march along the front
Looking out to see the sea, and sniffing at the tide
Up atop the seawall it is breezy, and we quickly
Go down to the beach below to erect our little hide.
Mum and Dad in day clothes on their deckchairs safely snoozing
We have tired of digging in the crunchy shells and sand;
The tide is on the turn and the paddling pool is waiting
So off we go to “swimming” (with one leg on the land!).
Changing soggy swimsuits, we are gritty, red and glowing
Not having heard of sunscreen, we blister in the sun
Mum and Dad and relatives are packing up to wander
We head to the Amusements to have a bit of fun.
There is a pony riding field, where we go round and round
I head right for the swinging boats, and roundabouts and such;
Then into the Amusement Hall, a penny in the slot,
To see just “What The Butler Saw” – which wasn’t very much.
And later as the evening clouds coming drifting o’er the sea
The distant ships that keep their iron secrets far below
Pass by like strangers creeping, half ashamed and quietly
Heeding only waves and tide and distant foghorn’s blow.
We gather up our goods and take a last look at the sunset
And walk along the concrete road, its tarry joints all squishy,
And past the strange white 30’s house that looks just like a shoebox.
And up the lane to where the grass is tall and dry and swishy.
The night is still, the last few birds are heading off to nesting,
The smell of evening air is sweet, the people quietly talking;
We see the bungalow in view and think of games of Whot,
And Snap, and cups of tea and cakes, and we increase our walking.
The shells we found must be displayed; the swimsuits rinsed and airing
Our jammies found and beds be made, but we can stay and play!
But full of sand and sea we drift, the foghorn sadly droning
We fall asleep and dream of Canvey Island holidays.