Getting Real


They say you should never go back to where you were once happy because the changes you find may rob you of your memories. But what about when you’d like to go back but can’t because your memories have become fashionable?

There’s a new trend here in the UK and it’s depriving a whole crop of children of days which used to set the standard by which future happiness could be measured.

I’m talking about white pebbles underfoot, sea so cold it turns you blue, fish-and-chips eaten shivering under a towel (sand crunching between your teeth mixed with salt and vinegar), fair-ground lights a blur as you chase your brother on the dodgem-cars, then falling asleep, candy-floss in your hair, listening to Mum and Dad talking as they sit on the bleached wooden steps of the beach-hut. Sometimes you’d even catch them kissing and everything seemed right with the world.

Gran and Grandad would turn up next morning. Gran would bring squashed sandwiches and cousins (the thin asthmatic one who peeled his own sunburn, the fat one who smelled of pie and played ‘Dutch Ovens’ in your sleeping-bag so you had to whack him with wet seaweed.) And Grandad would bring blood-chilling ghost stories to terrify you all when babysitting while Mum and Dad had an evening on their own.

I’m talking about English seaside holidays, which will always remind me of unconditional love. And they were cheap as chips.

Trouble is, as of last summer those beach-huts now cost £300 per night to rent so there will be no more poor young families building their memories there.

Partly, I blame the Remain campaign. Many of the 48% confidently declared that if we left the EU we’d need visas to cross the Channel, as if freedom to travel was in the gift of Brussels and we haven’t really been able to leave this sceptred isle without let or hindrance since about the time of the Roman invasion. In the wake of the result of June 2016, as if to prove them right, the number of Brits staying at home for their holidays is at record levels.

It could be fear of terrorism: there are now travel features listing resorts according to the likelihood of being killed by lunatics.

But I believe it’s mostly linked to Recession Chic, an awareness for instance that there are people doing imaginative things with Tiny Homes, but a failure to understand that when people renovate a rotting hulk of a caravan, or make a storage-container into a home, it’s ingenuity born of necessity, not a game. There are now well-heeled people writing blogs about how ‘real’ it is to take a day or two each month from their glossy apartment and spend it in a professionally constructed Tiny Home which is oh-so-conveniently parked in their parent’s rambling garden estate.

Result: it’s now more expensive to buy a caravan built circa 1972 which needs rebuilding from the axles up, than to get one twenty years younger, ready to roll. What’s being bought is credibility, and some will pay a small fortune for it.

A similar thing has happened with camp-sites, where the most expensive now lack facilities other than fire-pits and a cold-water tap, boasting of their “back to nature” approach. Once the province of families who liked space and couldn’t afford hotels, it’s increasingly hard to find sites which welcome children and pets.

Many even stipulate that they don’t allow tents on grass: only hard-standing for motor-homes. Couples hire a motor home, pay premium prices for loan of a chimnea, sit in regimented lines awkwardly eating burned marshmallows from twigs, scurry home before lack of a shower becomes too evident: then write about their “rustic” experience on Trip Advisor.

I even know of one couple who park up by a site where homeless people pitch tents, then post intrusive photos with comments wistfully describing how wise and philosophical the destitute are. This apparently relieves them of any necessity to sympathise. They are not into social justice: they are explorers visiting an alien tribe.

Music festivals are now gentrified: tickets are beyond reach of all but a small minority, and those attending buy expensive ‘festival wear’ – floral headbands and all, fancy dress more than self-expression. On sale are products designed to insulate the user from crowds, dirty shoes and inferior coffee; even ear-plugs to ensure a good night’s sleep – at Glastonbury, for God’s sake!

Those vendors who gleefully quadruple their prices are simply responding to a trend by making a killing. And those who awkwardly rough it naturally have every right to be poseurs, even if they secretly yearn for faux poverty to go off-trend.

But Recession Chic has shades of Marie Antoinette, dressed as a silken milkmaid at Petit Trianon, collecting eggs pre-washed by peasants – and we all know what special hatred was reserved for her. It is cultural appropriation: bored people playing at being poor, pricing the genuinely poor out of the market, then claiming to be enriched by the experience. Were the affluent to spend their holidays blacked up and conversing entirely in the form of Gangsta Rap it could hardly be more offensive.

They need to get real fast – and I don’t mean by hiring a beach-hut and a chimnea.

Mandy Baldwin is a freelance writer/Kindle author, born near Heathrow airport.  She has lived in Buckinghamshire, Cornwall and France, returning to England in 2013.  She has variously made a living – enough to support three children, solo – by working as a film-extra, selling fish and chips, running an art-group, tutoring home-schooled children, giving piano-lessons and selling her own paintings. 

3 thoughts on “Getting Real

  1. What an excellent article. The reminiscences of childhood family beach holidays had me smiling, chuckling along and thinking back to my own experiences of childhood beach holidays where the most important job of the day was to get the windbreak up quickly enough to prevent us from freezing to death on the beach before we got a chance to freeze to death in the water.

    Also that wonderfully ‘exotic’ smell of the donkeys. Ahhhh Hunstanton!

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