Every year from the age of 7, my parents would pack us into the car, surrounded by everything but the kitchen sink (sometimes including a washing up bowl) and drive the 8 hours (a few years before the M6/M5 FYI) to the wonderful South Devon coast. A friend of my Dad’s had a holiday home at Deer Park in Stoke Fleming, and it felt to us as children like home from home each summer for 7 years. We probably thought we were three of the famous five to be honest.
Holidays there were full of sunny days (more I’m sure in our memories than the reality ever was) on Blackpool Sands, in the Dingy, floating out to sea, building pretty impressive moats and castles for my brothers boats, and finding crabs in the rock pools. We loved Dartmouth, and the ferry crossing was all part of the fun. If a shop had a bucket and spade outside it was absolutely where we might need to spend our precious holiday money.
The place we actually spent our holiday money (apart from my younger brothers caps for his cowboy gun which resulted in a fairly impressive injury, which was absolutely nothing to do with the caps) was the fantastically famous Harbour Bookshop, which has now been replaced by an art gallery (there are now a lot of galleries in Dartmouth!)
Cream Teas, Custard Slices, Anorak’s, the occasional shell suit, take-away chicken and chips back at the holiday home after a long day of getting sunburnt, and playing french cricket at Berry Head are all stuck to my memories of Dartmouth like wet sand on your feet after a day on the beach. I can’t imagine them not being there just as we left them just a few years ago.
SO I was thrilled to find myself heading back to Devon in April, not only because I was going to be meeting some exciting entrepreneurs on a training week, but also because I’d have the opportunity to revisit our old haunts.
My week in North Devon with CMS and Matryoska Haus at Pickwell Manor is another blog, but was a brilliant experience (and I met some fascinating, wonderfully creative people!) and managed to paint too…
From Pickwell, I had a two hour drive down to Brixham, where I’d booked an Air BnB. For me there’s just nothing like getting in the car and setting off into the (slightly) unknown. I think I get this from my Dad. If he ever saw a tiny steep road creeping up the side of a hill (mountain) he would rapidly indicate and take us on a mystery tour just for fun, and to see my Mum slowly turn white as the (mountain) got steeper and more narrow, until we’d meet something the size of a combine harvester coming the other way and somehow have to reverse all the way to Kingswear (it didn’t matter where we started).
Anyway… needless to say Brixham, Kingswear and Dartmouth had changed a great deal in – yep – over twenty years. I was totally perplexed that our holiday home at Deer Park just wasn’t there anymore. “The homes don’t look new” I thought. Well no, they’re probably twenty years old. I got into trouble there for parking in a camper van’s spot by a slightly jobs-worth guy, totally lacking any sympathy for my romantic reminiscing and rose tinted glasses… wombat.
I got chatting to a woman who had grown up in Dartmouth while we were on the ferry crossing – which was more exciting than it should have been – I mean – I hadn’t been on it since I was 14! But it turned out well, as she was so excited by my excitement (“you’ll find the same old men propping up the same old bars”) that she paid for my crossing and threw me some fudge between our car windows. Hurrah.
The feeling of being back somewhere that’s so much a part of your childhood was really wonderful. I’m not convinced my family shared my sense of wonder, but despite that I decided to share my experience with them, acknowledging with my brothers as I tweeted, FB Messengered and Emailed ‘remember this!?’ moments, that twenty years ago we’d have been astonished by all of that. We used to take 36 pictures on slightly dodgy cameras, and hope for the best. After waiting two weeks when we got home we’d usually find that 6 of those pictures were spot on.
The sense of going back in time was full of a wonderful nostalgia, but came with a surprising and slightly unsettling realisation of how much time had passed. A sadness for me too, in all honesty, that my amazing Dad who had taught me to float on the waves, run around playing cricket and taught us to fly kites here, couldn’t jump in the car and share the adventure with me anymore. That was a real bummer to be honest. But I think he and Mum appreciated the pictures and memories from home, and knowing how much it meant to me. And I loved remembering how blessed we bloody were. We were such fortunate kids. Life has a habit of surprising you – good and not so good.
So I took a huge amount of pictures, lapped up every bit of sunshine on the harbour, sailing boats creaking against their awnings, and got inspired in the many galleries, jewellery shops and Joules (which definitely wasn’t a thing in 1994).
Despite the fact the Harbour Bookshop sadly closed down, I was chuffed to find a new Community Bookshop had opened up just up the steps from it’s old location, and the very same lady was running it who had been there when we were kids. It’s in Bill Bryson’s book actually…
I am a little bit in love with this painting, and delighted to be exhibiting it as part of Peterborough Open Artists Studios next weekend.
If you want to find out a bit more about how I paint, pop in to the open studios – I’m hoping to be doing some demos!