I’m alarmed to realise that I’m in urgent need of an Engineer to fix my Nostalgia Valve. Mine is clearly faulty, as it is currently leaking heavily into these various ramblings in an almost uninterruptible stream.
Possible causes of this technical failure could be the recent swell of VE Day reminisces but I reckon the valve itself has been under pressure since lock-down, when bimbling around in the Knumptywagen and recording many of our travelling experiences became a dangerous, anti-social and unauthorised activity.
So, exhorted by a dear friend, mentor and fellow-blogger (I still dislike the term), I’ve felt it incumbent on me to continue to push an erratic supply of vaguely travel-oriented blatherings into the ether.
Thus Tenby. In Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Many of you will be familiar with this charming and delightful seaside town – which we have enjoyed visiting on several occasions. Granted it’s not the most hospitable location for a Knumptyvan as most of the recognised campsites are just a little too far out-of-town. Instead, we have been wont to follow our touring ethos of ‘wild’ camping (as discreetly as possible, you understand) and to only stay in suitable locations for an overnight or two where circumstances allow. Thus, on our visits to Tenby, we have tucked ourselves unobtrusively into the huge coach-and-car-park hidden in a quarry-like setting from where a short scramble gets you onto The Croft above and overlooking the uplifting expanse of Tenby’s fine North Beach.
But it is not to these visits that I wish to allude. Instead, with the Valve yet to undergo repair, l shall let its pressured stream bear us back to childhood holidays on those golden sands. I had assumed that we must have enjoyed many family holidays here, although Mother believes we only took two summers – one in the Castle Hotel (we think) and one in a quaint terraced house located right on the Harbour Beach, which might have been called Fisherman’s Cottage, but now can’t be traced in my limited, impatient (and probably inept) research.
Whatever. It was in this house we enjoyed a summer of fun: crabbing, rock-pooling, wandering the magical streets and Castle Mound (adorned with real cannons, I’ll have you know); picnicking on the beach and playing a boardgame called Flounders, amongst other holiday delights. These included a mackerel-fishing trip with a skipper whose name, I still recall, was Jimmy; a weathered, traveller-like-figure with pony-tail and pirate’s ear-ring, both of which fascinated me in equal measure with the writhing, silvery-blue mackerel we liberated with abandon from their rightful domain in glittering Cardigan Bay.
Another memorable holiday delight was our daily visit to a small, shed-like kiosk nestled cosily against the upper-harbour wall. From amidst an impressive array of buckets, spades, fishing nets and beach-balls, a lady here would sell us pocket-money lollipops from a jar – exotic in their flattened, disc-like shape, their caramel colour and a now-long-forgotten flavour.
It was to here, much to my overwhelming amazement and excitement, that one of my Mother’s numerous brothers, Uncle Jack – visiting us for the day – escorted me to facilitate the purchase of an aspirational gift, the likes of which I had never believed could possibly ever come into my possession. As balsa-wood gliders go, this surely was the pinnacle. A feat of engineering which included a large rubber band; an oversize red plastic propeller and even a wiry bit of undercarriage with working wheels, ostensibly to facilitate a runway take off, under its own motive force.
The simple but awe-inspiring components were duly unpackaged and assembled on the harbour-side, where we sat, my Uncle and I, our legs dangling as if A.A. Milne might have had a hand in it. The flying machine took shape in front of my eyes – both still agape at my good fortune – until the craft was pronounced in a ready state. A finger-winding test of the propeller caused the stretched elastic band beneath the fuselage to twist once, then twice then knot itself into a taut, straining skein of bulging, latent power.
Onto the firm, flat sand surrounding the harbour, where our maiden flight was self-aborted when its rapidly unwinding propellant exhausted itself as the undercarriage slewed sideways into the frictionful sand. An aerial hand-launch, therefore, was deemed our next sortie, proving slightly more complex than expected, as Uncle Pilot Jack had to hold both the fuselage in conjunction with the propeller, to prevent it unwinding before launch.
Whoooo hooo! There it goes! And so it did. With a gentle thrust the little craft – its spinning propeller all but invisible to the naked eye – gamely climbed above head height, pitched and yawed a little, climbed gloriously higher – and then flew straight into the unforgiving harbour wall, where it broke into pieces and fell to an ignominious crash-landing on the sand. A sudden unbelieving silence ensued. We ran to the crash-site and forlornly collected up the broken parts. Even now, I can still recall the combined sense of both sheer elation and abject disappointment – each experienced in almost the same breath.
And yet, in the face of this abject disappointment, like a Magician wielding both top hat and rabbit, Uncle Jack had a further avuncular treat to impart. With a gleam in his eye and not a word spoken, he diligently replaced the shattered pieces into the paper-sleeve wrapper, drawn with a conspiratorial smile from his pocket. ‘Come with me’ he said, and while I wiped a tear from my eye, we returned to the lady in her kiosk were – disbelievingly – I was exposed to my first experience of adult duplicity. Here, with head held high, Uncle Jack unashamedly proclaimed that the aeroplane we purchased less than an hour ago was ‘like this when we got it’ and tipped the shattered pieces onto the counter.
Transfixed with awe, I recall very little of the ensuing negotiations, except my dazed and incredulous state as I walked back onto the shining sand, clutching a brand-new replacement balsa-wood plane – in the company of an Uncle who was now both a Hero – and a Petty Criminal.