Before my parents had the revelation of holidaying in B&Bs, we always camped. As kids we much preferred the latter, but mum usually had the final say. Father was right there with us children when it came to camping, he loved it. He would go out early on a morning beach combing, bringing back what he called ‘treasure’, but mother called ‘crap’. Father loved foraging and could have given Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a run for his money any day.
It was on one such holiday that he came back with a bucket full of fresh mussels and winkles, a silk scarf for mother and a ball for us kids to kick about. The ball’s previous owner had obviously been of canine descent, due to the fact that it had been punctured beyond bounce, the silk scarf looked like it had traveled the seven seas before finally arriving washed up on our beach, and as for the bucket of mussels and other disgusting molluscs, we all refused to have anything to do with them.
Father was in his element. “We can all have fresh mussels for breakfast, we’ll be like Robinson Crusoe on a desert Island.”
“No, we won’t!” we all replied in unison.
This rejection of father’s catch didn’t faze him and he went off to get the biggest pan we had, filled it with water, placed it on the camp stove, and ceremoniously dumped his catch into it.
“Walter, we are not eating mussels, I’m taking the kids over to the camp cafe for breakfast,” and with that mother marched us off, leaving father happily prodding his pan of mussels.
By the time we got back from breakfast, father was busy eating his now cooked catch.
“You have to be very careful when cooking mussels boys, they have to be tight shut when they go into the hot water, if they are open, it means that they are dead. If one is open and you eat it, it will make you very ill,” father told my underwhelmed brothers.
“There’s no way that you’ll get us to eat any of them, there’re disgusting!”
Father did manage to get mother to try one or two, but she drew the line at eating the winkles. Father, on the other hand, sat most of the morning picking the tiny slug like creatures out of their shells with a pin and eating them.
The camp site was just a short walk away from the town and after our extended breakfast we set off, minus my brothers, who had decided that they were far too old to spend time with us.
One of our first jobs when we were on holiday was to each purchase cowboy hats. Why? I have no idea, but every holiday we went on, there’s a picture of us all in a cowboy hats.
It turned out that the man was standing outside of his photographic studio; inside he had several monkeys in cages, as well as the one on his shoulder. The moment that I was close enough to him, the little monkey jumped from his shoulder onto mine.
“Would the little girl like to have her picture taken with the nice monkey?” the man asked my father.
I was oblivious to his words, overcome with joy at the little creature’s attention. “Can I have it daddy please, please, please buy the monkey for me daddy”.
When the photo session was over and the man tried to take ‘Jacko’ (I’d already named my now, new, pet) back, I screamed.
“This is my monkey, daddy gave you money for him, I saw daddy give you money! Daddy tell the man, it’s my monkey!”
Mother tried to talk to me, but to no avail. Father, on the other hand, was bartering with the monkey’s owner, trying to persuade him to sell the small creature.
“It’s my livelihood sir, I can’t sell him.”
“Now look, you’ve got more than one, just name your price, and let her have the monkey!”
“Walter, you can’t be serious, you can’t buy her it. What would we do with it, and how would we get it back home?” mother protested, with a hint of panic in her voice, and I have to say that even as a small child I noticed that mother had gone a very strange colour.
She knew as well as I, that daddy was used to getting his own way, and that there was a chance that we could be sharing our tent tonight with a monkey.
Screaming and monkey-less we left the studio. Father and mother tried to console me, but it was impossible.
“What were you thinking Walter?” mother asked, “If he had sold you that monkey, where would we have kept it?”
“I really don’t know,” father replied. “But when I was at school a friend of mine had one, his dad was a sailor and he brought it home from one of his trips.”
Father told mother and I all about the monkey his school friend had on our rather rushed walk back to camp. He said that he had eventually persuaded the boy to swop the monkey for two white mice, but that his mother had made him take it back (under great protest from my father).
“Get that dirty creature out of my house now! It’s the devil’s spawn for sure,” granny screamed at my daddy, in her thick Irish accent. “That monkey has wreaked havoc at Mrs Smiths’ house, they haven’t a single mug, plate, or window left unbroken. They have to eat and drink out of tin cans. Plus she told me that it pulled the doors off her sideboard, then to add insult to injury, it lifted the piano lid and shat in it!”
Father said that for a moment in the photographer’s studio it was like he was transported back to his childhood, and all he could think about was owning the monkey he never had as a child.
“Although,” father said, “I have to say, I don’t remember that monkey smelling as bad as those in the studio. They smelt so bad, and I can still smell them, it’s like the stench is stuck in my nostrils.”
For the first time that morning mother looked as if she was getting her colour back.
“That wasn’t the monkeys,” mother said holding her hand to her mouth. “That was the damed muscles!” and with that she let go at both ends.
Mother had projectile vomiting and diarrhoea for the next three days, not good at the best of times, but when your loo is a bucket in a tent, all I’ll say is I think that it would have been easier to have lived with the monkey.
The rest of the holiday went off without a hitch, apart from me almost drowning, but that’s a story for another time.
As an adult, I have come to the realisation that not everything I want in life is good for me. I really wanted that monkey, (and would have got it, if it had been anything to do with my earthly father), but had I got what I wanted, life would have been very difficult. I didn’t have the facilities, knowledge or the ability to look after the creature, and it would have run amok. My daddy and I could only see the there and then, we didn’t weigh up the consequences of our actions. We both would have had to live with that decision to buy the monkey for a very long time — they can live for years. Although I rather think that had we got it, it wouldn’t have been for long!
Keep in touch, it’s good to talk…