Remembering childhood holidays in Scotland and my first venture into politics

Gerry Hassan

July 20th 2016

Everybody’s first experiences of summer holidays are always likely to be special – tinged with evocative memories and memorable moments.

My earliest recollection of a summer holiday was the sojourn from Dundee to Girvan in 1969, just before I went to primary school. This trip involved my dad’s light green coloured Volkswagen Beetle; the experience of which left me with a deep-seated affection for such cars.

It was the only family holiday on which my maternal granny, Flo (who my mum never got on with all her adult life) also came along. I was too young to pick up any antagonisms between the two, such were the diversions of the Girvan beach and making sandcastles. But it was also my first ever experience of staying in a hotel, and one which overlooked the sea, and the mightily impressive Ailsa Craig.

I cannot remember anything else about the accommodation bar the view, but I do recall clearly two moments of the break. One was going to Souter Johnnie’s cottage in Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, and being trapped in the garden with the statues when the place closed for the day. My parents, like David Cameron once, took a few minutes to realise they were missing a child, even though they only had one, and in that short time, I was petrified that the statues were going to come alive.

The other was visiting the hub that was Prestwick airport, and seeing these huge planes travelling to far-flung places. Truth, I do vaguely recall not being that impressed with Prestwick, it not matching up to my child like impression of how big and busy an airport should be. Much more futurist and flashy several years later, was to my mind the opening of Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital.

A second holiday two years later saw us travel the huge distance of twenty plus miles from Dundee to the old fishing port of Auchmithie, just past Arbroath. We stayed in the Lobster Pot hotel perched on top of a cliff, overlooking the ruined harbour, and this was a place we returned to many times in my youth.

Even in those days, my parents and myself did think there was something a bit comic about travelling such a short distance, particularly, when some people came from as far afield as Glasgow. Even though the Lobster Pot has long since sadly gone, Auchmithie remains one of my favourite, magical places (and one used for example in the film version of Michel Faber’s ‘Under the Skin’).

These memories of holidays seem more evocative than the following year’s trip to stay in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, with my auntie Sylvia. She was a lovely, warm woman, who had been married to my uncle George, who had died a year before, had risen to be deputy editor of ‘The Courier’, and who everyone seemed to love. This trip involved a visit to London to see the Tutankhamen exhibition, but all I can remember of the whole museum, was the paraphernalia of security checks, because of the ongoing IRA bombing campaign.

One other strand of my childhood hols was managing to avoid the threat of Blackpool. This was where lots of other people we knew went, and although we liked them and their company, and they all seemed to have a good time, it seemed obvious that there was little point going on holiday to a place where the whole of Dundee, as well as Glasgow, moved for the summer.

The summer my parents most went on about Blackpool, was the scorching summer of 1976, in which there were water shortages down south, an economic crisis, and had just been a Labour leadership contest which witnessed the party change Prime Minister while in office. Just like today, but with Labour in office, so in some respect, completely unlike today.

We went to Abingdon again, and had a really enjoyable time, but upon my return one of the most striking things happened in any summer. By this time I was playing golf fairly regularly, and was decent at it, my father having been a good player until his forties, having won a few amateur national tournaments.

I was playing golf with my then best pal, Angus. We were practicing our swings together in an open space; I took a big swing when Angus was behind me, and cracked him full on in the head. There was a horrible noise, a spurt of blood, and he fell. He then got up dazed and ran off. I then dashed home, and can always remember the first words I said: ‘mum, I think I have killed Angus.’ Of course, I hadn’t, but it added to the moment, and later, the story. Angus was fine, although I just missed taking out his eye.

That summer saw the first political argument I can ever remember just weeks after the above incident. Tony Benn had stood for the Labour leadership, and faced the full wrath of Daily Mail land. We were sitting around the back of our tower block, a bunch of young folk, and after we joshed about me nearly killing Angus, somebody about my age came up with the political insight that ‘Tony Benn is a Communist.’ I came up with the perfect retort, knowing what a Communist was, as my dad had been in the party. I replied that ‘Tony Benn is not a Communist as he is not a member of the Communist Party’.

I was met with silence. I had won my first political argument without at the time even realising. A life of disappointment was thus born. It would never be as simple or clear-cut again.