One of my finest school moments came in the first week of 2nd year juniors when we were asked to do a project entitled ‘My Summer Holidays’. As we did this every September while teacher’s blood alcohol level returned to normal, I had planned diligently and spent my summer holiday in Palma Nova collecting things that I might stick in my project book when I got back. Unfortunately for my parents and to the delight of my classmates I had been collecting flyers for wet t-shirt contests and Spanish prostitute cards from phone boxes.
Our family holidays were not done by halves, it was the whole family of uncles, cousins, aunties, nanas, great nanas and assorted school friends who’d somehow gotten the impression that this would be two weeks of whores and nipples. We’d go on two of these a year, one with my mum’s side and one with my dad’s. We did once talk about assembling the entire clan into one nightmarish holiday but that fell through due to the lack of 28 bed cottages in South Devon. Mum’s side of the family are all noticeably calmer and less nuts than the Walkers so that holiday was usually at the latter end of the summer, like a gentle pear sorbet after a skunk balti.
Departure day on Walker holidays was always a bit like the opening scenes of Home Alone, with half a dozen mental kids belting around my nan’s house screaming whilst Dad, uncles and granddads got pissed and argued about the best way to drive. Satnavs have removed this problem but in 1990 it was just four blokes and a 1956 AA road map trying to decide which A road to go on to find the Dead Zone, otherwise known as our holiday destination. Because there were nearly 20 of us we could never find a big enough house and so ended up in some weird backwater with some questionable ‘rooms’ which were clearly cupboards before we arrived.
One house we stayed in was known as ‘the spooky house’ by the locals because it was a foreboding gothic mansion with 5 floors and sat on top of a hill overlooking Perranporth. It looked like the previous occupants had just been shipped in from Transylvania in wooden crates with a bed of their native earth. All of the door handles fell off, leaving you regularly trapped inside rooms, and all seven of us kids were placed in the top attic room which had no stairs, just a step ladder and a paper sign saying ‘Stairs Broken’.
In some posh hotels and villas there’s a lovely welcome basket with locally sourced produce laid out for your pleasure. In Castle Dracula, Perranporth, my mum opened the fridge to find a whole sea bass staring back at her and was informed that the people in the house before us had been on a fishing trip and that we were welcome to enjoy this bounty. The woman showing us round told my Aunty Janet to ‘whack its head off and just boil it’. Once she’d gone to feed the wolves my uncles went and slung it into the sea and it really did take two of them, wobbling down the hill with the creature from the deep while the townspeople laughed their tits off .
First on the agenda for any holiday taken in the UK was to find a pub with a skittle alley. For some reason my dad and his elder brothers prioritised this above all else, I have a theory that it was because it was cheap entertainment that everyone could get involved in and was just camp enough to stop them coming to blows during the inevitable final round grudge match. In Stogumber, Somerset, we had a local pub which advertised its skittle alley, but we were dismayed to learn that it was in an outbuilding that was full of tractors. The landlord promised to clean it out if we came back the next day, and sure enough we played skittles in a barn with a row of tractors staring at us and rats scuttling about whilst my nana screamed to God to save her from these unholy minions.
Holidays abroad were always just as chaotic, with the added trump card of an international airport. My uncle Stuart would always find what he called ‘a smashing hotel’ by only booking places which were advertised in German. He had an inkling that these would be the best because German tourists stereotypically have high standards, and he had a point, we stayed in some nice places. The most obvious exception was the Don Bigote, which we thought must mean ‘Mr Bigot’. It was half finished, looked nothing like its picture in Das Ferien and was packed to the rafters with German businessmen who were less than enchanted to find a loud English family with several small children disturbing their quiet.
One night we were all playing Trivial Pursuit (not even the travel version, the big original box which my grandad insisted on bringing everywhere) on the balcony of the biggest room when the quiz Gods decided to fuck with us. Suddenly every question seemed to be about World War 2, and at the very moment that my grandad was loudly repeating a question about Herman Goering a huge group of German tourists assembled below our balcony and tutted loudly at us. The next question was “Which German city took most allied damage during the second world war?” A stony silence fell over the quizzers and it was decided by committee to steer clear of the history questions until the coach departed.
The bars we seemed to frequent in Magaluf, Palma Nova, and Salou were ‘family friendly’ theme pubs so that the kids could be entertained by a 19 year old DJ playing exclusively Black Lace while the parents had some peace and quiet and Carlsberg Export. In these bars, called things like Snoopy’s and the Green Parrot, it was a permanent party atmosphere, if your idea of a party was being constantly handed paper leis and encouraged to drink a cocktail which had a death count. My mum was actually thrown out of the Green Parrot for taking a swing at a guy selling photos with a chimpanzee. She had to be forcibly removed for screaming “Animal cruelty!” while he tried to jam a sailor’s cap on the poor creature’s head. My dad also broke the ceiling fan in that bar by seeing how many paper leis he could throw into it. (Fifteen). The Green Parrot later changed its named to ‘Bollocks’, which tells you all you need to know.
I won’t go into the myriad ‘incidents’, the goose stepping by my 6 year old brother in the dining room, and the night at the Spanish Evening which we now refer to only as ‘Black Fiesta’. Suffice to say that I managed to make ‘My Summer Holiday’ a thrilling read, and it eventually passed the censors with an 18 certificate for nudity and chimp related violence.