My father had a special holiday voice. My father wasn’t someone that you could describe as a jolly person really; he wasn’t particularly grumpy, but neither would you have called him life and soul of the party. Nevertheless, on holiday he would adopt his happy holiday voice.
Despite having achieved middle class salary and social status, his aspirations were modest: whilst his colleagues began venturing to foreign climes, we went to Bournemouth or Torquay, or Eastbourne. In later life, when his retired colleagues travelled further to Peru, or China, my father was still content to go to Bournemouth or Torquay, or Eastbourne. The significant thing about these holidays is that they were all virtually interchangeable. My summer holidays consisted of a stream of bed and breakfasts with similar, if not identical, families around us at breakfast. Different places though had different places of interest to visit. I remember persuading my father to play the king size draughts on the pier at Bournemouth. I really wanted to play chess, but my father was not up to a match that might attract a audience: a bit too high a profile for him. I remember visiting Stonehenge and having the obligatory picture taken of me appearing to push stones apart in Samson-like pose: the British equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa photo. That was my father.
Nevertheless the holiday voice is the thing that stood out most of all. Every morning on
holiday followed the same routine. My father and I would go to fetch the morning paper. On the first day of the holiday we would head off to a newspaper shop, and we would return to that same shop every morning of the holiday. How my father knew there was a shop there, was a mystery at the time: did he recce the location beforehand? Or did he reckon that there must be one somewhere? In flights of fantasy, I imagined that this might have been something pre-planned through his Masonic connections, and formed a channel for communicating with the dark powers whilst away from base. Or maybe not. Anyway that was what we did every morning, seeing the same people at approximately the same place every morning: and every day my father, quite a shy man, would greet these strangers with his holiday voice.The greeting was simply “Morning.” But the voice? Ah, the voice! This was what transformed this phatic exchange into something significant: friendly, positive, a celebration of life at the sea side. This was not the habitual sullen ‘Morning’ of a man going to work: or the cursory greeting from a member of staff at a hotel. This was a joyous thing. The delivery went 'mornING!' The first syllable relatively low to enable the voice to leap virtually an octave to the climactic ING!- spoken with a wide open mouth: a smile which echoed his sentiment. Fantastic.
Of course, there were some days where given the British climate, we would get caught in the rain. On these days I would run ahead, taking shelter to watch my father, who never ran in his life, walking very quickly towards me, with his special 'fast walk'. This entailed walking briskly whilst both arms performed different motions. One would pump back and forth furiously as if he was an extra in Metropolis. The other arm, however, would simply stream out behind him, like a rudder, acting as a stabilising influence without which he might career out of control and hurtle into a nearby display of rock and postcards causing untold havoc, and severe damage to essential holiday supplies. The voice, however, was still the same whether he was walking at a leisurely pace, or steaming along like a racing yacht. The funny thing is that only a few years ago I found myself doing that same greeting, beaming at total strangers like some drug crazed hippy! But as to the walk, I don’t think that I’m ready for that… not yet.