As we’re slowly creeping towards our summer holidays, I just read an article in the UK Guardian about the best holiday books, a list that I have been saving since June. A compilation of nostalgic entries from a number of different authors and playwrights’ most memorable reads, in reading this wonderful article from which I have copied a list of books that sound enticing, my mind started to wander to which of my holiday novels stood out the most. Bear with me, as this is a long post - but probably an entertaining one.
I spent my entire childhood reading anything I could get my little hands on, and when I wasn’t reading, I was writing all sorts of nonsense in my journals. We spent almost every holiday in Plettenberg Bay on the South African Garden Route Coast, in a little village just outside the main town called Keurbooms. Everything, as one can imagine when an entire childhood of holidays is spent in one setting, is a blur. A flurry of novels read, magazines scoured for information about boys, diary entries, hot sand burning my feet, getting dunked by waves, sparberry soft drinks, magnum ice creams, sand in every possible crevice, standing on crabs while swimming: resulting in my running out of the water screaming, rainy days, winter holiday log fires, Christmas trees stolen from the side of the road… so much of that sort of wonderful happy holiday blurriness.
I remember always being the last one up, reading in the lounge and eventually dragging myself to bed where I would continue reading well into the following morning, until I had finished that day’s book. I went through all the phases of Goosebumps, James Patterson, James Herriot, trashy romance novels from a best friend, Ayn Rand, Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter S. Thompson, J.D. Salinger, Roald Dahl, Tolkien (The Hobbit over and over), Dickens, all sorts of other classics, CosmoGirls, Metalhammers, Archie Comics and a pile of other comics which I read on repeat. I remember well the white bedsheets with red ladybugs all over them and the way they felt, reading on the beach, reading at restaurants (to my parents’ dismay - they always wanted us to chat to them), in the car on the trip down (with my discman on full volume blaring angry teenager nonsense like Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park), on the way to the grocery store – probably also with my discman in tow - all the while getting weird looks in the condiments aisle because of the din emitting from my headphones.
But among all those mingled memories of holiday reading, the only book that really stands out to me with its own time and place on holiday was when I was fourteen. I was about to turn fifteen, and there were several boys from Johannesburg in town that I had mad crushes on. One was a blonde surfer dude with freckles, gorgeous golden white curls on his head who offered to put sunscreen on my back every morning. Another was a darker, shorter, but strikingly handsome boy who was staying in a house on the strip where all the really wealthy people build their houses – Beachy Head Road.
I kissed both of them that holiday! The blonde one was one of the greatest disappointments imaginable, he told all his friends that I’d let him kiss me straight afterwards, about which I was terribly embarrassed. The following day on the beach I wouldn’t speak to him, couldn’t look his friends in the eye as I was mortified that they had made fun of me, and I lay there, next to him, reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (getting ahead on the following year’s school reading – terribly nerdy).
In retrospect it was such an appropriate companion to that holiday! All the drama of kissing boys and my father’s great irritation that all I wanted to do was to see my friends on the beach. I was a little more like insensible Lydia, less like Elizabeth, but imagining myself much more like the latter! I wanted a love story! The blonde not only made snarky comments about my reading at the beach while everyone else was smoking and being sociable, but he also left me to drown in the ocean (not to negate how strong a swimmer I was at that point) when three huge waves tumbled upon us consecutively. Every time I managed to come up for a breath, I’d breathe in the next tsunami-like wave instead of air. Luckily I somehow managed to save myself, only to realize that the boys I had been swimming with were tiny specks on the beach looking for me nonchalantly, flattened hands raised to their brows in a stance that says ‘we’re looking for hot girls in bikinis – any one will do!’ Part of me, at that moment, wished that I had drowned!
I was very pleased that I hadn’t though, as the day before our departure from Plett I met said dark and handsome boy. He was much more kind, sophisticated and intelligent than the previous mishap and he invited me back to his holiday home for dinner with his family after a day of friendly banter at the beach. I was thrilled, but lamentably had no time to go home and change, ineluctably I worried terribly about the way I looked and smelled. Straight from the beach in a wrap and a strappy semi-transparent pink blouse, his lovely mother leant me a cardigan, while their personal chef made dinner (like nothing I’d ever experienced!). His seemingly much older brothers amicably teased me about all sorts of things, and taunted him about me. He had a shower while I listened to music in his bedroom, Liquido – Narcotic on repeat, and I felt my entire body tingling with the anxiety of being in his room (with the possibility of seeing his freshly showered, sporty torso), at his house, about to have dinner with his folks! He eventually emerged from the shower, fully dressed (to my great but very innocent disappointment) smelling wonderfully of clean boy.
After dinner I got a grand tour of the place, a tiny architecturally placed patch of grass in the middle of the patio which overlooks the beach that the house is built practically on top of, a personal movie theater underground, a billiards room… We watched Blade, which immediately became one of my favourite movies – one my parents had never let me watch no matter how obsessed I was with vampires. We attempted to play billiards for a brief period alighting instead upon a long, romantic, moonlit walk on the beach. He held my hand, we stopped to kiss, we walked a little further, sat on some flotsam log, kissed a little while longer until we suddenly realized our phones had no signal and it was WAY past my very leniently extended curfew for that evening. We had a very brisk walk back to the house, which took immensely longer than it felt on our way out until we ran into his family whom had been searching for us with flashlights! My father had somehow got hold of his mother and he was beyond furious, and on his way to fetch me. I was in a flat panic! Needless to say I was grounded and my phone was removed from me briefly, but for long enough to be incredibly painful. In spite of the drama, however, the boy and I carried on a long distance romance for a couple of months while he was on exchange at Eton in the UK. It was a delightfully romantic and eventful December, all of it, punctuated with the adventures of the Bennet family and my misadventures with my own family.
The following holiday, a winter holiday, there was a new boy that I had a crush on. Ending my relationship with the dark and handsome boy, an absent and lackluster romance by April, I started a new romance that lasted until the following holiday, in August. Mr April to August was my first real broken heart, but I don’t think he even read his schoolbooks. He was a rugby jock that destroyed the English language every time he opened his mouth, but a wonderful kisser, so we just didn’t speak much. By the end of August, heartbreak survived; there was a new guy, an Italian who played the lead guitar in a band. Fickle? Perhaps, but nobody can accuse fifteen year old me of wasting my time!
My only love affair from those days that well and truly lasted, however, was with Jane Austen and her fictional mastery. I can always pick up an Austen and disappear into nineteenth century England, but I will never again want to immerse myself in the drama of being fourteen.