The following piece appeared on the Island Review website on 6th December 2013.
I’ve been coming to Anglesey since before I was born. At least, that’s what Mum used to tell me when I was a little boy. She would explain how I took my first summer holiday there inside her tummy. Mum loved Anglesey. To take a holiday anywhere else was almost unthinkable: she had been visiting the same five mile stretch of coastline since she was a girl.
Mum used to tell me how she had once found glow-worms near the beach, and had taken them back to her uncle’s caravan to show to her younger brother. Mum’s face would light up like a glow-worm every time she told the tale. I’ve never seen a glow-worm, but I could show you the exact spot where Mum found hers. It was in the same dip on the coastal path where, a generation later, my sister and I discovered a shrew. My sister tried to pick it up to show Mum. It all ended in tears.
We came to Anglesey every summer, my mum, dad, sister and me. My earliest recollection of the place is of staying in a leaky yellow caravan in a huge patch of nettles at the side of a rundown farmyard. It would have been around the time the Beatles split up. Whenever we headed off somewhere in the car, the four of us would keep ourselves entertained by singing “We all live in a yellow caravan”. The caravan itself was a health hazard. We never went back.
During the next five or six summers we stayed in a blue and white static caravan on the edge of a field full of other caravans overlooking a sandy beach. We loved it. It was the best place in the whole world. One year, on our way down to the beach in a high wind, we rescued several goldcrest fledglings that had been blown out of a Scots pine. Goldcrests, it turned out, were more tolerant of being child-handled than shrews.
There was a bunk bed in the caravan. I fell out of the top bunk one night but didn’t wake up. Mum and Dad heard the thud and put me back to bed, without a thought of concussion. My sister and I were inconsolable when the man Dad rented the caravan from sold it. But not for long. Our next holiday—and, with the exception of one ill-advised trip to Cornwall, all our family holidays from then—was at a farm half a mile farther along the coast. We soon realised that we had been wrong: this was the best place in the whole world. Our first few holidays there were in tents, then we upgraded to a caravan borrowed from Dad’s brother, then to our own caravan. The field in which we camped had stunning views north and east out into the Irish Sea, and south towards Snowdonia. We would spend hours down on the rocks in the daytime and evenings, crab-catching and fishing. I caught my first mackerel there. Come to think of it, it was also my last mackerel.
Eventually, I became too old for family holidays. I put in a final appearance in 1985, during my summer break from university. We played my brand new Talking Heads tape, Little Creatures, whenever we were in the car. I drove this time. Mum decided she liked Talking Heads. She liked the way they had a “yelly hooligan bit” near the end of every track.
Mum and Dad carried on taking holidays in Anglesey, often with my sister. They eventually sold their caravan and took to renting one of the four statics in the adjacent field. When Dad retired, they began to go there more often. Every time they arrived, the farmer would make a point of welcoming them “home”.
In 2009, when Mum realised she wouldn’t be well enough to visit Anglesey as planned that September, she asked if my partner, Jen, and I would like to go instead. She didn’t want to let the farmer down. Of course we said yes. Mum died a few weeks later, in mid-August. I was there when her younger brother, now 70, told the curate about the glow-worms. His face lit up as he told the tale. The curate repeated the story at Mum’s funeral.
A few days after the funeral, Jen and I took ourselves off to the caravan in Anglesey as promised. It was wonderful to be back after so many years. I showed Jen the dip where Mum had found her glow-worms and the shrew had bitten my sister; I showed her the goldcrests’ pine tree; and I took her on all my favourite walks. But I spent most of my time down on the rocks, just taking in the view and remembering Mum. It was the best place in the world I could have been. We returned home a week later with a handful of pebbles taken from the nearby beach. We buried one of them with Mum’s ashes: a little piece of home.
Jen and I have been back to Anglesey three times since then, always to the same farm, the same caravan. We’ve just got back, in fact. It was another wonderful holiday. I’ve still not seen any glow-worms. But there’s always next time.
“…wonderful. Science and history and geography and evolution and culture all tangled up in musings while walking about the moors around Hebden Bridge.”—PZ Myers
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