WHEN I was a little lad, with a
heigh-ho, the school-belt and the pain, one of my playground peer group
closely scrutinised my six Miracles of Seashore Life cigarette cards and
gave me, in generous exchange, one small, silken sample from the Flags of
the Nationsí series produced by the firm of Kensitas that showed, in
chromatic glory, the banner of Spain.
How superior it was compared
with cards showing glossy-haired, fixed-grin features of famous
footballers, languid-looking cricketers, and, when war loomed, air-raid
precautions, including one of a refined-looking female, genteelly dousing
an incendiary bomb with a stirrup-pump as if pouring afternoon tea.
The flag was
the fabric to arouse the imagination. For receptive minds, its colours
could have evoked a land of bullfighting blood and sand, haughty hidalgos,
remote and ineffectual dons, colour-riotous sunsets, flouncing flamenco
skirts, clicking castanets and photogenic fishermen with lined faces
resembling aerial views of the Sierra Nevada.
At eight, my mind was not up to
that but, as the school echoed to the classroom Buddhist-type chants of
multiplication tables, the sharp, chameleon-tongued strike of the
Lochgelly tawse and sounds of a piano accompanying a ragged chorus of Hey,
Johnny Cope, Are Ye Waukiní Yet?, I sensed that Spain, sun-bright and hot
and undoubtedly bothered - it was having a civil war - was somewhere I
would get to on holiday, perhaps in a less serious chapter of the story of
HOLIDAYS in Britain in the late 1940s and 50s could
be character-forming ordeals. While the sand in the sandwiches was always
rare and crisp and the sun, although sometimes pale and watery, often
shone, many days were battleship-grey and North Sea bathing was a
teeth-chattering, goose-pimpling experience followed, in my childhood, by
a parental, brisk, sand-flecked towelling.
Then, in 1954, just before the
great, package-holidaysí upsurge, resembling Dark Agesí race migrations, I
and a colleague spent a fortnight in Tossa de Mar, then a small cobble-streeted,
unspoilt resort on the Costa Brava.
It was like emerging from a
railway tunnel into daylight of azure skies, warm seas, soft, silken winds
and a large beach, albeit pebbly, that was daily occupied by little more
than 100 sun-soakers.
The atmosphere resembled that of the Brittany
seaside resort in Jacques Tatiís 1952 film, Monsieur Hulotís Holiday, in
which life moved like a sun-drugged saraband.
Inert and eyes-closed on the
warm beach, one could hear distant snatches of damp, salty dialogue, the
soft susurrus of the waves, the occasional joyful, spasmodic cries of
bathers and an inner voice emphasising that there was a holiday life
beyond even the many excellent resorts around Britainís stern and
OUR hotel was small but comfortable and the guests,
mainly British and middle-aged, showed no desire to dance until dawn or,
in a fit of madcap gaiety, fling chairs into the swimming pool (the hotel
had none) or otherwise behave in a riotous manner as has happened in some
Iberian hotels where I have stayed. All was placid and restful, a world
away from the Mediterraneanís concrete and glass, over-developed
coastlines that we see today.
I revisited Tossa for a day in
1975 and saw it, like nearby resorts, changed utterly to meet the mass
tourist migrations, its littoral lined with multi-storey flats and hotels
and, on its beach, a sun-lotioned mass of humanity, simmering in a
semi-nude Nirvana. The effect was, you could say, tatty.
so-called British bucket-and-spade resorts are considered outdated by
First Choice, a main British tourist operator, which, alleging that the
Costa Brava fails to provide extra activities for more sophisticated
customers, has dropped it from its summer brochure. Other operators could
I regret any dimming of the tourist sun beaming down
on Tossa, a resort, like other sea-and-sand enclaves that has experienced
the mixed blessings of package holidays - increasing prosperity along with
the tag, "We came, we saw, we spoiled everything."
Hulot-type holiday has vanished, engulfed by touristic waves, my interest
in the cultural, architectural, historical and scenic treasures of Spain
is, thanks to its start from that tiny strip of coloured silk, unflagging.