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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 82 - Bucket-and-spade Hulot-holiday days in Spain

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 my life.

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 rockbound coast.

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.

Now, such 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 follow.

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."

While my 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.

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