Delighted to welcome back memoir author Sherri Matthews with four posts sharing her experiences of childhood and teens and living in the UK after many years in California. This week Sherri shares childhood summers and those spent at the coast in California…and tea…
The Great British Staycation and A Brew Up – California Style
A news report stated that due to the Great British Summer we recently enjoyed (all three weeks of it, now, sadly, just a distant memory…), travel agents were reporting a 20 percent drop in holiday-makers booking last-minute getaways to the sun.
To me, this just shows that an awful lot of families, particularly those with young children, would prefer a British ‘staycation’ over all the hassle and stress that a holiday abroad brings, if only there could be a guarantee of plenty of sunshine.
The type of holiday that we of a certain generation took without so much as a backward glance, sunshine or not.
Who can forget those lazy, hazy days of summer spent at the seaside (in our case Brighton Beach) with our buckets and spades, old blankets spread out on a nice, sheltered (if we were lucky) not-too-rocky spot, wicker picnic basket crammed full of sandwiches and cakes and lemonade kept fresh in Mum’s well-used Tupperware drink’s holder?
Now, I realise that by using the word ‘hazy’, I am perhaps giving the impression of it being balmy and warm, but in reality it was usually pretty damn cold with us kids shivering and turning blue, having come out of the sea after a swim paddle, but that was half the fun of it!
Me at the Seaside enjoying a true Great British Staycation – notice the bucket, spade and sandcastle. 1960 something….oh, and the swimming costume (sorry, swimsuit) is red. (c) Sherri Matthews 2013
Me at the Seaside enjoying a true Great British Staycation – notice the bucket, spade and sandcastle. 1960 something….oh, and the swimming costume (sorry, swimsuit) is red.
After being wrapped up and cuddled in a towel by Mum or Dad until we were warm enough to feel our no-longer-numb limbs again, we would then be given money to rush off and buy an ice cream. Go figure! Sitting on the blanket, ice cream leaking out of the bottom of the wafer and dripping all the way down our arms in a right sticky mess, the sharp wind whipping up the sand as it smarted across our freckled faces, we would proudly admire our sandcastles before the tide closed in to wash them all away.
Then it would be home for tea, and that always meant Fish & Chips! Out of newspaper!
My own children were raised in California, and as much as I loved, and indeed embraced, what many long summers spent in America gave us, I was intent on sharing as much of my very British childhood with them as possible. Of course, living in California, the beach was never far away and many a happy day was spent loading the kids up in the car with the cool box, beach umbrella, chairs and yes, the buckets and spades (pales and shovels!) to hand.
But there was something missing.
The wicker picnic basket! I had to have one of my own. No picnic, trip to the beach was complete without one. I was on a mission and when I’m on a mission I am very, very determined. Unfortunately, the only wicker picnic baskets I could find at the time (it being the 90s and before picnic baskets were ‘in vogue’) were very, very expensive and rather exclusive. Way out of my league, in other words.
However, the merest mention of this to my mother during one of our regular transatlantic telephone calls, and she knew what she had to do. If you want to know where I get my tenacity from, you only have to know my mother.
The next thing I know, Mum is calling me to tell me that she has not only found the perfect wicker picnic basket (in a charity shop!!), but she has kitted it out with a brand new blue and white check gingham lining, matching napkins, a blue melamine plate and bowl set for six and matching cutlery. She would bring the hamper with her when she next came to visit.
This is the original picnic basket from all those years ago, notice the leather straps! The inside isn’t so pretty now unfortunately, a job for Mum to re-line it perhaps? (c) Sherri Matthews 2013
For her, this was no problem. My Mum was, and still is, like Mary Poppins. What she hasn’t packed in her suitcases in her time you don’t want to know about!
Remember those days when you were allowed two large suitcases on a long haul flight without the fear of excess charges? What a mercy for that! Mum packed the basket inside one of her suitcases, alongside all the usual goodies that we craved: Tea, Marmite, Crunchies, tubes of Smarties, Bird’s Eye Custard, serval McVities Ginger Cakes, you know, all the good stuff.
After that, for year’s to come, no picnic was complete without the basket. Of course, we also had the cool bag, it being too hot in California not to keep food in one, but the basket always came. However, I had one more thing that I insisted upon to make our British style picnics in California complete. I wanted to be able to have a ‘brew up’.
Now I’m not talking about making homemade beer or wine here. No, I’m talking about make what we British drink no matter what the weather, no matter where we are and especially when in crisis…we have a cup of tea! Except that I wanted to be able to actually make the tea, in a teapot.
Call me tea-mad, call me sentimental, call my anything you like (barking?) but, once again, I was on yet another mission. So, my dear Mum then acquired for me a delightful (and blue!) camping tea kettle. It even had a whistle! Not only that, she also produced a camping teapot! I found a single-burner calor gas stove at a camping shop and we were in business. Packing the tea bags, a container (Tupperware, of course) of milk and some sugar, our picnic was complete and I was in tea heaven!
So there we would be, sitting on the beach overlooking the wild Pacific vista, eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, ice-cold watermelon and Jello, and all the while my heart would be filled with joy at the sound of the calor gas gently hissing with my little camping tea kettle happily whistling away.
Oh, and just in case you are wondering, yes, we did get some very strange looks over the years. You can just imagine it, I’m sure, and what they must have thought. I can assure you that I never did see anybody else doing this in all the 17 years I lived in California!
Perhaps I might be surprised to learn that I have started a new trend, you never know. My children thought I was crazy and were, of course, embarrassed but isn’t that a parent’s job, to embarrass their children?
But it was mission accomplished!
After all, what could be more evocative of the Great British Staycation than sipping a cup of lovely tea while sitting on a beach on a hot, summer’s day, watching the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean come crashing down on the golden sands of a beach in sunny California?
The enduring image of the Californian Coastline where I spent so many happy years with my young family. A Perfect spot for a lovely brew-up! (c) Sherri Matthews 2013
“How can you drink tea when it’s so hot?” Question asked of me by my ex-husband even after 22 years of marriage.
My thanks to Sherri for sharing the joys of Summer… whether at home in the UK or the California coast.. with a cuppa.
©Sherri Matthews 2013
About Sherri Matthews
While bringing her memoir, Stranger in a White Dress, to publication, Sherri is published in magazines and anthologies. Blogging at her summerhouse, Sherri writes from her life as a Brit mum of three twenty years in California, her misadventures with her jailbird dad, and as Mum and carer to her adult, Aspie youngest. As in life, telling the story one word, one day at a time, Sherri believes that memoir brings alive the past, makes sense of the present and gives hope for the future. Today, Sherri lives in England with her hubby, Aspie and menagerie of pets fondly called, ‘Animal Farm’ and advocates that laughter is indeed the best medicine
Memoir Book Blurb
Stranger In A White Dress
‘We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.’
~E. M. Forster~
Set against the backdrop of the late 1970s, the story of a chance meeting one summer’s night between two eighteen year olds unfolds: Sherri, an English girl living in rural Suffolk, and Jonathan (Jon), an American G. I. from California newly posted to a USAF base nearby.
They fall in love fast, but Sherri, delighted to show off her homeland to this “new boy”, soon discovers that although growing up thousands of miles apart, they share dark similarities, which quickly threaten to unravel their relationship.
Their mothers divorced from alcoholic fathers, both were raised by abusive step-fathers. Jon’s increasing drug use and resulting paranoia clash with Sherri’s insecurities as hopes of “fixing” him and of the stable family life she dreams of slip away.
Los Angeles and lust; obsession and rage; passion and the power of love: theirs is a love affair defined by break-ups and make-ups, and then a shattering revelation explodes into this already volatile mix, altering the course of both their lives profoundly and forever.
A tale of darkest tragedy, yet dotted with moments of hilarity and at times the utterly absurd, this is a story of two young people who refuse to give up, believing their love will overcome all.
Not until decades after their chance meeting, and during a return trip to Los Angeles in 2013, does Sherri discover that Jon’s last wish has been granted.
It’s then that she knows the time has come to tell her story.
Sherri’s Memoir is in the final stages of editing and will be available later this year.
Here are the anthologies that Sherri has contributed to. Click the covers to buy.
Blog A View from my Summerhouse: sherrimatthewsblog.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/aviewfrommysummerhouse
I know that Sherri would love your feedback and thanks for dropping by… Sally.