Monday, July 28, 2008

90% Perspiration

My family weren’t so poor that we had to eat cold gravel of a morning, but we certainly couldn’t afford to have a summer holiday every year. And when we did go on holiday, it was to stay with our great-aunt, who ran a boarding house in Bognor Regis (a semi-detached Edwardian villa at 25 Canada Grove, it’s now part of a residential care home, so it goes). British readers will know that Bognor has a certain reputation, courtesy of a century of day-trippers, Butlins, and King George V’s infamous death-bed comment. He’d already been to Bognor to recover from a serious illness in the bracing sea air, and was grateful enough to allow it to add ‘Regis’ to its name. But when he fell ill for the final time, and one of his doctors expressed the hope that he would soon be well enough to visit Bognor again, he raised himself up and pronounced the phrase that’s stuck to the town ever since: ‘Bugger Bognor.’

But in the 1960s I could find little to fault. There was the promenade, and the sandy beaches, with little tidepools full of mysterious life. There was the pier, not then truncated by a storm, complete with theatre, candy-floss stalls, and a slot-machine arcade that featured a laughing sailor that scared the bejeesus out of me. There was the boating pond for toy boats, and there was Hotham Park, which had one of the smallest zoos in the world (I seem to remember the most exotic animal was a porcupine), a Crazy Golf course, the other boating pond equipped with motor boats got up as dodgem cars, and later on, an extensive miniature railway. There was also a pretty good library, one of the first in Britain to boast a computerised catalogue, where one thundery August I read something like fifty UFO books.

Those were the days.

Although I liked Bognor well enough, I never really caught the holiday habit. When I was at university, I worked in the summer to stay solvent, didn’t have time for a holiday while working for my Ph.D, and then treated trips to academic conferences as holidays (don’t feel sorry for me; one year I visited South Carolina and Hawaii, stopping off at Los Angeles in between, and returning via the WorldCon in Chicago).

All of which is preamble to the fact that this year, it doesn’t look like I’ll have time for a holiday, what with being halfway through the second draft of the ongoing, which is due to be delivered in October, not to mention expecting at any moment the proofs of The Quiet War. Hey, but it’s still the best job in the world . . .

PS Unlikely Worlds Trufact: James Joyce got married to Nora Barnacle in Bognor.


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