GEORGE Clarke and his Amazing Spaces TV programme led me down a long tunnel this weekend. Now I quite like George, especially when he is being Restoration Man, a sort of architectural super-hero who swoops in to help people salvage interesting old buildings. Or to watch them mess the job up for our entertainment on Channel 4.
But sometimes his programmes are too egotistical and a little silly. This side of George is less easy to love.
For his next series of Amazing Spaces, George is running a design-a-beach-hut competition in which twelve winners will be given £8,000 each by Christchurch borough council to build their huts at Highcliffe on fragile cliffs designated as a site of special scientific interest.
One outraged resident was reported as saying: “Just to get some publicity for a TV programme that is here today, gone tomorrow, we’re getting our clifftop ruined.”
Those cliffs have been fragile for a long time. I know this because my grandparents owned a holiday home there that eventually went over the edge.
Now this all happened a very long time ago, and at first I wasn’t even sure if this Highcliffe was the one from my childhood holidays. For a start the report said the town was in Dorset, whereas the one we used to visit was in Hampshire, not too far from my grandparents’ home in Southampton.
A little Google delving revealed that boundaries are fluid round there, and Highcliffe used to be in Hampshire but has now been claimed by Dorset. So that question was answered. Everything else here is a mixture of long-distant memory and things I have been told. As is the way, some of these memories may be unreliable and not consistent with what other family members recall.
My grandparents lived a modest life, so it might seem odd that they had a holiday bungalow. From what I can gather, that was down to Uncle Harry; he was the one with money, and he must have provided the place for them in some way or other.
By the time we used to visit in the 1960s, they had a different bungalow further from the doomed one on the cliff edge. My memories are clear in parts, patchy in others. The bungalow was raised off the ground, I remember that, and had a large central living area with bedrooms off to the side. My mother, who happened to be visiting at the weekend, recalls that there were three bedrooms.
I remember a few things for sure, including being woken by my mother, only to tell her it couldn’t be morning as I’d only just fallen asleep. How I look at that boy with envious eyes from the restless hillock of middle age.
I remember crawling under the bungalow, playing on the beach, and the boy next door who ran bare-chested into a rose bush and had to be untangled from its cruel whippy stems.
New bungalows were built on the space opposite, but when the footings first went in, adults from the existing bungalows stole out at night to pull up the posts, in the hope of deflecting the inevitable.
I remember fresh air and brothers and cousins, and being on the beach. When I was two I ran fully clothed into the sea at Highcliffe, although I don’t recall that.
Mostly what I have now, all these years later, is a drifting memory of holidays taken long ago. My grandmother’s face looms in and out of view. She was kindly as I recall, but she had a stern side. My mother tells me that before you left you had to tidy the place and clean the windows. And there were a lot of windows.
She recalls her mother-in-law saying that one visitor hadn’t cleaned the windows at all and she’d found a sweet wrapper under a bed after they’d gone. That guest was her own daughter and my auntie, now long gone, like a few players in this game of drifting memories.
My mother tells me that some of the holiday homes were made from old railway carriages, something I don’t recall.
I hadn’t thought of Highcliffe in years, until George Clarke blundered in with one of his gimmicks for the television. As for those friable cliffs, they have long been designated as a site of special sentimental interest for me. So I am happy to lend my outrage to the annoyed locals.