1968 – Easter Holiday to Netherlands and the Rhine

This is one of those entries that overlap very much with my own memories.

Mum and Dad had taken a holiday on their own in 1966, to Porto Fino, in Italy. They rarely went abroad – Mum was averse to flying. An interest in canals and inland waterways had infected Dad as well as his young son, and he decided to take an holiday to travel to the Netherlands and up the Rhine and Moselle by boat. This was much more unusual at that time than it would be today.

Today, flying to Schipol would be easily accomplished within an afternoon, and indeed during the holiday we did approach Schipol Airport by coach. I gained the impression that Schipol was a new airport, but in fact it had been the main Dutch airport since 1949. We did not travel by plane, but instead took a train to London, stayed overnight, and then another train out from Liverpool Street Station, to Harwich. From there we travelled by ship to the Hook of Holland, and then by coach to Amsterdam. The “official” starting point for the trip was Liverpool Street.

Some elements of the trip to Harwich amounted to the mildly farcical. Dad was anxious to make sure that we did not miss the train to London, so booked a taxi to get to Liverpool Lime Street. The precise timings have passed into family legend, but I think that, for a train departing around 5.00/5.30, we arrived at Lime Street no earlier than 2.30; and those are conservative estimates of the delay. Dad was anxious about slippage time, and so (rightly) thought it better to be too early than to arrive marginally late. So, he left perhaps an hour to ensure that we boarded the train, half an hour for the normal journey time, and then……what if there was a blockage in the tunnel? At the time, work was only just starting on the construction of the Wallasey-Liverpool Road Tunnel, and so there was only one tunnel, from Birkenhead. There could be queues if the route over the docks was blocked by opening bridges being raised (much more frequent then), and if there was a blockage in the single tube tunnel, it could be quite some time before this was cleared. Plus, although he was a trusting person, it was just possible that the booked taxi might not arrive, and so an alternative would have to be summoned.

In the event, nothing went wrong, and he, Mum and three children had to spend at least three hours on Lime Street Station. We wandered up and down the platforms (cars could drive directly onto the platforms at that time, and the taxi had deposited us inside the station), and went into the somewhat dingy refreshment room, at the base of the disused North Western Hotel (much of which, used for offices since the hotel closed in 1932, was now empty). And waited and waited…..

After that, the journey to London was uneventful. We made our way to the Mount Pleasant Hotel in Kings Cross, London, at which the rest of the family (not Dad) had stayed in 1967; this was of incongruous appearance, having been built as a dosshouse in 1894 [It was demolished in the 1990s, and a Holiday Inn now stands on its site]. Dad was amused by the head waiter, who was very “Italian”, with exaggerated flourishes and accent; Dad smilingly wondered whether, if you kicked him, he might respond in broad Cockney!

On the next day, we went by train from Liverpool Street to Harwich. I recall Dad, a very heavy smoker, standing in a no-smoking compartment, hiding a burning cigarette behind his back while talking to an inspector!

It was when we arrived at Harwich, and were queuing to get on a boat while passengers disembarked, that Dad engaged in a musing that, nearly 50 years later, still seems a significant moment. Watching the people coming out – I recall one old man clearly – he commented that in life you see so very many people and yet never see them again. Perhaps this was a trite observation, but it seemed to me to convey something about this quiet and undemonstrative man. And how right he was – the huge dramatis personae that go across the stage of life.

More to follow…

Begun 19 February 2017; more on 15 May 2017