As a child The Willows represented our Easter Home away from home. This blog chronicles what it was like as a child to spend our Easter Holidays there during the 1960s.
Main picture: The Willows today with its revamped bungaloes
If it was Easter it was Willows. Dad’s holiday plans were never expansive or original. We never stayed away from home except for a week at the Willows each year. Modern parents would probably think that this was hardly mind broadening or inspiring for kids. If you can afford to rent a holiday cottage, why not go just a bit further as it hardly adds to the costs. The argument has a bit of merit but I personally think that repeating the experience enabled us kids to develop an attachment and lifelong memories whereas fleeting visits to a multiple of places leaves hardly a memory trace at all. It might be satisfying for adults but not for kids. We also got to know the other regulars and the kids. We would form a large gang and do stuff together and sometimes, maybe, even fight.
The Willows resort was at the sea on the southern outskirts of P.E. about 8km down the road from Schoenies. It is centered on quite a large tidal pool and comprised a place for a few caravans and more than 20 rondawels arrayed on the slopes above the coast. These were either single, double or triple rondawels, each gaily painted with its own colour and name of a flower. Most times we stayed in a double rondawel – Mimosa I think it was – near the entrance as it was close to the Railways holiday homes next door where Uncle Bryce and his family often stayed.
The rondawels were rudimentary to say the least. The floors were smooth floated concrete and each circular room had three steel frame institutional beds and mattresses and one free standing wooden wardrobe. One of the rooms contained a heavily scrubbed table and six chairs. The two rondawels were about 2m apart and connected by a passageway. This 1.5m wide passageway contained the entrance door and also doubled as the kitchen. Well, calling it a kitchen was generous. It had a table or simple cupboard on which stood a single solid plate stove and an immersion heater. That was about it. There was no sink, fridge, bath or toilet. All washing up, laundry and ablutions were in communal buildings distributed around the resort and, as far as I can remember, there was no hot water.
The piece de resistance were the long drops. They were stark, stinky and always buzzing with brommers and bees. There is nothing more discomforting for a child than to hang his bare bum over a stinky deep hole in the ground and to hear buzzing and it ain’t coming from the outside. It was not a place to relax and to read one’s comics. It was also not a good idea to have to go in the middle of the night as the parents would have to be woken and the hurricane lamp broken out.
That was the downside. For the rest it was a child’s paradise particularly in the relaxed parenting old days. Our parents trusted that we wouldn’t do anything stupid and let us disappear for hours. They were wrong. We did plenty of stupid things but somehow we all survived. Perhaps they didn’t care and were just relieved to have a bit of peace and quiet. We rampaged over the full extent of the resort and beyond. We played cops and robbers, fished, ran helter skelter over rocks, dived off rocks, dive bombed each other and competed to see who could swing higher.
Our least dangerous activity but the funniest for aspirant engineers was damming the shower outlet. There were 2 open, spring fed shower cubicles about 10 metres from the edge of the tidal pool.
For whatever reason there was a 1m high wall forming a square outside of the showers with a gap facing the sea. In additional, there was a spring flowing in a gutter through this area, through the gap and in an extended gutter to the pool. We would build sand coffer dams on each side of the gap leaving the gutter free and then push a whole lot of sand into the gutter to block it. It was then a race against time as the shower area filled and we fetched more sand to make the walls thicker and higher. The adults never seemed to mind that they had to shower in showers flooded to their knees, but then again, we didn’t mind either. After all, kids ruled that place – it was designed for us. We could never hold back much more than about a foot of water when there would be a breach and 1000 to 2000lt of water would burst over the beach – great innocuous fun for kids.
A common pastime was fishing. After the initial tearing around diving, swimming, chasing and swinging, we would turn to more mundane tasks such as fishing. We fished for mullets in the tidal pool. They could grow quite big – up to an edible size of 6-8 inches, not that we ever ate them. We would bait our hooks with spit moulded balls of bread and dangle the hand lines over the edge. If we caught one, we would dehook him/her and put them in a water filled bucket. If Dad needed them for bait, he could kill them, if not, we would throw them back again after we tired of our sport and tried something new. If we got bored with mullets, we would sometimes fish for rock bullies in the numerous rock pools at low tide. Here we baited our hooks with the innards of periwinkles which abounded the coast and made walking on rocks difficult. From this you can surmise that this branch of the McCleland family were not the world’s greatest fishermen. Barry and Graham, Uncle Bryces’s kids, on the other hand were great enthusiasts and even had their own rods and tackle boxes. Dean and I were a great disappointment for Dad.
Some of the best times were when they drained the pool so that they could get rid of excess seaweed. They would wait until spring tide and open a valve in the seawall just after high tide. As the tide outside receded, the water level would drop and drop and the fish would be trapped. Every kid and his parent was there scooping up fish into buckets. It was like a sardine run. For the kids, it was like stamp collecting. The results of your labour had no earthly use as most of the fish were too small – it was about bragging rights. Occasionally, an interesting thing like a poor old octopus would be found. It was great fun for kids particularly if dead low tide occurred at night when we would run around like demented fireflies with our torches.
I was about 8 years old when I was fascinated by my first sight of a bodybuilder parading around at Willows. I had never seen such a triangular torso and never since except in pictures – it was just so unnatural that I couldn’t stop myself from snatching furtive glances. It was like ogling an impossibly bountiful woman later in my life.
Over many years of irresponsible holidaying, our family only suffered two accidents. I was running across the rocks after Dad and Uncle Bryce on an early morning fishing expedition when I slipped and, in trying to break my fall, severely bent back my middle finger. It swelled up so violently that I was eventually taken to Dr McChesney who, ever practical, stuck a tongue depressor under it as a splint and bound it up. The throbbing managed to disturb my enjoyment for a day or two as they never prescribed painkillers in those days. Another time, Dean managed to step on a sea urchin and off to Dr McChesney he also had to go. This was rather more serious as apart from the stings, the spines tend to break off and break up inside the body and are impossible to extract completely. That stuffed up Dean’s holiday for a few days.
The most serious accident happened to Graham, Uncle Bryce’s son. They had hired one of the Railway cottages near us. Dad and Uncle Bruce were fishing on the rocks when one of the kids came screaming over looking for them. Someone was dispatched to call them and we went over to ogle. Graham who was roughly in his early teens at the time had been tasked with splitting the firewood for that night’s braai. He sat himself on a low chair, held the logs upright with his feet and split them with a hand axe. The inevitable happened – he missed. Instead of the log, he managed to slice through his tackie and split his big toe in half. There was a lot of lovely blood for a young boy to contemplate. It sure must have messed up his holiday.
Overall, it was great fun for kids but hell on the moms who probably had to work harder under those rudimentary conditions than at home. Thanks Mom for a great time over many holidays.
New and Improved?
The Willows Resort is no longer rudimentary. It has dragged itself into the 21st century complete with 3 stars, a conference facility and a website. It’s organised, probably great for families but I lament the charm that has been sacrificed along the way. They’ve even dropped the individualised flower names for the rondawels and they are now only referenced by number. In keeping with the modern times, a security fence secures the complex and entrance is via a boom. All the colours have gone and the buildings are painted a uniform sanitised white, inside and out – boring.
Although it’s lost its charm, it must now be great for the moms. It’s also great for kids as they don’t have to endure the long drops and the disconcerting buzzzzzzzing.