Castles of sand and stone;Holiday snaps;Summer school;Interview;Charlotte Bingham

14th August 1998 at 01:00
Charlotte Bingham recalls the magic of the seaside and childhood in the family's ancestral pile

The first holiday I remember as a child was with my maternal grandparents in Cromer in Norfolk. We travelled in grandfather's Rolls Royce from Sloane Street with Davis, the chauffeur, driving. My grand-father sat up front while I went in the back with my grandmother - until I was sick. Then I was put in the front and made to suck barley sugar.

It seemed a long way because we made innumerable stops. Our hotel overlooked the sea, and I had a separate suite of rooms with my Swiss governess, Lilo. Every morning after breakfast I would go with my grandparents to watch the lobster boats bring in their catches, hoping there would be lobster for lunch.

Days were spent on the beach splashing about and building sandcastles. My grandparents bought me my first bathing suit, which was pink, I think, and my first bucket and spade. They watched over me as I tried to learn to swim. I was the only child in the party. My brother, Simon, was away at prep school by then.

I spent most of my early childhood with my grandparents because my parents were abroad - my father was in Germany as part of the British War Commission. From the age of three I lived at Bangor Castle with my paternal grandparents, Lord and Lady Clanmorris. You could see the sea from the castle. The north of Ireland has an awful lot of wet weather, and I remember a great deal of walking in the rain and watching the fishermen.

The London grandparents also had a home in Sussex, and I remember lovely beach holidays in West Wittering. They had a beach hut, about which I was ecstatic. It had tea-making facilities and lots of games in case it rained. I remember endlessly playing Monopoly, Racing Demon and Happy Families and other card games. I still love beach huts. There is something magical about holidays in England for children.

When I was older and at boarding school, my parents would take my brother and me on holiday to France. We went to Cassis and Brittany, usually renting a house for three or four weeks. We were taken to restaurants and out and about, which encouraged our independence. I often took a school friend with me, and my brother was a good master of ceremonies, organising games and the building of sandcastles - and even getting us all to sing.

I could speak French, but became much more fluent when I went to live in Paris at 16. My parents spoke French and German at home. Simon assigned me to learn German while he learned French so we could understand what they said.

I sometimes went to stay with family friends in Switzerland and France. I remember being in the Jura mountains, stopping a lot to eat black cherries. I don't climb mountains. I stand at the bottom watching everybody else coming down and think: "I'll go and wash my hair."

The most exciting thing to happen on holiday as a child was finding a priest's hole in a house in Sussex. We went behind a fireplace and discovered a little room. Old houses are wonderful for children, great for hide-and-seek and that kind of thing. When I was a child we made our own fun. Holidays were very much in the style of Five Go Adventuring.

Charlotte Bingham wrote her first novel, 'Coronet Among the Weeds', published in 1963, at the age of 19. She was named Romantic Novelist of the Year in 1995 and with her husband, Terence Brady, has written more than 120 television scripts for series such as 'Upstairs Downstairs', 'No, Honestly', and 'Nanny'. Her latest book, 'Love Song', is published by Bantam this week. She was talking to Pamela Coleman

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