Tattooed on the mind

31st July 1998 at 01:00
Don't paint your body, and keep away from older men offering guided tours of the shrubbery. Andrew Davies remembersWest Country survival tips.

The photograph (right) was taken in Weston-super-Mare in about 1949. I think I look very sweet, sort of shy, in my rather long shorts. I'd be about 12. My brother, Peter, was nearly eight years younger.

I was brought up in Rhiwbina Garden Village in South Wales. Although there wasn't a lot of money to spare, we always had a seaside holiday - Tenby, Teignmouth or Weston, and a couple of particularly good holidays in Newquay, Cornwall. I suppose we were lucky with the weather there, and there were wonderful beaches with rolling breakers.

We tended to stay in boarding houses rather than hotels. There was a certain element of tramping about if it was damp because we couldn't go back during the day. I remember landladies being very strict with very loud gongs. There were strange, alien smells; not bad smells, but quite unlike your own house. And, of course, there were other people and everyone was trying to remember their table manners. It wasn't tremendously merry, but it was very character-building.

I used to play cricket on the beach with my dad. He taught me how to get into games. You hung around expectantly, joining in the fielding as it were. If they were decent chaps, you'd eventually be allowed to participate fully, bowling and even batting. I once did an awful thing when playing cricket. My brother wandered up behind me as I was swinging the bat back for a stroke and I hit him in the face. He had to be carried off to the first-aid post.

We were all very good sports, pretending it wasn't raining when it was. It was fine in the sea - I could be convinced it wasn't raining. I wasn't convinced, though, when cowering under wet towels trying to put clothes on.

I think I was a bit solitary. Having a brother so much younger was a bit like being an only child.

We chummed up with another family on one holiday. The dad had been in the army and had loads of tattoos. He didn't like them, and I noticed he only took his shirt off when he went into the sea. He took me aside and told me I should think twice if ever I was out with the lads and tempted to get tattooed. He'd always regretted it. It's a lesson I've always remembered.

There were Punch and Judy shows and donkeys, but I don't remember being thrilled by them. I used to go for walks by myself on the cliff tops; strange chaps would come up and ask me if I'd like to go for walks with them and I'd say "No, thank you". I was quite a pretty boy. I can't remember anyone warning me about this kind of thing, but I sensed it wasn't a good idea. There was a more sophisticated boy, the son of the family we'd chummed up with at Weston, who explained that what they wanted was to play with your willy - although I don't think we called it that then. He really was sophisticated; he was a monitor at his Saturday morning film club.

Andrew Davies is a novelist, playwright and screen writer. His adaptation of 'Vanity Fair' will be shown on BBC in November. He was talking to Heather Neill

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