Andrew Martin: You always remember the first time

The thing is...
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The thing is, according to research just published, children are taking their first foreign holidays aged, on average, three, whereas their parents first went abroad when they were 13. My teenage son is not going abroad this year, and is feeling aggrieved. "But you've been to France, Greece, Italy and Canada," I point out. "Too young to remember," he says flatly.

I first went abroad when I was 13: a package holiday to Lido di Jesolo with the British Rail Touring Club, and I do remember. My dad was experienced at "abroad", and I quizzed him about it for weeks beforehand. "What will we have for breakfast in Italy, Dad?" "Continental breakfast," he'd say. "Probably bread and jam." Bread and jam... on the face of it not wildly exciting, but this would be Italian jam. "You'll probably have fresh orange juice," he added, and that was wildly exciting. We never had fresh orange juice in York in the Seventies – I don't think it was actually available. "Remember," my dad would say, "it's a cocktail. You sip it."

We crossed the channel by Sealink ferry, and those were not the floating car parks of today but proper boats, by which I mean that everyone on them was violently seasick in the toilets. But I wasn't! So I was able to order a sandwich, or should I say, a baguette, because the ferry was slightly tainted with Frenchness. I prefaced my order by asking, "Do you take sterling?" and was disappointed that the steward just handed over the funny-looking bread and said, "35 pence, son".

The Gare de Lyon had palm trees in tubs on the platform, and every man seemed to be a secret service agent, and they would all insist on talking French. They seemed so much better at it than me that I began to feel a fraud for having been consistently near the top of the French set in my Secondary Modern. At midnight on the train, I opened the blind from my couchette bunk and saw a log cabin, a mountain and a man in a strange hat. "What's that?" I asked my dad. "Switzerland," he said. "Now go to sleep." Fat chance of that.

Lido Di Jesolo turned out to be a place I should have been living in all my life. Nobody laughed at my Bermuda shorts (which they had done when I'd road-tested them in Rowntree's Baths, York), and the breakfast jam did not disappoint. It was apricot, and I have never dared eat it since, just in case it is not the ambrosia of my recollection.