My sunny childhood in a rainy place

"It was always sunny," he says. But then he - my brother-in-law - admits that he probably has a rather selective memory.

A sanguine memory, anyway. In his childhood, the family took its holidays in a southern Scottish seaside place, so the claim of sun every day is hard to believe. British weather just isn't like that.

Certainly when I was a boy, during our family seaside holidays - at Scarborough on the east coast of Yorkshire - there were whole days of continuous rain. They stopped us from going outdoors. When the clouds opened and the cats and dogs descended, streaming down windowpanes, swilling out gutters, bouncing relentlessly off the tarmac, outdoors became out of bounds.

So we had to stay in the hotel. Not that the Hotel Cecil was in any way disagreeable - we returned to it year after year, anyway. But that's the way it is with holiday hotels. They are not what matters most. Their function is to be the place where one spends as little time as possible.

My own few recollections of the Hotel Cecil might be accurately called gappy rather than selective. I do recall a darkish hallway, a swing door (maybe), a Ping-Pong table, and a glass box on a pedestal by a wall. This glass box contained a metal claw-grab operated by an external handle. The bottom was strewn with desirable objects, and a (deliberately small) chute.

My older brother found this box a personal affront to his acute sense of opportunity, and he (wet days particularly) pestered Dad for small change so that he could move the handle yet again to shift that claw-grab a fraction of an inch farther. I don't think it ever yielded up any treasure. It was designed not to.

The Cecil was equipped with the obligatory public lounge in which could be found other guests, some of them apparently in permanent residence. One guest prevailed on my parents to let her take me to the circus. For some reason they felt sorry for her and knew that taking a small boy to the circus would give her pleasure. Two other guests I preposterously subjected to a self- induced multiple-sneeze performance. (I was precociously theatrical.) Eventually, my parents discovered what their brat was up to and put a gentle but firm stop to his antics - in spite of the fact that my audience and I thought them hilarious. At least, I did.

I forget the Cecil dining room completely except that there were prunes for breakfast. I do, however, remember one bedroom, and that was for a very special reason.

At home, our preferred public entertainment was the cinema. In Scarborough, we went to live theater. I loved films. But stage performances were dazzling magic. I still think theater as much more of a holiday treat than film.

I wish that today I were as uncritical an audience member as I was then. To me it didn't matter what happened on the stage. It couldn't fail to be wonderful. I loved the troupe called the Fol-de-Rols, for instance; this lighthearted concert party entertainment could do no wrong. Going to the theater was, by its very nature, all starry-eyed excitement.

Best of all, theater took place well after my bedtime. When we went to films, it was to early performances. With theater there was no such choice. However, I was required to earn the waiving of bedtime by "having a sleep" in the afternoon.

This was a parental tactic of consummate nuttiness. If they really imagined that a small boy - all geared up for "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast" at the Open Air Theater - was going to sleep a wink in a bedroom suffused with afternoon sunshine in spite of drawn curtains, then they were deluded by a strange hopefulness.

I was tucked into a large double bed in a room that was not the one my brother and I shared normally - I don't know why. The unfamiliarity of this room militated further against any pretense of snoozing.

I lay there fully awake, excited - and worried. I was excited at the prospect of seeing the promised musical. But I was worried that I wouldn't see it at all. There were two possible reasons: The first was that I would have gigantic and opaque adults sitting right in front of me. The second was that it might rain. If it did, the show would be canceled.

Neither eventuality occurred. Indeed, for at least three years we attended musicals at the theater (now sadly derelict). We saw "Rose-Marie," "Hiawatha," and "Annie Get Your Gun." We took rugs to wrap ourselves in against the chilly night air. We took thermos flasks with hot cocoa. We rented cushions to make the hard benches slightly more bearable. And, having arrived in plenty of time, we watched the vast chorus troop in sporadically at the back of the big stage and disappear into the changing rooms. They emerged later marvelously transformed into mounties or native Americans or cowboys and girls.

When it was all over, I was more than ready for bed. Then we (rather slowly, as we were caught up in the crowds) returned to the Hotel Cecil, our home away from home.

Next morning, post-prunes, all we would want to do was get down to the beach as soon as possible to hunt for starfish and sea anemones, or to see if we could break our previous personal record for the number of lengths we could swim in succession in the open-air seawater pool.

It was mostly sunny, after all.

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