Every year, the Stevens family spends two weeks at the seaside in Bognor. The trip involves a series of rituals — they always take the same train, stay in the same boarding house, and engage in many of the same activities. It’s a routine that is also a break from routine. This book by R.C. Sheriff is simply a straightforward chronicle of their yearly holiday ritual.
Each member of the family experiences the fortnight a little differently. Mrs. Stevens is not as fond of the sea as her husband and three children, and they sometimes press her into activities she doesn’t enjoy. But she loves the silent evenings when she doesn’t have any of her usual chores to do and can just sit quietly while her youngest son, Ernie, is in bed and the rest of the family is out walking. Mr. Stevens, on the other hand, revels in almost every aspect of the holiday and has, over the years, developed lots of strategies for drawing out the most enjoyment possible. This starts with choosing precisely the right train car and continues with the balancing of family time together and apart and includes such important decision as to whether to rent a beach shelter—an option made more sensible now that the eldest son and daughter, Dick and Mary, have earned a little money to contribute.
Although the holiday is a joyous one for everyone, including the reluctant Mrs. Stevens, there are hints of melancholy around the edges of the story. Of course, there’s the passing of the fortnight itself, and Sherriff does a beautiful job of describing what it’s like to ease into holiday mode and then to reach the distressing point where you know there’s more time behind you than ahead. And then there’s the fact that time off means time to reflect on things that are making you unhappy — for the Stevens family, these reflections create peace and resolve and good feelings, but its not always clear whether those feelings will last.
Then, maybe saddest of all, is the worry that these September holidays may not last much longer. Both Dick and Mary are getting older and may want to do their own things. And Mrs. Huggett, their host, is showing signs of age, as is her boarding house, “Seaview.” How many more years will their home away from home be available?
However, despite these whispers of sadness down the road, the book is mostly about joy in the moment and how people find it. I found a lot of joy in the reading of it.