These days, children go on four world cruises a year. When I was growing up, we didn’t have such luxuries, and had to make do with a more modest form of holiday...
Most people would trundle off to the seaside for a week or two every summer. Some families stayed in a hotel or a B & B, some families threw themselves on the mercy of Butlins, but the best families stayed in a big metal shed on wheels, otherwise known as a caravan.
I have two main memories of caravans – one good, one bad. The bad memory is of being dragged round caravan showrooms on a weekend, endlessly crunching over gravel and staring at wheels and towing frames, since I was too small to actually see into any of the caravans (caraven?) I have no idea why we went to these places so much, and it seemed like we went every week. To my knowledge, we never bought a caravan. Our modus operandi was to hire a big static caravan at one of the many parks scattered around the East coast of the country, and this was always a cause for great excitement. What would our caravan be like? Where exactly would it be parked? Where would I be sleeping? Well, the answers to these questions were always as follows:
1. Exactly like all the other hundreds of caravans on the park – sometimes with slightly darker wood paneling, or a different type of chintz on the cushions.
2. Next to a family with a barking dog.
3. On the brilliant double bed that was made out of a combination of a table and wizardry.
We always had our own shower, so I never got to see the toilet blocks in these caravan parks. I suppose I can live with that disappointment. But I always frequented the site shop, which sold necessities like inflatable dinghies, shortbread in presentation boxes, The Beano and a solitary, well thumbed dirty mag. So how did a typical first day of a caravan holiday pan out? Well, if you’re me, it went like this.....
5 a.m. Wake up, realise it’s the summer version of Christmas Day, leap out of bed yelling, only to be ordered back to bed.
5-7 a.m. Play with Star Wars figures.
7 a.m. Get up properly. Enter the kitchen to find a mountain of sliced meat sandwiches in food bags on the worktop.
8 a.m. Sulk because your mum has made you wear your best matching yellow jumper and trouser combo, and you look like a div in them.
9 a.m. Watch your dad attempt to fit everything you own into the car. Hop up and down with excitement until you need a wee. Get in your dad’s way. Dad insists you can’t take your Millenium Falcon on holiday. Sulk more.
10 a.m. Set off!
10.01 a.m. Turn round and come back because the mountain of sandwiches is still in the kitchen.
10.05 a.m. – 12 p.m. – Pass the time on the car journey in the following ways –
– keep an eye out for the sea for the entire four and a half hour journey, because “first one to see the sea wins a pound!”
– kick the back of the seat in front.
– make your parents play your Darts and Showaddywaddy tapes 20 times, once that becomes too annoying just entertain everyone with your singing.
– accuse your sister of biting you, whether she has or not.
– bite your sister.
12 p.m. Arrive! Wait half an hour for the caravan keys, then run into the caravan to have a massive piss.
12.05 p.m. Explore the caravan and unpack. Be relieved/excited that once again you’ll be sleeping on the magic fold out bed/table.
1 p.m. Go out to 'explore'. This must be done no matter how many times you’ve visited the place before. Exploring must be done in case someone came along during the winter and knocked all the arcades and cafes down, replacing them with other arcades and cafes. This never happened.
1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Spend £10,000 of your parents’ money on the 2p machines. Expand your collection of novelty erasers, plastic watches that don’t really tell the time and other assorted tat.
5 p.m. Return to the caravan, arms and pockets full of the afore mentioned plastic shite, stopping only for tea. Lose points if you have to eat the rest of the sliced meat sandwiches for tea. Normally, you can manage to wangle some scampi.
6 p.m. Go out for the evening! This outing could take several forms. Sometimes, we went to the ‘Family Club’, a side room of a pub that had sticky floors and knock off Disney characters drawn on the walls. It also had a kind of children’s bar where you could buy Panda Pops and flying saucers. And it had a more or less permanent children’s disco, hosted by a husband and wife team dressed as Cherokees. Many a happy evening was spent by me in the Family Club, taking part in kids’ talent contests and losing, failing to learn to spin plates on a stick, spilling lemonade on the floor, and making up my own dance moves to Blame It On The Boogie.
If your family was feeling particularly swish, you could spend the evening at a cabaret club, where singers, dancers and comedians of questionable talent paraded round the stage, bellowing Tom Jones hits at an indifferent audience. Our cabaret club was the Universal Showbar, and to my pre-teen eyes it was very glamorous indeed. It was DEFINITELY somewhere that required wearing your best stripey jumper and army pants combo!
9 p.m. Return to the caravan, red eyed and grouchy with tiredness/too much pop, and have some supper.
9.30 p.m. Bedtime, but if you were really lucky you got to stay up and watch Tommy Cooper or The Grumbleweeds on the portable TV before you went to sleep.
Mornings in a caravan were the stuff of legend for two reasons. Firstly, you were woken up by a dozen seagulls tap dancing on your roof. Secondly, the first thing you encountered upon waking was the smell of bacon frying. No exceptions to this rule – it must be bacon, and it must be fried on one of the gas rings in the 'kitchen'. There is no leeway with this, it is the golden rule of caravanning – always fry bacon, preferably for bacon sandwiches. Muesli is absolutey fucking unacceptable, and will result in being disqualified from the caravan park. Now you could really settle into caravan holiday life. This included (in no particular order)
– getting sand in your pants.
– getting sand in your pants despite having been nowhere near the beach.
– going round the market, buying clackers, and toy dogs on leads, and Mr. T stickers.
– playing tele bingo all morning, trying to get enough wins for a ‘Deep Sea Attack’ playset, but coming away with yet another frigging bookmark.
– visiting the Indoor Play Centre (if you’re in Exmouth) – a place so marvellous it will probably get its own article in the future!
– eating blue ice cream that fails to taste of anything but blue.
– looking out from the coast at the sea, and being convinced that every bit of land you could see was France.
– having donkey rides on the beach.
– constantly having to put the windbreak back up when it got blown over.
– insisting that all your Sar Wars figures want to go into the swimming pool with you.
– hanging your Six Million Dollar Man underpants on the washing like outside for everyone to see.
– burying your dad up to his neck in the sand while he sleeps.
Also we'd always be going in gift shops, and always coming out with trinket boxes with shells glued on them, despite having bought the same boxes last year. The ones from last year always disappeared. I suspect they found their way back to the gift shop, where we bought them again.
After two weeks of solid fun, you would all pile into the car and drive home again. Provided, of course, your family could fit into the car after you’d packed all the various pieces of crap you’d bought and won. These days, I don’t really go on holiday as such. I just turn my phone off for two weeks, close the curtains, and sit around in my pants watching Raiders Of The Lost Ark and repeats of 'Bobs Burgers'. Maybe sometime I should have another trip to Exmouth, even if I won’t fit on a donkey any more.