How I learned to love the humble caravan
A few years ago a very dear and much loved aunty of mine died very suddenly, which left the family shocked and bereft. At her funeral, her daughter put together a notice board filled with pictures of my aunty and the rest of the family over the years.
As we looked through the mad and marvellous fashions and haircuts; from cool 50s sophistication to the present day via the weird and wonderful decade that style forgot, the 70s, we noticed a common theme. Family holidays.
When I grew up in Britain in the 70s, foreign travel was something that only posh people did. I remember my dad going to Glasgow on a plane in the 70s for something to do with work. The plane was a small propeller-type thing and my mum, in a rare foray into the kitchen, warmed him up a prototype TV dinner on a foil tray for his return from such an exotic place. That was the only time I ever knowingly met anyone who’d been on a plane until the mid 1980s.
So like most people, we had rather humble holidays. We went to holidays camps. And we went en masse. Aunties, uncles and a whole array of cousins and assorted family friends. I remember taking a German pal of mine from Hamburg on one of these holidays and her writing a post card home to her family that said “Liebe mutti & puppi, Ich kann nicht beschreiben, was dieser Ort ist, aber ich bin gut. Ich vermisse dich. Steffi x” which roughly translates as “I can’t describe where I am, but I am well. I miss you.”
At my aunty’s funeral as we perused the pictures of us in holidays camps through the years, admiring the perms, the flares, the polyvinyl Donny Osmond bags and the enormous collars, we decided that we would recreate a 70s style holiday with our own children.
One of my cousins pulled the plan together and we went off to a bunch of caravans in Skegness. I’m not having a go at Skeggy here, well not yet anyway, but I think we can all agree it’s no Miami Beach. I can say this with some authority having been to both.
Now our children, who at the time ranged from seven to 16-years-old, are used to a far more luxurious state of affairs than we were at that age. They’re accustomed to luxury hotels in warm climes with beautiful sandy beaches, azure blue, sun-warmed outdoor pools and all-inclusive food and drink. To put you in the picture, the week before we set off for Skeggy one of my cousins and her children returned from a couple of weeks in California.
So off we went to our caravans in Skeggy. This was the first time I had ever set foot in a caravan, let alone slept in one. I’d always had an image of caravans as being something like the one featured in the rather aptly named “Hell” episode of Father Ted.
How wrong can you be? Well, pretty damn wrong as it happens. While I acknowledge that a 4’x4′ plastic shower stall is not the same as a large marble wet room in a classy hotel, the caravan we stayed in was actually ok. The kind people who’d been there before us had left washing up liquid, salt and pepper and other little touches that you normally have to spend a fortune on, and we in turn left some similar stuff for the people who came after us. Pay it forward caravan style, if you like.
We enjoyed time on the rather nice beach making sandcastles and big holes that were eventually used to recreate the Battle of the Somme, with buckets and spades rather than shells and mortars. One of my cousins, a fully grown man incidentally, made a spectacular fort out of sand using nothing but a flip-flop.
We saw shitty acts in the entertainment lounge at night and we even ventured into Skeggy itself; a town that will forever be imprinted in my brain as the centre of the known universe for mobility scooters and a place where the smell of chip fat permeates your very soul.
When we left, every one of the twelve children we took with us said it was the best holiday they’d ever had and to this day, they all long to do it again.
I’ve been in other caravans since. This year I, along with my best friend and our children, went on a Mother’s Day special weekend to Talacre Beach. It cost us a grand total of £109 for the ‘luxury’ option. I called the agent to enquire what ‘luxury’ meant. She didn’t know. I asked, on my friend’s behalf, if the ‘luxury’ option included a hot tub. The woman on the phone was astounded. “You do know this is a caravan in North Wales we’re talking about?” she asked, obviously thinking I was a pretty special kind of moron. “I tell you what,” she said, “to make up for having no hot tub, I’ll give you an extra night free.” Well, if you don’t ask….
We had an absolute ball. We went on brisk walks in the sand dunes, we went “ooh!” when we saw the lighthouse, we ate a local delicacy called ‘yum yums’ and we went swimming every day. When we got back to our caravan, there were no swan-shaped towels on our beds or chocolates on our pillows, but we did get to hang our wet costumes out to dry on a clothes maid that hung out of the kitchen window.
At night we had some good old-fashioned entertainment. We played the world’s funniest game of Monopoly with my best friend attempting a Donald Trump style take over of the property world and my eldest child buying a hotel “so all the homeless people have somewhere to stay” and I got über-competitive playing a game of “Logo.”
I think the reason I love caravans so much is that they take me back to a simpler time, a time like the 70s when I grew up. Sure, you have to lug half the contents of your house with you, you have to cook a lot, and the sight of yet another games arcade is enough to make you despair, but on the whole staying in a caravan is about spending time together and having fun.
When we were at Talacre Beach my friend went to the site sales office and made out to an indifferent sales rep that we were in the market for a £60,000 caravan, The guy told her that we could get “a pretty decent 2-bedroom” one for that kind of money. Was he kidding? We’d paid £54.50 each for the weekend and we were disappointed at the lack of a hot tub! Not a chance, buddy.
So while we can’t afford a caravan of our own, we’re happy to go on hiring them. Until we win the lottery, of course. then we’re getting one of our very own. With a hot tub.