17 September 2010

"Harold, where did you put the playing cards?"

Both Mondo and I have mentioned caravan holidays this week. Caravanning was the Rudds' principal way of an affordable family holiday in the 1980s and I really enjoyed it.

We went to Sandford Park in Dorset almost every summer from 1976 to 1985, with the exception of 1982, when we took our first ever foreign holiday as a family.

The Dorset trips would be much the same. Lots of "are we there yet?" naggerama from the two boys in the back seat of the Cortina (later Sierra) until, finally, the sign for Holton Heath greeted us and we turned into the park entrance. Us two lads would kick a ball around and get in the way while the parents did all the responsible stuff like sorting out the gas, the bog and the awning.

In the early years, when my brother and I were both still in the infant stage, we'd sleep in bunks at one end of the van while mum and dad had the other end. As I mentioned in the Bolan piece below, apparently the death of Elvis Presley occurred while we were on this very caravan site. I would have probably been pushing toy cars around while this momentous news sunk in.

The summer of 1979? Patrick Hernandez on the radio that piped into every permanent building within the campsite. I never heard Born To Be Alive again until I purchased a second hand copy in adulthood, but the song stuck with me. Heaven knows why, it isn't especially good. The other song that seemed to be on forever was Tragedy.

Also that summer, just after my brother and I had been put to bed and mum and dad were having a cuppa in front of the dodgy black and white telly, Rudd Major piped up with a question.

"Mum, what's 'sillick'?"

"What's what, love?"

"Sillick," said the insistent nine year old. "Is it some kind of food?"

"Where on earth have you heard that?"

"That song in the charts starts with 'Sillick and chips...'"

My big brother had got confused over the opening lyric of I Don't Like Mondays, riding high in the charts. On the bottom bunk, I listened with six year old bafflement.

Mum tried her best to explain that it was 'silicon chip' and also what it meant. There was a pause.

"And what's 'cider head'? Is it a drink?"

The answer came in stereo from both parents this time, followed by laughter.


So even aged six, daft musical facts and memories were lodging in my brain.

The summer of 1980 holiday is very vivid indeed. As mentioned below, it was when Yootha Joyce died and my dad told us all via his freshly-acquired copy of the Telegraph from the onsite paper shop. "Oh really? They said she was very poorly," said mum. Don't know who 'they' were.

This year's memorable holiday song was Tom Hark, a tune I again didn't hear for years and years afterwards but now loathe with a passion thanks to its christ-mothering overuse by football clubs who can't trust their own supporters to make a spontaneous noise of glee when their team scores.

One night we had Top Of The Pops on the fuzzy, circular-aerialled black and white telly. I don't remember much of it, other than the Top 10 countdown which, clear as day, featured Tom Hark, Sheena Easton's 9 To 5 (Morning Train) and Abba's Super Trouper.

From 1981 onwards, we slept in the awning, and I'd like to think it wasn't because my parents wanted a break from the "what's 'sillick'?"-like idiocy from the inquisitive offspring behind the caravan's dividing curtain. From stable beds we went onto camp beds, the type where you have to sit down in the middle and horizontalise yourself with great care so you don't make the bed tip backwards.

This, nonetheless, happened a lot. Either one of us could have been having a dream that prompted much involuntary bodily movement and the camp bed would overbalance and wake us up with our head perched on the groundsheet, looking upwards at the rest of us, trapped in a sleeping bag. It was like being laid on the bottom side of a seesaw with nobody at the opposite end.

Only one way to get out of this mess...


The awning became our refuge though. All books, toys, games and other holiday paraphernalia was kept in there and we rarely had to enter the van at all. Dining would take place either in the awning or outside, depending on the weather. It got to the point when two growing lads were going on a caravan holiday without hardly ever needing to go into a caravan. That's the sort Clarkson would like, though he'd prefer a luxury hotel to an awning.

Sandford Park had lots of caravan aisles and surrounding greenery which allowed for footballs to be kicked, swingballs to be set up (I'm now gagging for a game of swingball) and badminton courts to be erected. Like everyone else, the communal lavatories were the preferred option when caught short, with in-van buckets only permissible during the night. Which was just as well for my brother and I, as upon waking up with a mild pressing urge to use the loo, the process of extricating oneself from the sleeping bag without toppling the bed took us to the stage of being completely desperate, and running to the brickwork stalls was totally out of the question.

There was a restaurant, though it acted mainly as a daytime cafe and did a roaring trade in sausage and chips. There was a games room, full of 1980s multi-button standards like Space Invaders, Scramble, Defender and any number of pinball machines. I loved pinball and my holiday spends went into those machines every year.

There was a family entertainment lounge where an acoustic duo would entertain the punters with versions of Darlin', Cruel To Be Kind, I Only Want To Be With You and If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me. Back then, I took the second half of the title as a literal usage of the beautiful body, as opposed to the probable meaning of bearing a grudge. They also, I recall, were obsessed with the Berni Flint back catalogue and had a song that to this day I can't identify, which was about a favourite pair of Wellingtons. The chorus went "Oh, me wellie boots..." and, er, that's it. I liked that song and through it, received the family nickname of Wellie which, to a mixture of shame and misplaced pride, still remains.

Then there was the Peacock Lounge Bar. This was the Holy Grail of Sandford Park, complete with beshielded knight outside (well, a bloke in a black suit and tie). I was barred from this place as it said, very strictly indeed, on a sign on the door "Children under 14 are not allowed in this bar". Unlike the brand of parent for whom alcohol and me-time was more important than their kids, my mum and dad never went in there but often I found myself loitering outside, jealously asking teenagers how old they were as they sauntered in and out.

The days out were memorable. We'd go to Studland beach regularly, there was always one trip to Poole, one to Bournemouth and one to climb on the ruins of Corfe Castle. Shopping was done in Wareham and most years we'd book our trip to coincide with Weymouth Carnival. Other places I remember from the road signs were Blandford, Morden and Swanage, plus the county town of Dorchester which, perhaps bizarrely, I don't think we ever visited.

I think I probably last visited Sandford Park with the folks in 1985. A year later we had a family holiday in Palamos, Spain, which I remember for my brother's inability to settle down on the coach journey home because his O-level results were waiting on the mat. That was the last holiday he went on with us; a year later, he had a sixth-formers jaunt to the same resort and I got on a coach to Blanes, another Spanish resort, about which I remember not much except for striking up conversation with a similarly aged German girl on the beach who had developed Barbara Windsor's assets quickly in life.

The last family holiday was in 1996, when I copped a free trip to Turkey with my parents as I was on such a low salary that my annual leave just meant going home or, if I was lucky, a train ride to my brother's house and a sleeping bag on his floor. That 1996 occasion was also my first time on an aeroplane. There are people who to this day cannot believe this, not realising that flights in the 1980s were comparatively expensive and so a coach trip to the continent was the more viable option.

Or, of course, a trip to a caravan site like Sandford Park. It still exists, as my brother took his own family there a couple of years back on the reasonable proviso that because he liked it so much there as a child, his kids should be allowed to as well. And they did.


Bright Ambassador said...

I hate caravans. That is all.

Five-Centres said...

Once and once only. South of France, 1978, topless beach club, I was 13. Can you imagine? Substitute by Clout piped everywhere. Very hot. Great times.

Mondo said...

Are you not tempted with a revisit?

We only did a couple of caravan trips, renting a static. Always fun but not to keen on clattering birds on the roof at dawn. Mrs M and I, and later with the kids have done the same part of Dorset plenty o'times: Studland, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, the Tank Museum, Monkey World, The Blue Pool. Our two tots love it. Summer of '79 for me is soundtracked by The Undertones Here Comes the Summer and I Don't Like Mondays (love the mis-hearing by the way), although I never actually bought either single.

Ps Funnily enough I posted Born To Be Alive last week