A guide to 80s caravan holidays

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 metal shed on wheels, otherwise known as a caravan.

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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, 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 panelling, 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 table and wizardry.

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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 and the Beano.

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 She-Ra 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 flowery culottes, 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 A La Carte Kitchen on holiday. Sulk.

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 two 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 Handful Of Songs tape 20 times, or just entertain everyone with your singing

– accuse your sister of biting you, whether she has or not

– bite your sister

ingoldmells

12 p.m. Arrive! Wait half an hour for the caravan keys, then run into the caravan to have a wee.

12.05 p.m. Explore the caravan and unpack. Be relieved/excited that once again you’ll be sleeping on the 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 and plastic watches that don’t really tell the time.

5 p.m. Return to the caravan, arms and pockets full of plastic crap, 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.

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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 Galaxy Showbar, and to my childish eyes it was very glamorous indeed. It was definitely somewhere that required wearing your best culottes.

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.

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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 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 Dea Attack’ playset, but coming away with yet another bookmark

– visiting the Indoor Play Centre (if you’re in Ingoldmells) – a place so marvellous it will get its own post in the future

– eating blue ice cream that fails to taste of anything but blue

– looking out from the East 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 barbies want to go into the swimming pool with you

– hanging your She-Ra knickers on the washing line outside for everyone to see

– burying your dad up to his neck in the sand while he sleeps

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.

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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 Teleshopping. Maybe I should have another trip to Ingoldmells, even if I won’t fit on a donkey any more.

19 thoughts on “A guide to 80s caravan holidays

  1. Tenby for us, late 70’s but same applied.

    Our’s was odd though because living on the East Coast, in a town dominated by caravan parks and apparently travelling to South Wales to holiday in a caravan park was in no way ironic. Rain is my abiding memory. Especially the year of the Fastnet disaster. Now that was entertaining as some of the neighbours just disappeared overnight in a Wizard of Ozesque blur.

    Without a doubt the abiding memory was travelling to Tenby. Perhaps that’s the main memory as once there, it was basically indistinguishable from home (arcades – check, chippies – check, beach – check, crap bingo – check, mountain zoo – bastards).

    As youngest in a family of 5, and in a car so full of crap that my usual enforced middle bastard seat position was taken up by my sisters need to transport dolls of all descriptions rather than a brother, I was of course consigned to the boot of the low quality dubious lineage eastern European family hatchback.

    Twice. Twice we were rear ended in traffic. Yet, this was still considered acceptable. Luckily I had a pillow and a mountain of stuffed toys to protect me. Airbags – shite. What you need is a crap knitted donkey your gran made called Donkey (I was an unimaginative kid) as crash protection.

    Best years :

    1977. The year when the brakes failed on the car and my dad drove to S.Wales using only the handbrake. He knew the brakes were screwed and lodged the tin of sweets for the journey under the handbrake it so that when he needed to stop he could pretend to my mum that he was just moving the handbrake to get access to the sweets. SHE NEVER REALISED.

    1978. The year we got lost and had to be escorted off a live firing range by a man in a tank thing. Was amazing. Dad got a proper bollocking.

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    1. Unfortunately, a girl’s need to take all her barbies on holiday is stronger than the need to not put siblings in the boot, sorry. Can sympathise with the firing range thing – my mother once accidentally drove us into THE TURKISH ARMY BASE in Cyprus – no idea how she did that to this day

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Butlins usually for us. With friends of parents whose kids were always idiots. I bottled the talent show and left a “friend” to forget the Brotherhood of Man lyrics alone. Or was it The Dooleys?

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  3. I’m going to have to do a massive Ingoldmells write up sometime – my mama and grandad had a static of their own in Glen Park opposite Eastgate for about 15 years, and I spent countless days there. I’m guessing you’re a bit younger than me, as I used to play the arcades at the Indoor Play Centre, but never the soft play (sounds a bit dodge).

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    1. I don’t remember arcades there (must have been too young), but the soft play was awesome: they had a big spinny bowl thing that you all sat and threw up in, a Noah’s Ark, and an indoor one of these called the “Cresta Run” https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/08/92/2b/e9/toboggan-ride.jpg

      Cafe was brill too – chocolate milkshakes, and a funny little vending machine that sold dinosaur badges with puns on them “D’yathinkesaurus” etc 😀

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      1. Is it actually possible that there was more than one? The one I’m thinking of was up towards the cash bingo (where my mama wouldn’t set foot, for mysterious reasons — I think it’d been a cinema once, ‘magine that!) and in front of the Four Winds “social club” (social club because you paid 20p dues for the year and got to drink after hours). I can’t remember anything as awesome as that Cresta Run thing, though, I’d have hauled myself down that no matter the age restriction.

        I do remember the indoor pool on the market, though — they didn’t chlorinate it, and got in health and safety trouble (I assume Woody missed the payoff that month), so then they went to the extreme, and the pool was actually more chlorine than water.

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  4. North Wales with my nan, who was a relentless buyer of caravans.

    I always came home with either a crappy RC car which was actually tethered to the controller and only turned in reverse, or the ubiquitous ‘archery set’ that had suckers on the arrows, which wouldn’t stick to anything, let alone my sister’s forehead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In the vein of “bizarre crap you wouldn’t see outside of tourist spots”, my mate posted something about Wroxham yesterday, which reminded me how much I felt like the place was under the thumb of some oligarch called Roy (turns out it’s a whole family called Roy). We were in one of the many Roy’s stores in about 1994, and I somehow didn’t buy the Bill Beaumont Angling Set. I must have been ill.

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    2. You’ve just reminded me of the time on holiday when I wasn’t allowed to go to Laser Quest, so I tried to make my own using a carrier bag with stickers on it as the “vest”, and a super soaker

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  5. My main caravan holiday memory consists of my brother, sister and I being crammed around the tiny tv watching endless repeats of Why Don’t You while it pissed it down outside. Also spending so long arguing as a family about where to go ‘out’ for the day that eventually the only place that we had the time to visit was the nearest attraction in the leaflets folder, something like a thimbles museum or a tortoise sanctuary.

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    1. Going places? Doing stuff? That’s sacrilege. My grandparents are probably clawing their way out of the grave right now to insist that you drive the fastest route to the caravan without stopping, and then do not deviate from the market-bingo-pub routine. Come to think of it, the caravan is probably digging its way out of the grave too.

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  6. I feel like I’ve read this article, or bits of this article before? Either way, brilliant stuff and I can definitely relate to spending the summer holidays in a metal tin on wheels!

    Haggerston Castle and Blue Dolphin were the sites my parents dragged me to, though.

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  7. Caravan? that would be posh for us. We had various camping holidays which always involved the car breaking down on the way, including going uphill in our Austin Allegro, at 4mph with a traffic jam behind us. Our holidays in later years were just as entertaining, my mum always spotted a nutter in the hotel (every holiday hotel has a nutter) and then within 24 hours she was adopted by them for the rest of the holiday. I am now 36 and she is 60 and it still happens, we have to pick them up from the airport to hear stories of how weird the hotel nutter was and the legendary lengths they go to avoid them without actually telling them to get lost.

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  8. Pipers caravan park at Dymchurch, Kent for us, being south-east Londoners. It’s still there – I took my daughter to Dymchurch to go on the Ghost Train at the fair, which is also still there. I remember being cycled around the caravan park on one of the those four wheel bicycle carriage things by my grandparents, who always went on holiday with us.

    And you are the first person I’ve encountered who remembers A Handful of Songs! We used to watch that when we came home from school for lunch – or that terrifying stop-action version of Rupert.

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