When I was a kid, I had a list of places I’d rather have gouged my own eyes out than visited. But because my parents hated me, they made me go to them every fucking Saturday. And they wouldn’t let me gouge my eyes out, even just for something to do.

Because I can’t get back to sleep and I’ve got nothing better to do, let’s relive these childhood traumas together.

Caravan Showrooms

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Not technically rooms, but I can’t be arsed to look up the proper word. Sue me. Anyway, gravel infested squares of hell.

You know the place – 72 acres of crunchy, unforgiving gravel that gets in your shoes, littered with 701,083 caravans, all exactly the same apart from a different chintz on the cushions. These were a source of unfathomable delight to my parents.

Because my parents were obsessed with the fictional caravan they were always planning to buy but never did, they visited these places, it seemed to me, at least three times a day. Because I was too small and too stupid to be left in the house alone, naturally I had to accompany them. Pretending to be dead rarely worked.

Sometimes, in order to get me to let go of whatever door frame I was desperately clinging on to, they would lie and tell me we were going somewhere fun, like Toymaster or Happy Eater. This would invariably degenerate into ‘Oh, we’ll go on the way back, if you’re good.’ They they’d cross their fingers and hope I’d forget all about it.

When we arrived at the portal to hell, I would adopt the demeanour of an olden days prisoner, complete with ball and chain. For what seemed like hours (and probably was), I would follow my parents round as they oohed and aahed at the ‘Sprite 900’ and the ‘Excalibur 2000’.

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While they were doing this, I was left to stare at various wheels and tow bars, since that’s all I was tall enough to see.

Sometimes one of my parents would remember I existed, and grudgingly lift me up onto one of the tow bars so I could stand there looking through the brown plastic window of whatever caravan they were examining. I would peer in, hoping for something vaguely interesting, but only ever finding the same chintz and wood panelling.

It would have been OK if I’d been allowed to play inside one of the caravans while I was waiting for my parents. Would it have killed the owner of the showroom to open up one of the caravans, if only to stop kids like me dying of boredom/trying to inhale the Calor gas tank? They would still have had 701,082 caravans left for the adults to look at.

Garden Centres

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‘Blue Atlas Conifer’

‘Container planting’

‘Pond filters’

What do the above have in common? They’re all shit and I don’t know what they are.

Whenever it was a nice day and I was off school, all I wanted to do was go out into the garden and play with my Skip-it, or perhaps drown my Barbies in the paddling pool. My parents had other ideas, declaring that I wasn’t allowed to have any fun whatsoever, and must instead accompany them to a garden centre. Granted, we didn’t go to garden centres as often as we went to caravan showrooms, but still. The ideal amount of times for me to visit a garden centre was none.

However, my parents were rulers of the universe, so they would stuff a whingeing, mullet haired me into the back of the car, and drive to ‘Trevor’s World Of Plants’, or ‘CJD Aquatics’.

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In retrospect, my parents would have probably preferred me not to have gone with them, so they could look round in peace. But for reasons unknown to me they couldn’t or wouldn’t get a babysitter. Thus fate cast us together.

Plants. So many plants. Plants as far as the eye can see. Which was never very far, because I was five. While my parents goggled in wonder at some leaves growing up a stick, or plant pots made of different colour cements, I would trudge behind them, willing an asteroid to crash into the planet so I didn’t have to do this anymore.

These days garden centres aren’t the hellholes they once were, thanks to a wide range of products that can all be placed neatly into the category of ‘gifts’. In any large garden centre today you can find craft supplies, novelty books, and those wooden ducks with wellies on.

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Novelty jams, Christmas decorations (all year round), amusing signs to hang on your kitchen wall that say “Fuck off we’re closed”, personalised key rings and pens, stuffed fairies to hang in the back of your car that let other motorists know you once had sex and forgot to use protection…

And the place always smells of gone off fish tanks.

Car Boot Sales

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Listen Mum and Dad. It’s 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning, and I’m asleep. I’m quite content where I am. The last thing I want is to be dragged out of bed and made to go walk round a field.

No, I don’t care that last night I begrudgingly agreed to come with you, spurred on by the following exchange –

“Will you buy me some toys?”

“We’ll see.”

I don’t care what I said, you should know that I don’t want to come to the car boot sale with you. The problem is, as with so many rubbish outings, there is no one to look after me, so I have to come with you. My sisters, while being old enough to stay at home without you, aren’t yet old enough to stay at home and look after me. And even if they were, I should probably be under armed guard at all times, so I’m just going to have to ‘stop being difficult’ and accompany you to the field.

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Cars as far as the eye can see. And next to each car is a pasting table piled high with people’s unwanted tat. This, you might think, was paradise for someone like me, who loves to buy rubbish. Not when I was five. Back then I was just like every other kid, only with more mullety hair. I wanted the newest, shiniest toys out of the Argos catalogue, not a no-brand doll that had been chewed by some baby.

Anyway, like I ever got to look at toys at the car boot sales we went to. If there were ever tables full of toys, my parents saw them first, and promptly diverted me, promising that ‘we’ll have a look on the way back’.

Here’s what I did instead of looking at or buying toys: I dragged my still asleep carcass round a field, usually while it was drizzling on my head, cursing my parents while they looked at grown up things.

Without exception, each table at the car boot sale contained the following –

– some old crimpers that didn’t work

– a foot spa, that had had second hand feet in it

– those dolls that you over toilet rolls

– videos containing films that had been taped off the TV

– Pierrot figurines

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There was other tat, like shoes with the buckles missing, tea stained autobiographies of Wincey Willis and/or Saint and Greavsie, a box containing different drill bits, and money boxes with no bottoms. None of this was of any interest to me. I tried my best to walk and sleep at the same time. That is, until we got to this place:

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This was the one fun thing at the car boot sale – being able to have a burger for breakfast. Since it was first thing on a Sunday morning and my parents had dragged me out of the house, they could hardly expect poor, hungry, light headed me to traipse round a field with only my own boredom to keep me going, so they had no choice but to buy me half a cow in a bun. Besides, our family is Northern, so lard for breakfast was always perfectly acceptable.

After my burger (50% in mouth, 50% on floor), we continued walking round, looking at people’s broken and discarded stuff. By this time, my mother had always bought half a dozen pot dolls, while my dad had earnestly sniffed out the cheapest spirit levels and spanners.

We were nearing the end of our journey. This was the moment of truth. Would they buy me a toy like they’d promised? Well, yes, if I’d ‘been good’. Being good meant not having spent the last half an hour shouting “I hate this place, it’s crap!” at the top of my voice while crying.

Assuming I’d been good, my reward was usually a choice between a one legged Barbie with all her hair cut off, and an Ewoks jigsaw with three pieces missing.

Of course, these days it’s an entirely different story. Nothing makes me happier than buying a one-legged action figure that looks a bit like Steve Coogan. Alex makes me go look at drill bits, but at least we agree not to bother with crimpers and used foot spas.

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2 thoughts on “Shit Days Out For Kids

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