I’m nae gonna lie, I think my parents did a pretty good job raising my siblings and me. I hope I am a well-rounded individual with a good moral compass and the ability to adapt to most reasonable situations the world might throw at me.
Now, as a parent with eyes forced open, I scan the endless (or so my mum tells me) minefield of parenthood and bewilder at how my parents, who can be quite often described as “wommbly”, ever managed to navigate through it, without any major hiccups, divorce threatening meltdowns or disappearing for a pint of milk never to be seen again.
It’s with a grateful heart bursting with love for my happy, safe childhood that I attempt to re-trace the path my parents carved in the 80s and 90s. To use their tried and tested treasure map to find the “childhood lessons to make a decent person” jackpot.
However, my kids grow up in a completely different world to the technology vacuum that was my childhood. To Hubgrub’s utter dismay, I will quite often, attempt to recreate a core memory of mine, in the hope the kids gain from the semi-shared experience. Trouble is, the HD world as it is now, doesn’t sync easily with my memories of wood veneered TV sets with only 4 channels and if the aerial wasn’t working, you’d give the wire a bit of a wiggle, perhaps add a bit of tinfoil to it and finally give the TV a damn good whack. “If in doubt, gie it a clout!”
One of these forced fun trips down memory lane was a recent caravan holiday. Even better, ever keen to save a penny, Hubby was on board! The static caravan did very favourably in the cost/wallet injury analysis and we were soon signed up for a week in Lossiemouth, on the northern coast of Scotland. And we were taking the dogs too, which would save on kennels. This did not thrill me, but marriage is all about give and take, so I made clear my “I dinna think it’s a good idea” stance and we booked.
The morning of the holiday, off we set, after a lot of faffing. In the end, we had so much stuff, with precious boot space occupied by our four-legged free loading friends, we took our trailer. We were going to have a mini-taster of driving with a tourer to the caravan park. This did, however, bring back unpleasant post traumatic flashes from horror journeys with my parents; grinding up the crawler lanes with the fan blasting full heat in an inept attempt to cool down the overheating engine, getting stuck at the single exit to a retail park as the Jurassic Park premier was emptying. My thirteen year old angst took over and I hid in the footwell until Mum had redirected the traffic and Dad had somehow single pivoted the van 180 degrees. Mort. I. Fied!
Lesson learned: own up and crack on to correct your mistakes.
As we would be staticizing, this would be a gentle introduction to the rest of the gang to world of mobile living. A dipping of toes into life on the road, without actually being on the road. With a plumbed toilet and running hot water, we were hardly going to be without some home comforts.
The weather was unfortunately not on our side. Caravanning is about being outside as much as possible. The day we arrived was lovely. A glimpse into how it could have been. The rest of the week of our holiday was forecast for gale force winds and bracing single figure temperatures. This meant daily dog walking weather endurance challenges, with dollops of eye rolling and “I told you” death stares at my hubby as we negotiated the umpteenth tantrum about a fairly reasonable complaint over the parental choice of a wild wet walk against the elements.
This did mean however, that once wrapped up back in the shelter of our van, while the weans attempted to conquer the mountain of craft materials I panic bought at Tesco following the realisation of abandonment of the plan to “chuck the kids out for hours on their bikes”, I was able to indulge in a bit of net curtain twitching and “haeing a richt good nosy” at any coming and goings of the neighbours. In particular, how efficient their awning pitching skills were. It was clear, awning technology has moved on since the days of my dad’s strained instructions regarding his intricately labelled steel (yes, STEEL) poles and the uncrackable code, known only to himself, as to how to connect them together. Manoeuvring the caravan has changed too. Nowadays there are gizmos called “drivers” which turn your caravan into a sort of huge remote control car, allowing you to guide it seamlessly into your allotted spot with the precision of laser cut bolts sliding into a pre-cut slot. My memories of caravan positioning was akin to the whole family sweatily trying to persuade a reluctant, bad-tempered, pregnant elephant to stand in a soggy patch of grass next to a hedge, with a troop of monkeys sat about grooming, laughing and judging.
Normally, this would be The Warden’s cue to turn up with his “rule” (“It’s a rule, not a ruler”). Wardens were always a bit of an uptight jobsworth, kinsman to the techie teacher at school, generally frustrated with his lot and the numpties he had to deal with on a daily basis. His “rule” would indicate, that after the epic erection of the mono sided tent equivalent to the Forth Rail Bridge, that “according to regulations” we were overstepping our pitch boundaries and would need to shift the entire dwelling 6 inches to the left. Fun times indeed.
As our static had lovely been advertised with warm running water, I had guessed we would have no need to venture to the shower block or public sinks for dish washing. This had advantages and disadvantages. The plus was the avoidance of having to trot young kids during the witching hour on a nightly basis, for the least enjoyable bit of swimming, and a public display of our bath time showdowns. Solo, as single sex shower blocks would prevent united front team parenting. But then, part of caravanning is routine and chores. As a child it was rubbish getting sent out with my siblings to do the dishes at the outdoor sinks. Now I realise it was a regular, much-needed break from each other- parents from weans, weans from parents. Living in a glorified shipping container is close quarters after all. Even if it did spark world wars over whose turn it was to dry. As for evening trips to the shower block, what could be more glorious than getting to walk about outside, and perhaps even sneak a final bike ride, in your jammies? Pure hedonistic craziness and a cherished childhood memory made. Next time, next time!
Hubby however almost giddily skipped off to the shower block daily. The static shower turned out to be a bit tepid and he used that as an excuse to go pamper himself in solitude in the men’s block. The rest of us made do with alternate day showering after a plunge in the local leisure centre swimming pool, also quite cold! The Victorians didn’t call them “The Baths” for nothing after all!
Another change from 90s caravanning was the food. Back in the day, caravans barely had a gas hob, so the weekly menu was mainly hob fodder, BBQ or non cook options. Pasta stodge was a regular favourite, as well as carbonated sausages and white bread with lemon curd. No toasters in caravans in those days! The Lemon Curd Piece was a special treat away from our healthy every day diet. A treat only allowed when we were living our romantic gypsy daydream. I was determined this was going to be uploaded into the weans “happy cloud”. But, after a fruitless search for basic lemon curd at the Baxters Food Factory, I had to plump for the very delicious and affa fancy “passion fruit and mango” curd. It would do though, and a new family tradition of “Caravanning Curd Crumpets” was born. Careful saying that after a stiff medicinal gin!
The static was basic, but only in today’s standards. It would have been a palace in comparison to the caravan of my childhood. It had a TV! TV didn’t feature in my parent’s caravan until very nearly the end of our family holidays when drawing on boiled eggs as an activity had really lost its appeal. Our static TV even had Freeview!
Cor Blimey, Aunty Fanny!
There were also plenty of plugs to charge our electronic babysitters. Despite being away from it all, and trying to show a simpler way of life to the kids, they really didn’t notice much of a difference between the static caravan, a holiday cottage or home. They loved the closeness, the tripping over each other, and that there was no WiFi or 4G to distract mummy or daddy. Walking straight out the door to the beach, albeit wrapped up like arctic explorers, was a delight and the evening entertainment of spotting RAF jets as they set off on training exercises became an unexpected family game.
There is definitely still joy to be found in the caravanning way. A bonding, perhaps even enhanced by cold weather and by having to huddle together, under a blanket to keep warm while watching re-runs of “You’ve Been Framed” with toes of “tomorrows socks, tonight” poking out in front of the gas fire (oh yes! did I forget to mention we had one of those too!) without the distraction of social media or Whatsapp chattering.
I was worried the mod cons and gadgets to which we would inevitably retreat would spoil our visit to “The Simple Life” but modern life has moved on and these techno escapes made any moments of boredom, when I would have been banging my head against my bunk, more bearable.
It may not have been a carbon copy of my childhood caravanning experiences, free from CBeebies and touch screens, but it was a marvellously memorable real family holiday and what could be better than that?
We, the adults, also drank quite a lot of alcohol. Maybe my parents did too?