Caravan Holiday Hell in The ’70s

(Caravan hell – 1970s)

I’d have been new to the ranks of teenager in 1971 when my parents came up with the whizz-bang idea of buying a caravan.

“… we’ll now be able to take weekend breaks throughout the year, whenever we fancy. Won’t this be splendid?”

‘Splendid?!’ Are you mental? Weekends? What happens to my athletics / cross country races? What about my football? My school parties? Saturday morning cartoons on the telly? What possesses people to forsake their nice spacious homes to go live in a claustrophobic, formica lined box on wheels?

(1970s caravan)

I was already counting the days till I could be legally left at home to fend for myself. I’d even willingly do household / garden chores while the family were away. Maybe we could broker some kind of deal? Creosote the fence or something?

Resistance was futile though, at least for a couple of years.

“Do you fancy going for a golfing trip to Pittenweem this weekend?”

If I’m going to stay in a five, or even four / three star hotel, then maybe.

“It’ll be fun,” they lied.

And so it was … frequent weekends were spent collecting the caravan from the storage facility in the neighbouring town; bringing it to the house; uncoupling it overnight and loading it with clothes and provisions for the weekend; reconnecting the car and driving to Fife, usually arriving just in time for lunch.

Reverse that procedure on the Sunday afternoon, ensuring we arrived back before the storage facility closed, and we had just enough time to squeeze in a round of golf and fish supper on the Saturday, and a walk along the windswept and bitingly cold beach on the Sunday morning.

Oh yeah – this was fun, alright!

Then, horror of horrors! Emboldened by admittance into the Caravan Club of Great Britain, my excited parents announced we’d now be taking an additional summer holiday. An additional week. In Dornoch.  In the caravan!

(Dornoch caravan park.)

Heavens above! Dornoch, even in 2021, is a good four and a half hours drive away. Fifty years ago, and towing a bleedin’ caravan …. a letter with a second class stamp would get there quicker.

“It’s a lovely caravan site – right by the golf course. And there’s a toilet and shower block too.”

And that’s the best selling point you can come up with?

I suppose having a site toilet block is better than the family sharing the chemical filled potty that stank out the wee cubby-hole that passed as a toilet in most caravans. Oh, perish the thought! (We actually used that space for storing the golf clubs.) But really, is it such a privileged luxury to waken in the dead of night, scratch around for a torch, pull on a pair of wellies / sandals  / golf spikes, and trudge a hundred and fifty yards to a damp, smelly and cold toilet? I think not.

We’d play golf in the morning and weather permitting, another round in late afternoon / early evening. This was summer in Scotland, though. Weather has a habit of messing with your plans. So we’d then be dragged off on some Godforsaken sight-seeing trip.

John o’ Groats? Nothing to see. Still wet there. Dunnet Head? Naff all there either. And just as wet. Thurso did have a chip shop, though.

(Dining / bed area, 1970s caravan)

Back at the caravan, my mum, not renowned for her culinary skills, bless her, would prepare a hearty evening meal. Something along the lines of tinned Heinz macaroni on toast, followed by Birds Eye instant custard and jam. Yes. Jam.

Mmmmnn! Yummy!

(Kitchen area / dining area – 1970s caravan)

Meals would be served up in instalments because the ineffectual cooker, fired by a suspicious and sinister looking gas canister, had the power of a Christmas candle. While we waited in not-so-eager anticipation, the combination of body-heat times four, damp clothing and smoke from the burnt toast (told you, didn’t I?) would cause the windows to steam up. A decision then had to be made: open the windows to clear them and die from hypothermia, or risk asphyxiation from the steam, smoke and ever-present hint of leaking calor gas.

Thankfully, I managed eventually to extricate myself from these tortuous events, playing the ‘I best stay behind to study for my exams,” card.

A couple of years later, freed from the shackles of holidaying with parents, a few pals who like me were leaving school in the summer of 1976, decided to go away together. Benidorm? Majorca? Blackpool?

Nope. We had all recently bought our first motorbikes – one had a car, a Morris 1100, I think.

( Suzuki TS125 – my first / only motor bike .)

Why don’t we drive over to St Andrews and rent (no! please, no! I can sense what’s coming ….) a caravan for the week? It’ll be a right laugh.

Noooooooooo!!!!

I’d love to tell you it was a right laugh. I’d love to tell you it was a right nightmare. I’d love to tell you it was a right anything. Truth is, I can tell you next to nothing! It’s all a bit of a haze.

I do recall we upset someone in a neighbouring caravan who was always on our case. So we did what any self-respecting gallus teenagers would do, and threw a pan-loaf worth of bread chunks onto the roof of his caravan in the dead of night.

(Angry bird.)

Yeah, you’re there – come first light, his caravan was besieged by a flock of noisy, ravenous seagulls pecking the bread and stomping around on the roof.

Have some of that!

(Pernod. )

Other than that, my only other recollection is suffering my worst ever hangover after a night on Pernod and lemonade. That took care of one of the seven days.

The hangover from Hell – and in a caravan.

I’d said it before, but this time I meant it. To this day, I’ve never even sipped a Pernod.

And to this day, I’ve never again set foot in a caravan.

I’d rather wash my mouth out with soap.

__________

‘Lifted Over the Turnstiles’ by Steve Finan

‘Lifted Over the Turnstiles – Scotland’s Football Grounds in the Black & White Era.’

(***** Five out of five stars.)

For football fans of a certain age, this book is a ‘must.’ Indeed for football fans of ALL ages, this book is a ‘must.’

The book’s subtitle, ‘Scotland’s Football Grounds in the Black & White Era,’ perfectly sums up what to expect in the two hundred and fifty-seven pages. These photos were taken when football grounds had character and individuality. Sure, they were pretty run down and verging on dilapidated when I first attended matches in the late Sixties. But they were happy and exciting times for me, and judging by the crowds drawn to matches not involving either Rangers or Celtic, a great many others felt the same way.

Many of the photos contained in this book actually pre-date my first visits, but I can still identify where I stood / sat in many of the images.

Yeah – time moves on, and health and safety of spectators is paramount, but I do miss these old football grounds.

This is a book I will pick up time and time again and drift back to a more colourful, if only black and white, time for Scottish football.

Fall in New England (versus) Autumn in West of Scotland.

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I’ve never witnessed it first hand, but I believe New England is absolutely glorious in the Fall. It would certainly be hard to argue otherwise, given the images we here in Scotland see via television movies and the like.

Glasgow is some 13 degrees further north than Boston. It sits on roughly the same latitude as Novosibirsk Oblast (Russia) so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by the contrasting perceptions of the year’s third season.

But it doesn’t stop me feeling a tad jealous.

Here’s how I see it:

New England - Fall - bridgeNew England: couples walk romantically hand in hand through the woods. They scatter the dry, brightly coloured leaves as they walk, kicking them into the air for the gentle autumnal breeze to cushion their fall back to earth.

West of Scotland: couples walk hand in hand through the woods. The word ‘romantically’ is omitted, for they are merely providing ballast to prevent the other from slipping on the soggy, rain-soaked leaves.

New England: on a bright, sunny day, a happy, smiling middle-aged man contentedly blows the brittle leaves into neat, uniform piles on his manicured, picket fence surrounded lawn. He then effortlessly lifts them into the appropriate refuse bin, which he places on the sidewalk for collection by the local  waste collection agency.

Houston - Autumn - drabWest of Scotland: on a dreicht, overcast and damp day, a miserable, brow-beaten middle-aged man loses the coin toss / argument / will to live and his wife sends him into the overgrown garden. He accidentally bends the leaf-rake on the second sweep of the heavy, sodden leaves. For the next hour he pushes the leaves into little manageable bundles with his feet, which he then stoops to lift into the appropriate refuse bin. He finally risks a hernia by dragging to the pavement for (eventual) collection by the local council.

New England: little mammals take advantage of the new, insulated and warm sanctuary created by the recent fall of leaves. They are pictured in various wildlife journals all cute, curled up and comfortable.

West of Scotland: little hedgehogs and other small mammals form an orderly queue at the local housing offices, citing the damp, cold and drab conditions they are expected to live in. They are pictured in various daily newspapers brandishing placards and threatening legal action.

FireworksNew England: having served notices of eviction to the adorable little mammalian tenants, happy and excited families from the street gather round the residual piles on Bonfire Night. A match is placed under the leaves. They ignite almost instantly, spreading a cozy glow across the garden that warms the feet of those attending the fireworks display, and now busy toasting marshmallows in the fire’s periphery.

Bonfire smokeWest of Scotland: a boxful of spent matches lie strewn on the ground beside the slimy, wet pile of leaves. That brow-beaten, middle-aged man again loses the the coin toss / argument / will to live, and is supervised by his impatient, irksome neighbour as he siphons a litre of petrol from his car into an empty bottle. Having splashed this over the sodden leaves, he flicks the flame of a disposable lighter onto the musty mound. It ignites. Eventually. But there is no immediate, spreading warmth.

There is smoke. Lots of smoke. It brings tears to the eyes of those trying to quickly retrieve their still cold potatoes from the base of the supposed fire, before the litre of ‘unleaded’ permeates the skin.

The  kids from the street have lost interest and are now indoors playing Xbox. The wives are now in the kitchen and on their third bottle of red. One of the husbands has gone home to check on the dog. Another excuses himself on the feeble excuse of having office work he should be doing.

The brow-beaten husband waits with the irksome neighbour for the smoking stack to extinguish. There is silence in the garden. A heavy, damp silence.

 

And the winner is …………