MY TEENAGE YEARS AT THE CARAVAN SITE
Well life certainly changed when we arrived at the
caravan site. It may be fun staying in a touring caravan when you are on holiday, but it is no joke when you have to live in it permanently. The other caravans were much bigger and built as static caravans. There was one called
a Travelmaster which was very long and housed a large family. It was the creme de la creme of caravans.
Most of the people there were two parent families and
I think this was probably a precursor to getting a house as gradually many of them got council houses that were being built on an estate in village. There was even talk that one family set their caravan on fire on purpose as a means to
be re-housed which is what happened when another family's van caught on fire accidently. We were never eligible for a council house for some reason, if we were, we were certainly at the bottom of the list and ours was not even a proper one suitable
for living in.
We lived next door to another lady who was on her own with 3 children. At least she had a bigger static caravan. Her and my mum where quite friendly
and then they fell out. It culminated in a massive ding dong when they were both at the water tap getting water. I never did know what it was all about!
Opposite us were
a family with 2 children and I used to take their little boy out for a walk. As soon as their curtains were opened, I was knocking at their door. It was better in other people's vans as they
all had a separate sitting area and bedroom, not like us all in one place. I told his mother about this once and from then on, for some strange reason, the curtains never opened until at least midday!
She had a brother who arrived to visit her one day in an old hearse he had bought to run around in. My mum nearly had a fit, she considered this blasphemy. She was very strict about swearing even more so if the Lord's
name was taken in vain. However, should you have a bad case of wind resulting in a very loud noise, she thought this was hilarious, even holding her nose, bending a leg and pulling an imaginary chain to accompany it. Apparently, this was a favourite
trick of her dad and mum. However, should you burp loudly, she would hit the roof, as she considered this very rude. I could never work out why! Years later, my brothers would put their arms around her waist from behind and squeeze
her to make her fart and play a tune. She thought this was hilarious, although she was telling them to stop it.
Our strict bedtime routine was impossible to adhere to and on a Friday night, we would go to the club house on the site to play bingo to try and win some money. This was virtually impossible because my mum
could only afford one single ticket, not the strip of 6 people buy nowadays and our drink would last us all night. Going out at night and to somewhere that sold alcohol was totally alien to us. The only time we ever did this as at the holiday
site where my mum would have a Babycham in a proper glass with a cherry and my dad would have half a bitter. To get an idea of how much alcohol they consumed, my mum would give us a turn each at having the cocktail cherry with its stick.
This mean't that one of us had to wait until the next time we went there for their turn to have the cherry! They never even had a drink in the house at Christmas.
Not having a proper bed time mean't I was permanently tired at school, as well as being scruffy and unwashed. Considering it was a Grammar school,
not once did any of the teachers think to ask what was causing these problems, or try to find out for themselves. However, I certainly wasn't ill treated at home or covered in bruises.
The teenagers on the site would congregate outside the club house and then make their way to the woods where there was a swing made out of thick rope with a stick tied to it, hanging from a very large tree.
You could swing across the dry ditch. We called the area The Swing and we would ask if anyone was going to the swing tonight. Even if you didn't ask, there was always someone at the swing and that was where everyone ended up.
At the bottom of the road was the beach and when the tide went out you could walk across to a piece of land. It was called Admiralty Island. We used to do this, but
made sure we walked back before the tide came in as we would be stuck there until the next turn of the tide. There were masses of cockles on the beach, but we never dared to eat them. My younger brother caught a flat fish "flattie" and as
as I had learned to gut one of these in the cookery class at school, I told him I would do this hoping to impress. However, the one at school had been bought from a fishmonger. When I started to cut his, foul smelling river water
oozed out, making me retch so so that brought an abrupt end to my demonstration!
Every now and then we would walk through the footpath in the woods
and along the beach to Upnor. Some of the older ones used to go to the spot where they went for a "snog". I got to know one lady who had a little baby and while her husband was looking after her, would walk to Upnor with us
and this man she knew. I used to babysit when her husband was at work in the evening so she could "walk" with him! That's how naive I was and when I went home and asked my mum what a miscarriage was as this lady had had one, my mum went mad saying
I couldn't go to see her anymore. I still didn't know what this terrible thing was that my mum had got furious about so I told her I thought it mean't you had missed your train. She didn't correct me. Eventually her husband found out about the true nature of his wife's walks and threw her out and moved another woman in to look after the baby.
day, I was walking down the lane on the way home from school and my younger brother came cycling up the road and told me to jump on the back. I asked him why and he told me there was a policeman at the caravan asked to see me and my mum was going
mad. I jumped on quickly, wondering what I had done that was so bad that it warranted a visit from the police and what fate would await me when I arrived!
When we arrived at our caravan, sure enough there was a policeman waiting for me with my very irate
When we arrived at our caravan, sure enough there
was a policeman waiting for me with my very irate mother. He asked me to confirm who I was and then said he had a summons for me to appear in court as a witness. It turned out that the husband of the lady I used to babysit for
when she went for “walks” with her man friend, was taking her to court to get full custody of the baby which she wasn’t allowed to see since he threw her out. My mum kept insisting that they couldn’t do this and I was too young,
but the policeman was having none of and said I had to appear in court. A lot of it was to do with the fact that I was also too young to be babysitting and the husband was playing on this.
I eventually went to court and stood in the witness box. I had broken my glasses so couldn’t see anything which was a blessing really because the baby’s mother was in the court room
crying. They asked me if I had babysat when she went out of an evening and I said I had, and that was it, all over in a second. She didn’t get custody of the baby and for all I know, she never saw it again. It was a pity because when I had
been round to their caravan when the husband had moved the new woman in, the baby was sitting on a potty, there were a lot of flies and it was sucking on an old dog bone.
Whatever the mother’s faults, she deeply cared about her child.
I had to grow up very quickly, if
my parents were still together, I don’t think I would have known anything about the “birds and the bees”. My mum still tried to keep me in the dark and I knew I couldn’t speak to her about anything like that.
In fact when I reached puberty at 13 and had to tell her she would have to get me the necessary items for it, she reluctantly gave them to me and told
me not to bring any trouble home. The only thing was, I didn’t know the trouble was! Later, when I knew, it explained why the girl in the crème de le crème caravan had gone to visit her Aunty in another county for 8 months!
One day I met a much older girl than me and she gave me a little bag with a long strap. She then asked me if I wanted to go to Chatham
Station with her. I asked my mum if I could go and she asked what we would be doing there. The older girl told me that we would just stand outside swinging our bags. Obviously, I wasn’t allowed to go, but again was never told why!
My mum started playing the piano in the pub in the village to bring in some extra income. She also landed a job as a typist in one of the businesses
at the beginning of the site. This meant there was no one around to look after us in the school holidays, so we did our own thing. My mum had a bit more money, but not that much, so we were still quite poor.
One day, she told me that the man who started a youth club in the village had something to tell me on her behalf. I went to see him, wondering what on
earth that I was going to hear.
I duly went to see the man my mother had asked to speak to me. He told me he was going to tell me something about my father.
I only knew that my father stayed behind with his mother in the shop and we came to live in the caravan and had not heard from him again . He then dropped a bombshell. My father who worked during the day as a milkman, (he had left the wood turning
factory before we left) and converted a van in to a mobile grocery shop to sell provisions, also worked evenings in a bar to make ends meet. During that time he started having an affair with a lady he worked with. My mother had found out
about this when she found boxes of chocolates in his car, which cost nearly as much as the house keeping he paid her as she didn’t work then. The shock of this had caused my mother to break down and that is when she went to live with my granny
and granddad for while and sent the letters we never received and my nana kept from us. He wanted to be with this woman and as there was no hope of them staying together, the decision was made to split up.
I obviously was quite shocked by this, but I had always idolised my father and blamed my mum for taking us away. It also transpired that he wanted to keep me and not my brothers which my mother would not stand for.
It was a lot to take in, but when you are young, you don’t realise what betrayal between a man and a woman is. In one way, I actually felt better knowing that he didn’t want to part with me and
I couldn’t feel bad about him. To be fair my mum never said anything bad about him before or after that, but not having a father who loved me around, had a very profound effect on the rest of my life. I thought getting married meant you should
expect it to be unhappy and that fathers never wanted the children, only the mothers. There were many other feelings I experienced as I grew older, missing two parents together. Luckily, my brothers never really remembered their dad, so perhaps
it wasn’t so hard for them. I don’t really believe that though. My mother though, was very bitter about the break up and she never got over it .Life carried on at the caravan site. Having had a disciplined family life up
for quite a time, it certainly made me want a better life for myself and working respectably for it. I started the shorthand /typing course and had visions of working in personnel management, which actually materialised years later.
The only radio programme that we could get then with pop music was Luxembourg which was very hard to get a signal for. Otherwise it was still Pick of the Pops on a Sunday afternoon, which as I said
in a previous chapter, was what we used to listen to in my Nana’s living room. Suddenly, along came a wonderful experience. Pop music all day long courtesy of the pirate ship, Radio Caroline. Anyone who has seen the start of The
Boat That Rocked, that is exactly how it was. We loved it. Johnny Walker asking people on the coast at Frinton to flash their car lights. He would then pick one and ask them to flash once for yes and twice for no and have a conversation.
I loved Johnny Walker, but I also liked Robbie Dale, The Admiral of the Beat Fleet. I joined his Beat Fleet and got a badge and certificate saying I was a member.
It may seem alien to
people now what with downloading etc, but you had to queue up to buy a record when it first went on sale in the record shop. You couldn’t listen to it before and it was only heard on any radio programme once it was released, so the records were
treasured. Later when the public tried recording records from the radio (holding a microphone to it to get the sound), the DJ’s would always talk over a record for copyright purposes. Their knowledge of the groups, singers etc, was
just as good to hear and you learned so much about them.
During this time Flower Power came in. Everyone had a small cowbell which they wore round their necks. My friend had a boyfriend,
who told us to wear our cowbells and dress up as hippies as he was going to take us all to London on the train to spread the love. We all plodded up the lane to the village and only got as far as the churchyard, where we all sat on the wall. He
then told us that the trains had all finished going to London for the day, it was the afternoon! So off we all traipsed back to the swing at the caravan site, cowbells jingling and flowers in our hair wilting. We were young and impressionable,
he was older and more worldywise. So worldywise, in fact that he would con and burgle. He cut the 2/- slot meter off our television and I only found out when I got a shock from the live cable that was left behind. Another debt my mum had
to pay off. Eventually he went to prison, he had committed so many burglaries and cons. My friend was a very decent person and well rid of him.
My mum got a job with the Army as
a typist and things started looking up. I met a boy at the caravan site who was older than me and had long hair and a moustache like the pop groups. We just drifted along. Unfortunately, he lived by his wits and never read newspapers or watched
current affairs programmes. If I made people laugh when I was telling them something, he would tell me not to show myself up, so retreated in to a shell. He also told me that I was too fat and plain looking for
anyone else to fancy me, so I fell quite lucky having him!
During my time at the caravan site, although quite young, , I experienced something only a privileged older generation has.
It has younger men (and some women) green with envy when I tell them about it and they say how lucky I was. Some people may never experience again in their lifetime. I will tell you next time was this special thing was, but if you want to hazard
a guess, please leave your answer on my Guest Book page!
Eventually the the Baths Block changed into the Shower Block that people and children could use any time of the day, early evening
and Saturdays mornings. It was bliss. You had your own little room and pulled a chain, the same as can find on an old toilet cistern and wash all the soap off yourself and it didn’t need cleaning with Vim! It revolutionised my
life, but we still had to go to the Toilet Block though..
Things started to get a bit easier, but we still never had money for new school uniforms or fashionable clothes. My mum was doing
well working for the Army. One day she said she had something to tell us. I have to say, although I should have been, I was not best pleased when I found out.