In the early summer of 1972, my dad made a decision which would have a profound impact on our family life; He decided to buy a caravan. The decision was spurred no doubt by the events of our earlier camping holiday to the Lake District that year, or the Easter Uprising as like to call it. Much of the detail has been erased from my memory, (Trauma?) but essentially a huge storm blew up in the night, and almost took our tent, and us with it. Picture the scene from Wizard of Oz where Dorothy’s house is picked up by the Twister and carried far from Kansas, but replace the house with a 5 person family Tent ( called I believe rather optimistically “Weathermaster”.) and you won’t be too far off. I have vague recollections of my mum clinging to a tent pole while my sisters and I cowered in a corner. My dad ran around outside in the howling wind and rain with a mallet desperately trying to hammer in more pegs and shore up the fly sheet which was flapping around like a banshee. Suddenly a whole corner of the tent lifted, and we seemed to be about to take flight. “Ted, TED!’ I can’t hold it!” mum screamed! My dad poked through the front flap looking every bit as deranged as Jack Nicholson in the Shining but considerably wetter ( and holding a mallet not an axe.) My mums face was wet too, but I don’t know if that was rain or tears. Quickly assessing the imminent danger of ‘Lift Off’ he screamed instructions at us his whimpering offspring; Myles ( 8) “Get over in that corner! Quick! , Jackie, (6) Over there!, Debi, ( 18 months) Stay there!” ( I don’t think she could have moved even if she understood.). Then he disappeared back through the flap to redouble his manic hammering.
His plan of combined weight redistribution and effort worked. In the morning we were all still there. Wet, cold, and bedraggled but otherwise unharmed. Clearly though the ground in my parents relationship( as well as the ground sheet of the tent) had shifted. We packed the car and drove home with us in the back mostly in (stunned?) silence. Over The Archers on Radio 4 I caught snippets of mum directing comments at my dad which I couldn’t quite make out. Something like; ‘Never again..Could have all died, .. Weather forecast.. ‘’ My dad was clearly spent, and wisely kept his counsel.
We got home without further incident, and copies of Autotrader — Caravans and Campers started to appear in the house shortly afterwards.
So it was that some weeks later, having first fitted a tow bar to our Vauxhall Viva estate, we drove over to Maghull to hitch a ‘Sprite” 12 foot Touring caravan to the rear. Family life and holidays would never be the same again..
A few weeks later saw the beginning of the 6 week school holidays. My dad hitched up the Sprite, and attached some extra-stickyout wing mirrors onto the Viva. We all piled in and after an hour or so of careful maneuvering to get us out of the driveway without scratching Jeff Next Door’s metallic gold Ford Cortina ,we were finally en route to Anglesey.
My mum was ‘Navigating’ and we seemed to stop frequently for them to discuss “Options”- The Mersey or Wallasey Tunnel, Betws y coed or Rhyl? Mold or Caernarfon.? There was coffee from a flask, Sandwiches (Meat paste or Cheese ’n’ Tomato Myles?), and lots of I-Spy. I can’t be certain but my best guess is that we took ‘The Coast Road’ and that the journey to Anglesey ( around 80 miles as the crow flies but 169 as the Viva meanders) took around 7 hours. I am certain that it felt like 7 years.
Our arrival on the Island was marked as we crossed the Spectacular Menai Bridge with a family rendition begun by mum of ‘Rule Britannia’. I don’t know why she ( a Catholic from Northern Ireland) felt that this display of British Colonial patriotism was the best way to celebrate our passage from the Mainland, but at the time such Politically Correct thinking was nobody’s forte (thank God) and we kids enthusiastically followed her lead.
Reaching Anglesey though was just the beginning. Next we had to find a Caravan Site. There were a number of False Starts on this score. Anglesey was full apparently. Or at least full of Caravans. We would pull into a promising looking site and dad would disappear into the Reception office for a while and then come out muttering something about ‘No Tourers’, and ‘They all speak Welsh’..He looked disappointed and like a man who wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect of dragging a wife, 3 kids and a caravan any further around this corner of Wales for God knows how long. In hindsight I am wondering why he didn’t pre- book? Maybe he was being optimistic, or felt they were blazing a trail? Either wasy he was wrong.
On the third or fourth site, my mum decided to take charge. “ They don’t like you English” she said, and marched breezily into the Reception office. Apparently they didn’t like the Irish much either, but at least she came out clutching a piece of paper which turned out to be a map/directions to another nearby site which supposedly had space available. And so at the end of a very long day, with my dad I’m sure at just about the end of his tether, we finally pulled into Tyn Rhos Camping & Caravan site just as the evening sun began to set.