Each year, our family holiday would begin in mid-August, a memory verifiable by the fact that news of the death of Elvis Presley in 1977 came on the radio as the camping equipment was being packed into the old Bedford van that carried everything, including a kitchen sink, westward to our chosen destination. Whatever destination was chosen, we tended to end up at Westward Ho! anyway, although in 1973 we did manage a week in Saint Ives.
At nine o’clock on a Friday evening such as this, there would have been frantic activity to gather everything necessary for a fortnight away. There was a year when we went away for three weeks, but this had entailed our father going to Scotland to work for the middle week, which had rather spoiled the mood of the first week and had meant the third week was spent trying to catch up with lost time. In retrospect, the amount of preparation for the holiday seemed disproportionate to going to a campsite which was only seventy-two miles and an hour and a half’s driving time from home, nevertheless, the preparation lent a sense of anticipation to our departure. Saturday would come, and with a great deal of fuss and last minute checks of the inventory of items necessary for survival in a North Devon resort town, we would set off. Perhaps the campsite did not allow new arrivals until late afternoon, or perhaps out of a desire to avoid the worst of the traffic on those summer Saturdays, we would not arrive until teatime. Any idea of going to the beach, or, indeed, going anywhere further than the toilet block was excluded until everything had been unpacked and set up for the fortnight.
To be honest, it was not very exotic or exciting. It was the mid-1970s and even in those dire economic times, there were people jetting off to the costas and coming home with tales of sun and sangria; they would probably have looked askance at the idea of a tent on a campsite that was really just a couple of fields with some basic amenities. Yet they were magical times; the hours spent on the vast beach, the fish and chips in the Malibu Cafe, the glasses of lager shandy at the Tyrolean beer garden (its connection with the Tyrol was never clear), each memory lingers with an intensity never captured by many more recent holidays.
Perhaps somewhere in the West of England, there is a fourteen year old boy packing tonight for a journey tomorrow. Perhaps the sun will shine and the air will be filled with laughter and every moment will be worthy of recall. Perhaps in forty years time, he will also smile when he looks back on those Devon days.