Retro: Run for it father, the Calor gas’s running out

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Have you been on holiday to a lifestyle destination this year? Well, in the old days you would have called it simply a caravan park or camp. But not any more, as there has been an attempt to make the whole experience much more upmarket than you possibly remembered then.

Caravan holidays have risen by more than 15 per cent in the past year alone as Staycations have become increasingly popular with Brits with more than 1.8 billion enjoying a caravan holiday.

Reasons given have included the economic downturn and collapse of the pound, the stress of foreign travel, particularly airports, threats by terrorists, less planning involved than holidaying abroad, not to mention much cheaper, no luggage to negotiate, fewer problems with children’s school holidays, and simply that a caravan holiday gives freedom, adventure and total flexibility.

It seems that celebrities enjoying vacations in caravans include Jamie Oliver, Kate Moss and Rio Ferdinand, who has taken his children recently to a site in Prestatyn in North Wales.

My son and his wife who have three small boys, although enjoying a holiday abroad each year in the sun, have recently bought a touring caravan. The children absolutely love it and the weekends away that they are enjoying are filled with as much excitement as anywhere more exotic.

Historically, caravan holidays first became popular in the 1920s when they were seen as a rich man’s hobby, although people had always been aware of caravans as home for gypsies or travelling people who for centuries had travelled through Europe.

Early recreational caravans were drawn by horses, but it was only when car ownership became more widespread and caravans could be towed behind one, that it took off as a means of a cheap family holiday.

Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s it was only the better-off working class family who owned a car let alone a caravan and then it was only due to improved roads, newer design of caravans and better facilities on the camps.

One of our more affluent neighbours owned a caravan on a site in Derbyshire and on one occasion invited my sister and myself to join them for the weekend. I can remember the feeling of excitement that can only be likened to a child today hearing they are going to Disneyland.

Caravan holidays were also relatively cheap holidays for families renting one, with seaside resorts easily reached by coach or train and as they were self-catering, were affordable for families on a tight budget and a step up from camping. In the early 1950s we enjoyed family holidays on caravan sites in places like Bridlington and Filey.

Although I must admit to a degree of nostalgia about those days, I just cannot understand the obsession Brits have with caravanning now. Why anyone would want to leave the comfort of their homes with all mod cons to exchange for the confined space and relative discomfort of a caravan has me totally confused. And as for camping, well, don’t even go there.

Having said that I have to admit that caravans are somewhat different today. Caravans when I was a child were pretty small and certainly had no fitted furniture or showers as they do now. Each night beds were made up by converting the seating and also the dining table end of the caravan.

The caravan was lit by calor gas lamps which gave out a distinctive smell and every so often a popping noise.

The cooking was also by the same fuel and you had to be very careful that the canisters didn’t run out halfway through cooking a meal as it meant father had to sprint to the camp shop to obtain a replacement.

All our meals were eaten in the caravan. There were no restaurants or takeaway shops, but if you were very lucky you might have the treat of fish and chips at the end of the holiday.

Therefore it wasn’t really a very restful time for mother who had brought with her towels, bedding, a large box of provisions and was expected to cook a proper meal each evening on a two- ringed cooker. The first thing she did when we arrived at our rented caravan was to wash all the cutlery and crockery. As she said ‘You don’t know where they’ve been.’

Washing up involved the boiling of numerous kettles of water which was obtained from a nearby tap, and we made do with a strip wash at the sink each day which didn’t bother us greatly, rather than have a cold shower at the shower block which was also where the toilets were.

I have fond memories of dashing across the field in pouring rain to use the toilet and of hearing the rain beating down on the caravan roof while we were sat playing at cards or scrabble.

You can’t really put a price on the family holidays we enjoyed so much and what’s more we really enjoyed our simple and unsophisticated time together.

We were always safe playing on our own without adults and there were always scores of other children to gang up with. We would stay out from dawn to dusk exploring, playing football and cricket, and find plenty to amuse ourselves with, that didn’t involve computers, phones or televisions.

When I read recently that a caravan had been sold in Abersoch for £550,000, I wondered how simple their holidays would be. With an Italian kitchen, three bedrooms, central heating, jacuzzi, flat-screen television and private steps to the beach, it would seem to involve a fair bit of cleaning.

I don’t think mother would have liked that.