Friday, 30 July 2010

A Biscuit Tin by the Sea

If things had gone according to plan, I’d be half way to South Devon by now for a fortnight’s stay in my family’s caravan on a site between Teignmouth and Dawlish. A blow-out on the A46 just outside the village of Pennsylvania while I was on my way to pick up my son from his college in Dilton Marsh put paid to that, and tomorrow morning will be spent at the local tyre fitters. Then it’ll be a question of waiting until the traffic thins before we venture down the M5. I’d sooner drive in the dark than spend the first day of our holiday stuck in jams.

This part of Devon is home from home for me, my parents, maybe even my kids though they’d never admit it. In 1960, the year before my birth, my father walked onto the beach at Shaldon for the first time and immediately decided it felt like home. It was another 35 years - and as many summer holidays, not to mention stays at Easter, Whitsun and October half-term - before we discovered by chance that it really was home to our ancestors in the early 19th century. Almost all of those sojourns, and every single one since, have been spent in caravans on the same site, and whilst I might occasionally yearn for luxury hotels and holidays abroad that I have no hope of affording, actually I love the moors, both coasts and all the bumpy green bits in between. Another 35 years of exploring would still leave places of beauty and interest undiscovered.

The caravans have changed a lot over the years. Our first one was the only van on the park with a view of the sea, glimpsed between the great dark elms that marked the bottom boundary of the field. Now almost everyone can see a sweep of Lyme Bay in all its colours and moods. It had no electricity, and therefore no fridge or telly. Once they were invented, I’d take a tape recorder down with me, but we could only ever afford one set of batteries and they’d last approximately two days. There would then follow two more days of Leonard Cohen sounding even more lugubrious than usual as their power waned and (to my parents’ relief) failed. Light was provided by gas lamps, which gave out such a dim glow that my mother would stop my sister and me from reading for fear of straining our eyes and we’d have to sit and look at one another for the rest of the evening. Water was collected from a stand-pipe and heated on the stove, and the toilet block was a sprint along the drive, often in the teeth of a gale. Whole days of rain were spent on games of patience and jigsaws while I waited for the hiss of Triumph Herald tyres that would announce the arrival of my cousins, who had a caravan one row up and a few doors down. (I try to tell to my kids all this but they can't hear me above the Playstation or Family Guy DVD.)

Some things are the same, though. Being awakened at six in the morning by tapdancing seagulls. Basic meals that always taste better than anything cooked at home. Red cliffs meticulously embroidered with wild flowers. The lowing of cattle, and the sound of passing trains drifting up from the sea wall when the wind’s in the right direction. Bats in the lane and lit ships on the horizon. Dozing off at night to the hooting of owls.

Best of all, there’s the sense of living half indoors and half out - close to the elements and the animal world. Full moons are impossibly big, stars brighter than anything Bristol with its orange skies can offer. The clouds are mountains on the other side of the water. Thunder storms are louder and scarier, yet there’s also the increased sense of security that comes from being cradled by nature. Simple living in tune with the seasons. You can’t beat it.



3 comments:

  1. I can say with some certainty that two weeks in such a place will be truly refreshing, having just spent most of a week by the sea.

    I'm sure all my babbling about life without electricity and the time before CDs and color TV had little effect on my daughter, though she did spend some time without electronic entertainment from time to time.

    I've always related to Kahlil Gibran's "...for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams..." It only looks like we're sharing the same world with our kids; really, it's the love that bridges the impossible gap.

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  2. That's very true. I'm amazed that my two younger kids still holiday with me, but they have friends there and all mod cons. They certainly don't come for the hill- and cliff-walking!

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